Content warning: Suicide, naked people, and some adult language in the excerpts. This is not a ‘Spirou et Fantasio’ review.
Catalina finds herself trapped in the afterlife after a suicide attempt. Karmen is her guide, a very personable and quirky guardian angel.
What will Catalina find on the other side? Life or death?
And will she find clothes in either place?
Artist: Guillem March
Colors: Guillem March, Tony Lopez
Letterer: Cromatik Ltd.
Translator: Dan Christensen
Published by: Dupuis/Europe Comics
Number of Pages: 100
Original Publication: 2020
What’s Going On?
Catalina is a 20-something woman who can’t seem to catch a break. Life is not great.
Specifically, her childhood best friend, Xisco, has grown up and is dating other woman, some of whom are jealous of her friendship with him. And Catalina might just be realizing that she’s jealous of them, too.
She doesn’t like many people and she’s grown to not trust anyone. She’s alone and sad.
Eventually, it drives her to a most desperate act.
That’s when Karmen comes in. She’s there to lead Catalina into the afterlife, but she’s not moving all that quickly. There’s plenty of time for Catalina to explore this new world, and to talk to Karmen about life and stuff. Along the way, she is challenged about her whole world view. A series of events leads her to new conclusions and second thoughts.
It’s a surprisingly captivating story. It’s not about a whiney person looking for a second chance, or the heroic angel who can change everything. Both Catalina and Karmen are a little too sure of themselves. They butt heads an awful lot, though mostly it’s in the way that Karmen challenges Catalina. That conflict drives the story forward. It’s a book of discovery, both with Catalina figuring out her post-life situation and putting the pieces together for what exactly was happening in her own life.
The book is a voyage of discovery and not a simple three act structure/quest kind of thing. it takes its time to give the reader examples of how this world in-between worlds works. Catalina crosses paths with a couple of other lost souls and sees their life stories in an instant. The results are super emotional, and help propel her in new directions.
Honestly, this feels like something Vertigo might have published 25 years ago, just less goth and bleak and brown-colored…
It’s also worth nothing here that Guillem March wrote this book solo. This is not a freelance art gig drawing someone else’s script. It’s all his, from script to art to colors. His writing is very strong. The banter between Catalina and her Guardian Angel (for lack of a better term) is the most important part of this book, and it works great here. Credit also to the translator, Dan Christensen, of course.
Beyond just that banter, there’s a story of character development in play here as well as a meta level mystery as to what is going on in this afterlife?
He’s laying down the groundwork to explain a whole new world. He parcels out enough information to keep the reader from being distracted while also teasing the reader along, promising answers that aren’t coming just yet. You can’t help but get more curious by this rather than frustrated, which is the number one reason it works. Too many writers would string you along with far less until the plot dictated its necessity, at which point a massive info dump would drop. March avoids that.
This is seriously good writing for someone who’s so well known as an artist and, from all the research I’ve been able to do, hasn’t done any other writing on his own. To start with a 160 page story and make it this interesting is impressive. Also, you can see that March, as a writer, is also playing to his artist. He gives his story a lot of visual interest, and enough pages to explore the visual storytelling.
This is, at the end of the day, a comic book. That should be what they all do.
Let’s take a look at that art now.
The Art of Guillem March
You probably recognize that name. March has done a bunch of work at DC Comics, including drawing the New 52 “Catwoman” series, “Gotham City Sirens,” and a lot of other Batman-related titles.
He gets to let loose in this book. March doesn’t phone in a single page in this book. Everything is very deliberate, very detailed, and very animated.
Flip through the book and you’ll see a variety of things: There’s a page with a cutaway shot of Catalina’s apartment building. There are pages where Karmen and Catalina act against each other in close proximity for multiple panels in a row at the same composition. There’s a page drawn through a fish eye lens. Filmstrips help tell back stories quickly. There’s even a Family Circus-like panel showing Catalina’s path through the city with a dashed line.
The places the scenes are set in are very specific. The exterior locations for most of the scenes are probably specifically photo referenced — not that March traces them, but they have a very specific and very real feeling to them. March is a Spanish artist; this book is set on the Spanish island of Mallorca. The most notable landmark in the book is the Palma Cathedral. (Tangent: 100 years ago, during a restoration effort on the cathedral, Antoni Gaudi was contracted to help. Yes, the same “Ghost of Gaudi” guy.)
It’s not just that the cobblestone roads are detailed or that the sidewalk cracks are all accounted for with a variety of aging techniques, but also that the variety of buildings and storefronts and cars parked along the street fit in naturally.
There’s a particularly stunning 13 page sequence where Catalina flies in the After world for the first time. March starts off with an almost Will Eisner-ian sequence between Catalina and Karmen, before launching into a panel that feels like it was pulled from a Francois Schuiten book (“Nogegon“, specifically) before proceeding to show the stunning sites one might see from flying high above the ground. Everything from the perspective to the body language to the movement of characters across the pages is notable.
