Graphic novel review: What’s the Furthest Place From Here? by Boss and Rosenberg with Otsmane-Elhaou (issues 1-5)

(courtesy Image Comics)

There’s something brilliantly exhilarating about plunging into a graphic novel series and having only the vaguest sense of what you’re in for, especially when said series, in this case What’s the Furthest Place From Here? by Tyler Boss & Matthew Rosenberg (with Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou) takes that trust and goes to incredibly imaginative places with it.

It is, without a doubt, one of the most original takes on the apocalypse I’ve ever come across, a tale which feels like a headily engrossing mix of The Walking Dead (absent the zombies but with an air of perpetual survivalist conflict intact) meets Lord of the Flies meet Station Eleven (but without the hope; well not yet anyway) that manages to create a look and feel all its own.

And what a look and feel it is.

There is an air of malevolent mystery from the get-go with readers plunged straight into a world that initially seems to exist purely within an abandoned record store, filled with row upon row of LPs, from which the residents known as the Academy, all 18 or younger it seems with nary an adult to be found, have to pick a record that best typifies who they are and what their life story will be.

You’re not sure if you’ve stumbled upon some weird sort of cult or a group of people in hiding but one thing becomes very clear, very quickly – this is not the world you and I know.

Not even close to it, a sense of apocalyptic foreboding that is further amplified when they answer frantic knocking at the fortified door – only after considerable, desperately panicked debate, mind you – and apart from letting an adult (gasp!) into the store, we get to see outside which is, to say the least, BLEAK.

The town around them lies in ruins, divided up, so we discover, into factions known as Families, all of whom have a distinct persona, some wearing masks, others a particular colour or, creepily, deliberate physical manipulation, and all of which are composed of kids and young adults, who are brought to the Family by tall, dark, faceless, willowy adults known as Strangers.

Creeped out at all? In some ways, you should be, with the writing and artwork, which is somehow grim and yet fulsomely alive all at once, bringing the broken landscape to arresting vivacity in ways that suggests there is life yet among the devastation, wrought by?

Well, it’s never explicitly stated with possibilities including war between nations which killed all the grown-ups, or alien invaders or mutations triggered by turning 18; no one knows and with the events at least 50 years in the past, there seems to be no real way of finding out for sure.

(courtesy Image Comics)

Suffice to say, the world is broken buildings and constant conflict, traumatised people and surreal environments, with some people like the Academy, who are forced to go on a road trip of sorts after some tragic events including the possible kidnapping of family member Sid, reasonably normal and supportively caring and cohesive (well, mostly) and others like something like something out of a slow-burningly unnerving horror story.

What emerges most strongly from a story which is infused by music and the effect it has on people, is how little love and care remain in the world; the straightforward kind anyway with the Academy seemingly the only really normal group in a world where the idea of normalcy is a very elastic concept indeed.

For all bleakness and loss, however, the world of What’s the Furthest Place From Here? always feels like its anchored in some heartfelt humanity, courtesy of the Academy but also one character, Merrill, who’s from the pig mask-wearing group, who are violently bonkers and silent when they fight, and desperately wants to join the Academy who actually seem to give a damn about each other.

He, along with Sid and close friend Prufrock, who is physically ailing but unwilling to let his fellow Academy family members or the greater world know that, are the beating hearts of a story which is in many ways sinister, dark and strange beyond weirdness but which has its roots in a very human need to connect, to belong and to be treated well.

They seem like fairly basic human rights but in the loopy apocalyptic What’s the Furthest Place From Here? where peoples’ origins are murky and their futures similarly opaque, they are rare to non-existent and it’s testament to the tight bonds of the Academy that they care about Sid so much that they’re willing to risk everything to find her.

Their search is beset at every turn by groups who seem have lost their handle on what real humanity looks like and the artwork of What’s the Furthest Place From Here? brings that to the fore with depictions of Families that are odd in the extreme but also in the intensely expressive faces of the members of the Academy especially who feel things deeply of the kind that none of the Families seem to have any cognition of and which marks Sid’s Family as an outlier in a world not only going materially to seed but emotionally as well.

Expansively imaginative, richly emotional and strange to a wholly entrancing degree, What’s the Furthest Place From Here? is a brilliantly evocative take on the apocalypse which presents us with a world that looks nothing like our own, the wreckage of our obviously fallen civilisation aside (this include The Market, staffed by people who act like capitalism made flesh), and yet which feels as human, at least in part as we are, proof that while the settings may change, who we are as people stays harrowingly and comfortingly the same.

(courtesy Image Comics)

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