Friday , May 24 2024

Graphic Novel Review: ‘GLEEM’ by Freddy Carrasco, from Drawn+Quarterly


GLEEM by Freddy Carrasco, published by Drawn and Quarterly, is afrofuturism dancing to the complicated beat of cyberpunk to show a world questioning not only what it means to be human but what it means to do right. Carrasco himself has a varied background, being Dominican-born and living in Toronto for much of his life before moving to Tokyo. This myriad of perspectives reflects life well in his art, creating a work that not so much blends as sets the mixer to purée. Studious readers can draw out flavors from multiple genres, styles, and experiences, but GLEEM is altogether its own unique taste.


Carrasco’s influence from manga is evident in his style. The panel compositions are dynamic, featuring complicated wide shots as well as thought-provoking close-ups. Action speeds up and slows down to control the rhythm of the reading journey.

Throughout GLEEM, images are repeated to drive the reader to think more and more deeply on the subject, such as zooming in steadily closer on the blank face of an android. The reader knows it has been shut down, and it remains completely motionless, yet it is impossible to avoid a tinge of humanity from the unmoving face.

With minimal dialogue, the reader’s own mind must fill in the gaps, which makes taking in GLEEM as much an introspection as it is a story told by the creator to an audience.

While GLEEM is certainly science fiction, that term is far too broad to show what is actually happening in the book. The stories are packed with sci-fi tropes from androids to extreme psychedelics. Its aesthetics are clearly drawn from cyberpunk culture with intricate designs in hair and wearables, yet the cultural experience shows African perspectives in this future world.

Church and Robots

Characters attend an energetic church service recognizable in any time period, even down to a boy being smacked in the head by his elder for making faces. Other characters fight boredom playing in the park by setting challenges for themselves. Some are similar to what we see on playgrounds all the time, like trying to land a jump between two pieces of equipment, while others include the search for an outdated energy source on a brand of robots recalled for unexpected behaviors.

GLEEM is an anthology of stories that may not intertwine as much as they exist in a complicated, growing universe. Drugs serve as a pervasive theme, whether they’re accidentally found by the church-going boy in “Born Again,” giving a unique perspective on the religious experience, or actively pursued in “Hard Body” to expand on reality in the club.

The greatest theme, though, is one’s own autonomy deciding what is right in a world where freedom is artificially restricted and culturally endorsed at the same time.

With the book’s personable characters and captivating science fiction themes, readers will return again and again to confront GLEEM.

About Jeff Provine

Jeff Provine is a Composition professor, novelist, cartoonist, and traveler of three continents. His latest book is a collection of local ghost legends, Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma.

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