It’s a strange kind of book to expect to find an artist’s showcase with, but that’s what you get with “Karmen.” Even if the topic and the characters and the general structure of the book don’t seem appealing to you, flip through the book. Look at a preview for it on Izneo or on the shelf of your local comics shop from Image.
This is great comic making work from March, who should turn more than a few heads with this book.
Speaking of turning heads, let’s talk about the birthday suit:
Catalina spends about three quarters of this book completely naked, except for the wraps on her wrists from where she cut them.
This is nearly-full frontal nudity, but very simplified. March is not drawing every detail. At times, particularly in the wider angle shots, Catalina looks almost like a white silhouette. This is practically ligne claire nudity. Catalina’s nipples are almost always small patches of color, and very few times are they drawn in. March avoids drawing much detail between the legs, not even shadows. There’s even a joke line when Karmen and Catalina first meet about that.
It’s not the focus of every panel. March doesn’t glorify it. He doesn’t sexualize it. It just is. This is a girl who died in the bathtub, naked. That’s how she enters the afterlife, and everything acts accordingly. There’s a scene in the book where dozens of people are seen flying through the air, passing through after their deaths. They’re also in various states of undress. It’s not just her.
Most of all, carrying through with this nudity and accepting it allows March to draw Catalina “acting” without forcing unnatural poses or bad camera angles just to keep certain parts out of frame or covered up. That means there are angles that might be considered unflattering to an Instagram beauty influencer. He also never uses an angle that would be prurient. He doesn’t need to. For the hundreds of times he must draw her in this book, he’s always making smart storytelling and graphic design choices in his panels.
She’s still a relatively skinny woman in great shape, but March isn’t drawing a super heroine here. He’s not exaggerating features or pushing lines to make her cartoony. She looks and acts like a real person, even when she’s flying through the city. She doesn’t strike superheroic flight poses there. She’s just her normal, awkward, self-conscious self.
If you look carefully enough, you’ll even see her tan line with the way the book is colored. It’s very subtly colored in. (March is careful to credit Tony Lopez with help on the coloring of the book.)
It’s just an all around smart way to do it, and something I’m sure nobody in Europe would have blinked at. I’m glad that Image is republishing this book in America so that nobody is trying to draw a bikini over her or anything stupid like that.
(Insert the boilerplate discussion here about the cultural differences regarding sex/nudity in North America versus Europe and the inevitable “But violence is OK!” stuff that goes with it. I’m bored by that. I’m impressed at how March handled things in this book, is all I’m saying.)
Guillem Merch did not hand letter this book. It’s a font to begin with. The English language edition has a slightly different font, but it’s close enough, just a little thicker..
The word balloons and tails are definitely not your usual oblong ovals and stabby things pointing to the mouths of the speakers. The balloons are very roughly shaped with plenty of margin around the letters.
The tails are a random mishmash of shapes and design. They look like the letterer got drunk and forgot how to make a Bezier curve. There are overlaps to the bends, widths that fluctuate for no good reason, tails that don’t really come to a point, etc. It does help give it a rougher, almost hand-drawn look, but mostly it’s weird.
To be fair, though, I didn’t notice them until I started to review the book and inspected all the little things with my more critical eye. So I’m not complaining, but I am pointing them out. They shouldn’t work at all, but somehow I don’t mind them.
How Image Comics Publishes It
The original European edition of this series is one 160 page book.
In the translated English edition, it’s presented in two volumes. This first one runs 100 pages. The second is a shorter 60 pages.
Image Comics is currently publishing this two book series as a five issue comics series. As of this writing, the first three issues are out, and they cover the entirety of this first book.
Two issues are left to cover the last 60 pages of the series, so that adds up.
It’s a beautifully drawn and colored book. March’s artistic talents are unquestionable. But this isn’t a book about a naked woman flying through town. It has a much deeper and much more powerful and personal message.
There’s a deep characterization here paired with an interesting fantastical element to pull that all out. What you get is entertaining, thoughtful, and a surprising page-turner. This is 100 pages about a girl who attempted suicide and is trying to figure out where she goes next. It’s a big conversation between her and her guardian angel.
But there’s more than that going on from both sides, and it draws you in and takes you for a great ride.
Just in case I never get to review it, I have read the second book from the original online English translation already. It’s a good ending. If you weren’t sure if you wanted to read the first book until you heard it ended well, I can tell you that I think it does. You’re safe. Pick this one up.
Where To Buy It
You can buy the full story in two parts at Izneo.com
Comixology has the serialized issues.
Bonus Funny Factoid
Milo Manara drew an alternate cover for the first issue. He drew a far less naked woman on the cover than on the inside of the book.
Yes, I understand that they don’t want a naked woman on the cover in comic shops. But when Milo Manara is drawing the conservative version of your female character, we’re living in a very strange world, indeed.