Writer/Artist: INJ Culbard
Release Date: On sale NOW!
While he has previously worked his magic on a number of adaptations of the works of HP Lovecraft, as well as in several fantastic collaborations with writer Dan Abnett, Celeste marks acclaimed artist INJ Culbard’s first creator-owned “solo flight”, as it were. An almost dizzyingly ambitious existential sci-fi parable, it shadows the lives of three separate individuals and their reactions when the rest of the inhabitants of the world suddenly disappear.
Spanning the furthest reaches of the globe, Culbard’s epic story introduces us to three unconnected protagonists – Lilly, an albino on the London underground; Ray, a Los Angeles businessman stuck in a traffic jam and Yoshi, a Japanese comic artist on the verge of taking his own life. When the rest of the world’s population disappears in the blink of an eye, they each react in vastly different ways, their own stories spiralling and developing as a result of their sudden isolation. Actually, that’s not quite accurate, because none of them are entirely alone. Lilly finds her path crossing with Aaron, a woman she previously locked eyes with on the tube, while Ray discovers a beaten and bloodied man tied up in the boot of a nearby car. Yoshi? Well, Yoshi has it worst of all, finding himself beset on all sides by demons and abominations of all shapes and sizes, each rendered in an unmistakably ‘Culbard’ style.
It’s difficult to really delve too deeply into the events of this book, as I feel it’s better experienced as a reader yourself. Romance, drama, action adventure – everything is catered for here as Culbard flicks back and forth through these three distinctive threads at a rapid pace, keeping things moving forwards smoothly and avoiding the risk of things ever becoming stagnant or dull. Individually the stories are rather slow to develop, but by keeping things moving, the overall narrative (such as it is) flows well. The three stories all play out at a different pace, too, from Lilly’s relaxed, almost timid love story to the gradually increasing tension of Ray’s investigation to the all-out sensory assault of Yoshi’s experiences in the forest.
I’ve made no secret of my admiration for Culbard’s impressive artistic abilities and beautifully unconventional delivery in the past, but the most striking visual aspect of Celeste undoubtedly has to be his stunning page layouts. From the opening crash zoom that starts in the far reaches of the cosmos before slowly settling on our planet – highlighting just how truly insignificant the three tales we’re about to witness are in the grand scheme of things – to the powerful rose petal motif and the repetition of similar layouts on different pages to hammer home the interconnected nature of the stories, everything here is classic Culbard, and executed with his typically understated bravado..
Some readers will be undoubtedly put off by the unconventional nature of the storytelling, and the lack of any real quote-unquote “resolution”. For me however, Celeste was more about the journey, about the brief snapshot into the inner workings of these three people’s minds, and about watching their fears and subconscious desires play out in an almost dream-like world without consequences. I’ve devoured the book twice now, currently halfway through a third reading, and I’m still finding new details and new interpretations of the events that Culbard has laid out for us. Celeste is a beautiful, abstract, through-provoking spectacle of a book from a creator who continues to cement his reputation as a guaranteed ‘must buy’ with every new piece of work he puts his hand to. Not for everyone, necessarily, but still highly, highly recommended.