Celestia is an urban island of picturesque canals and carnival-masked gangsters that’s been cut off from a post-apocalyptic world. Years before, Celestia escaped the “Great Invasion,” a catastrophe whose contours parallel modern anxieties of climate apocalypse, but could stand in for any global upheaval.

Celestia follows Pierrot, an outcast trickster who takes his name and aesthetic from the tragic clown of commedia dell’arte, and Nora, a fellow runaway. The pair are being pursued by telepaths hoping to reshape Celestia by cultivating their powers. Together, Pierrot and Nora flee the island and set off on a journey of discovery through the wider world that Celestia has left behind. Pierrot and Nora are telepaths themselves, but their powers have only resulted in trauma and terror. Now, a series of uncanny encounters help to break down the psychological barriers they’ve erected around themselves, opening them to the possibility of human connection.

Funny, disturbing, and heartfelt, Celestia is, above all else, trippy as heck. This book reminded me of films by cult science fiction directors such as Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Terry Gilliam, which combine a weird aesthetic with impressionistic storytelling and leave you with the feeling that you’ve wandered into someone else’s dream.

With bold lines, painterly art, and panels that possess an epic, filmic quality, this book is a pleasure to read. Every page is gorgeous with light and color, giving the artwork a depth of emotion that I’ve rarely seen equaled in comics. The strong artwork grounds the evasive, unsettling text, whose story leaves us with nearly as many questions as it supplies answers.

Celestia’s tight focus on Pierrot’s psychological journey is accompanied by a purposeful lack of attention to story and supporting cast. We meet brutish criminals, creepy telepaths, and sexy ladies, characters who add atmosphere to the story, but no real substance. Conflicts are vague and resolved with a dreamlike logic. For the most part, I didn’t mind this approach to storytelling, but there are moments when the narrative’s lack of verisimilitude grates. A scene where Nora is attacked by a brothel worker is probably intended to depict Celestia as a place devoid of sexual intimacy, but comes off as a lazy caricature of sex workers as hypersexual deviants.

Celestia is necessarily a niche book, not to every reader’s taste, but sure to find an audience among fans of weird comics such as Fabien Vehlmann’s Beautiful Darkness and Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez’ Love and Rockets. Depictions of sex and nudity make it best for an adult audience.

Celestia
By Manuele Fior
Fantagraphics, 2021
ISBN: 9781683964384

Publisher Age Rating: 18

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Creator Representation:  Italian

  • Becky

    | she/her Senior Reference Librarian

    Reviewer

    Becky is Senior Reference Librarian at the Library of Virginia. Hailing from New England, she's previously worked as a reference and technology librarian in public libraries up and down the East Coast. Her love of comics was sparked first by the Sandman comics and later by webcomic pioneers such as Faith Erin Hicks and Dylan Meconis. When she's not immersed in government documents or wrangling microfilm, she writes SFF fiction, attempts to identify trees, and hangs out with her sweet calico lap cat, Catbus.

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