A request that can’t be ignored. Three semi-estranged friends on a road trip after years apart. Though they don’t understand the reasons that brought them back together, all three know that this trip may be a turning point in all their lives—and that’s before things get weird.
Polly, Moho, and Piter, along with their friend Héctor, once bonded over their love of music and their dreams of where life might one day take them. Years later, those dreams have not come to pass and their time together has turned into memories tinged with bitterness—until a final request from Héctor draws them together to carry their friend’s remains to an X he marked on a map where each hopes to find some sort of resolution.
It sounds like a simple road trip, right? It should have been, but add in an ex-circus monkey and two mercenary brothers in cowboy hats, one of whom carries a banjo. The journey takes them away from an angry cowboy, through a ship graveyard, and into the sights of a stranger whose livelihood may be less than legal. At first, it seemed that the greatest struggle would be getting along with one another, but as each situation spirals more out of control, finding what lies at Héctor’s X may be the least of their difficulties.
From IDW and Top Shelf Productions, Ashes is the debut English-language graphic novel from acclaimed Spanish cartoonist Álvaro Ortiz. Blending dark comedy and drama with touches of absurdity, the book weaves the characters’ pasts and presents together with glimpses of broader history in a thoughtful whole that considers the way human stories play out across the years. Bold and unique, the result is a fun road-trip adventure with action and surprises that ultimately reveals itself to be a simple but moving examination of grief, growing up, and finding your own way in a world that doesn’t always go quite the way you want it to.
Ortiz’s illustrations are stylized and cartoonish, but with a seriousness to the characters that works well in capturing the blended tones of the writing. Though it occasionally takes a touch of effort to separate flashback from the present story, the art largely succeeds in bringing together the pieces of the story as it unfolds. Capturing subtle moments of humor as well as the grander moments of stillness, the art is distinctive, fun to look at, and connected tightly to the story Ortiz builds here.
IDW does not list a rating for this title. Throughout the story, there are instances of strong language, violence, nudity, and drug content—among other things—and though the visual style does lessen the impact of the content, it remains a title best suited for older readers. In the end, Ashes is a quirky book with some truly touching moments. Not every scene lands perfectly, and a brief appearance from a strongly queer-coded villain feels somewhat cheap, but overall it’s well worth the investment for readers looking for something a little different, comics in translation, or stories with some dramatic themes that still manage to have fun along the way. Additionally, fans of Kyle Starks work such as the Six Sidekicks of Trigger Keaton will likely appreciate both the artistic style and storytelling present here. It’s a bit of a chaotic graphic novel, but that’s clearly intentional, and Ortiz ultimately does bring it all back home again with touching sincerity.
Ashes is a wacky road trip with heart and it’s worth tagging along with these characters as they discover what lies at the X on the map that brought them back together.
By Álvaro Ortiz
Top Shelf, 2023
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Spanish
Character Representation: Spanish