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“Post York”

By | April 23rd, 2021
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There are several progenitors to James Romberger’s newest graphic novel, “Post York,” recently released by Dark Horse: the original Eisner nominated short story, Romberger’s son’s rap song of the same name, and the ever-present awareness of the devastating effects humanity has on the environment. Told in three vignettes, this expanded story depicts a harsh future in which humanity now faces the consequences of their actions – or perhaps better said – the consequences of their ancestors’ actions. Written as an apology to his son for being complicit in the carelessness towards global climate change, while “Post York” certainly offers a bleak outlook of a world post-collapse, it also offers a small, yet significant, measure of hope.

Cover Art by James Romberger

Written and Illustrated by James Romberger
The polar ice caps have melted, and New York City is flooded beyond recognition. An independent loner, along with his cat and only friend, struggles to live another day in this makeshift community, populated mostly by outsiders like himself while the depraved elite thrive ruthlessly on the outskirts. But his world is disrupted when he encounters both a mysterious woman and a trapped blue whale. Will they be each other’s salvation. . . or destruction?
Experimentally told and unequivocally told, “Post York” contains bonus materials including an environmental fact sheet, afterword, full-color art section, and more.

Crosby, loosely based on Romberger’s own son, is the main character of the piece, a loner with a small motorboat, a cat, and a half-sunken apartment building all to himself. He spends his days puttering on his motorboat through the streets of a submerged New York City, the once glorious metropolis now laid low by the devastations of natural disasters. The city is mostly empty, filled but with a few others like himself, scrounging and scavenging for food and resources. The skyscrapers still stand, empty and desolate, Romberger’s deft linework evoking the sense of loneliness, tragedy, sorrow, and horror in a location never meant to be so empty. Post York is a vacant tomb, a flooded cemetery, an obscene mockery of its former majesty.

In all three vignettes of the story, Crosby runs into the owner of a cinema (ownership being a strange word to put on the nature of things in this world), a young woman named Ivy. In a smart bit of writing, all the characters of this graphic novel are young, in their twenties, driving home the point that this is a world that was left to them, not one they had any hand in creating. On their first encounter, Crosby is caught by Ivy while stealing some of her food, and is quickly driven out, neither of them being bloodthirsty or ravenous enough to want to kill another over a can of beans. This vignette, once finished (in a rather spectacular fashion involving a whale caught in an alley between Crosby’s apartment building and another), abruptly shifts – not forwards or backwards in time but sideways, an alternate history where Crosby and Ivy’s fight over food doesn’t go so smoothly, and the consequences of his actions haunt Crosby for the rest of this middle chapter. Twisting yet again into a third and final vignette, Ivy and her friends (including a lovesick artist pining for Ivy) head to a party being held by a group of rich people coming from some floating city (we never see it – our perspective stays with those stuck living in the dreary Post York). Crosby, attracted to the party by the whale, investigates, and to his shock and horror he sees that the excesses of the rich have not abated, even in these times of desperation. In a climax both visceral and poignant, Crosby takes extreme measures to alter the narrative in an act both sacrificial and apologetic.

Truth be told, when the narrative first shifted “sideways” a third of the way through the story, I was rather disappointed. Romberger’s pacing is slow and deliberate, using very little by way of dialogue or narrative to explore Post York, relying on his truly remarkable silent cartooning. Facial expressions and body language clearly describe to the reader what is happening or what mood is being conveyed without a word. The world of Post York is silent, grim, and yet completely enrapturing. Romberger’s art isn’t particularly busy, either – his line is just so precise it can cut through any obscurity by doing less. So while the first chapter ended with a rather wild and spectacular abruptness, to have that narrative vanish then so quickly felt like a cheat. However, by the end of the read I can see why it was done. Again, as an apology to his son and younger generations, this book also reads as a hopeful prayer – a bargain with the reader that though it may seem grim, the future is unwritten.

It strikes me as a conscious and rewarding choice that Romberger also injected a whale into the narrative. Moby Dick is a favorite novel of mine, and to see a whale stand in for Nature in this parable I think shows a wise almost bookend to the classic American novel. Just as Ahab’s white whale was a metaphor for humanity’s ceaseless conquering of the unknown, the whale of this graphic novel acts as testament to the unknowable endurance of Mother Nature, the swift violence it can enact, and the immeasurable horror with which humankind has enacted upon it. Though it can be easy to see “the whale” in either story as just a big dumb animal (as characters in both stories do), readers know better. This is the beginning and end chapters to the American experiment, the capitalist endeavors of mankind, reaping what we have sown. As Crosby looks at the whale pitifully at the end of the book he understands what it all means, the giant beast looking up at him with all too familiar, almost human eyes, he feels the guilt and damnation in his soul.

Romberger’s eye for fascinating details of a sunken New York City will stay with me for some time. Pages and pages of wordless imagery of submerged city streets, still filled with cars, those cars still containing human remains, a vast watery graveyard that chilled me to the bone then and now, thinking back on the images. But to say that this is the author’s final word on the subject, that we have earned this misery depicted, is to leave out the final few panels in the book. To end on a note of nihilism seems to me an easy route, and I think Romberger thinks this, too. It is much better to end on a note of hopefulness, that we can yet – if not rewrite – change the narrative. We cannot so easily move sideways in our story as the characters here do, but it is possible to push forward and construct a better world. We need only the courage to do so.

//TAGS | Original Graphic Novel

Johnny Hall


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