“Zegas,” published by Fantagraphics Books and written and illustrated by Michel Fiffe, collects material originally published from 2009-2012 by Copra Press. It tells the tales of the siblings Emily and Boston Zegas as they navigate everyday problems: working a crap job, finding a new job, finding a cactus, figuring out relationships. The siblings live together. An unknown tragedy took their parents from them. The stories are set in a unique world, exploding from the mind of its creator. It’s pure Fiffe.
Written, Illustrated, Colored, and Lettered by Michel Fiffe
Drawn with a dynamic pen line and explosive color, Zegas tells the story of two young siblings adrift in a surreal, futuristic city. Upbeat Emily dreams of becoming a fashion designer but in the meantime needs to make rent money, while her moody brother, Boston, seeks to overcome his social anxiety and pursues an intriguing woman who is—unfortunately for him—seeing someone else. Throughout these lushly rendered stories, the Zegas siblings navigate their way through bad drugs, worse jobs, and confoundingly vague drunk texts. In this strange world full of alien creatures, neon buildings, and dreamlike landscapes, the relatable Emily and Boston bring us down to earth.
Reading “Zegas” I’m reminded of the work of the Hernandez Brothers, Jaime and Gilbert, most famous for “Love and Rockets.” It has the feel of that whole crop of 90s independent relationship books that boomed at the time. It’s slice of life. It’s small stories, but “Zegas” stands out as it’s filtered through Michel Fiffe which creates something a little heightened and stranger than what might be expected.
“Zegas” immediately plops you into it’s strange world. We aren’t bogged down by exposition. Fiffe simply lays the world, and it’s diversely unique characters, out in front of us. It feels like we’re entering the saga of Boston and Emily halfway through. That’s something that really works for me here. He’s less concerned with answering the question of what tragedy took their parents as he is with how they deal with the absense.
The siblings live in a house together in the middle of a desert-like environment next to a city. Whether it’s a visual metaphor or real, it sets the tone immediately. The giant busy city just emonates in the background, the way a New Jersey town can see New York as an ominous figure from miles and miles away. Apart from humans, “Zegas” is populated with strange beings like Ortega, the neighborhood street mayor. Boston notes he doesn’t trust Ortega because, “I mean, what’s stopping him from just…killing us right here in the middle of nowhere?” That bleak depressive outlook really endeared me to Boston the same way Emily earnestly trying to help Boston’s love life, in an attempt to break him out of his rut, endeared me to her.
Fiffe’s ability to fluctuate between artistic styles is really what makes this book sing. Depending on the emotion of the scene we may get a more brushy or gestural style. Certain pages I couldn’t help but marvel at for minutes. Each panel and page is it’s own unique piece of beautiful art. Fiffe judiciously uses color to accentuate certain moments and characters. Like Emily’s bright red/orange hair that immediately stands out, or Boston punching a man at a bar in a fury of red. In a particularly beautiful scene Boston and his sorta partner Gina sit on a rooftop after being locked out of her apartment. They drink wine coolers and eat Ho-Hos all while staring out at the city. The city is depicted as vague shapes but filled with beautiful rainbow watercolor. It strikes on the feeling of looking out at a large busy city filled with light. The detail of the city is obscured. Fiffe understands beautifully that sometimes the vagueness resonates a stronger feeling. It’s the power of suggestion that allows the mind to do the work.
While these stories focus on Emily and Boston, we do meet a few of their friends along the way. From George, Boston’s childhood friend and aspiring musician just trying to make it in a music scene filled with jerks. To Stefan, Emily’s nice and normal everyday regular guy boyfriend. I liked hanging out with these characters. Getting a glimpse into their lives offers information into the larger world which I just wanted to know more and more about. Much like their friends, Emily and Boston are real fully formed people filled with their own unique insecurities. By a few pages in we see how their dynamic together works. I found their relationship incredibly honest. Emily is confident. She is a struggling fashion designer. Boston is a little more timid. He is a freelance writer. They help each other out but also call each other out when necessary. I felt the strong bond between the two. I think the book works well with that relationship as it’s anchor. It’s the anchor to branch off into the larger world and all of it’s weird inhabitants and complexities. We get lost in this world but it’s alright because we know we’ll have a home to return to.Continued below
Fiffe seems to ponder real existential questions like, “What does all of this mean? What is really valuable?” Fiffe makes statements throughout “Zegas” about the place of “the artist” in society. The artist is often not valued, or, the artist has to work for money, and, the artist often will have to please a boss who just cares about the bottom line. These are common threads. It’s clear that Fiffe has channeled a lot of his own experiences into “Zegas” giving the book a personal feel. Anyone in a creative field can easily find something to latch onto here.
The world in “Zegas” is filled with detail. It’s vast and intricate. Fiffe’s work fits perfectly next to the work of artists like Farel Dalrymple, Brandon Graham, and James Stokoe. They all create incredibly detailed worlds with lots of small things to occupy the eye. I couldn’t help but look around the page at every small detail. Creativity oozes out of this thing. It’s all presented in a beautiful large format and printed on great paper to really highlight the art. Fantagraphics knows how to put a book together. This is no different.
Ultimately “Zegas” is a hangout comic. We pop into these people’s lives for a couple stories and then we pop out. It’s just fun to be in this world. I want to explore it’s oddities with the characters. I’m not sure what Fiffe’s plans are or whether more stories are planned, but I wouldn’t mind popping in on Emily and Boston again.