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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

Monthly Archives: October 2020

I wrote this back in June 2019, in response to a question asked by a conservative member of the Rockbridge Civil Discourse Society. Another conservative member later laughed at me for taking the question seriously, but at the time I thought trying to have meaningful conversations across the partisan divide was worth a great deal of effort. I’m now questioning whether it’s ever possible, and I’m certain that the existence of Donald Trump makes it essentially impossible–at least not while he’s tweeting from the White House and millionaire pundits like Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity continue to cash in on their viewer-financed misinfotainment brands at Fox News.

But this was my sincere attempt at a thoughtful response, and reading it sixteen months later, I’m not changing a single word:

  1. I didn’t like Trump before I didn’t like Trump.

Before he was a politician, I knew Donald Trump only as one of those self-fulfilling celebrities famous for being famous. I never watched an episode of The Apprentice, but everyone knew the one-man promotional brand playing himself on TV. I categorized him in my head with Hulk Hogan. Saying I didn’t like him is misleading. He was no more real or relevant to me than Paris Hilton or a Kardashian. Except his caricature was even less savory. A serial adulterer marrying absurdly younger trophy wives while flaunting his comic wealth. None of this has anything to do with politics.  It never occurred to me to wonder what political party he might belong to because political parties involve groups of people banding together to pursue common goals. The goal of Trump was exclusively Trump. This was before 2014—before I knew he was running for office. At first I didn’t believe it, not really. It had to be another gimmick product, Trump Wine, Trump University, Trump for President, one more way to expand his business brand, pump up his ratings with more outrageous showmanship. It didn’t occur to me that he could win a primary let alone a nomination. It didn’t occur to me that someone, anyone, could view him as anything but a pop cultural personification of ostentatious greed, because I sincerely understood him to be that and only that.

  1. Trump says things that aren’t true.

Some people call that lying. Others say he’s only using exaggerations—or just savvy business practice. Whatever you call it, Donald Trump knowingly and wantonly makes statements that are not true. He also knowingly and wantonly makes statements that are true. The accuracy of his statements is irrelevant. He says whatever is most useful to him. His 1987 memoir ghost-writer called it “truthful hyperbole,” a way of playing “to people’s fantasies,” “a very effective form of promotion.” Admittedly, an indifference to truth sounds useful in a cutthroat business environment, and as long as Trump remained in that environment, his exaggerations, lies, and hyperboles were no concern to me. Then he became a politician, a profession known for its own brand of mistruths. But Trump is different. Look at all the presidential nominees of my adult life: Mondale, Reagan, Dukakis, Bush, Clinton, Dole, Gore, Bush, Kerry, Obama, McCain, Romney, Clinton—all of them were constrained within a similar range of allowable spin. I’m not arguing any are better, more honest people. If they could have gotten away with Trump’s level of mistruth, they probably would have. But his go unpunished. Maybe it’s his business savvy, his ability to sell anything, but its application to U.S. politics deeply disturbs me. Again, this has nothing to do with political parties. If Donald Trump had run as a Democrat, he would be the same democracy-gaming salesman appealing to a slightly different set of voters with a slightly different set of self-promotional hyperboles.

  1. Trump says things that offend me.

I’m not going to say Donald Trump is a racist. Conservatives tend to define that term as a necessarily conscious belief, that only a white person who actively believes he is superior to non-whites can commit racist acts. I don’t know if that describes Trump or not. I suspect when he refers to Central Americans as rapists, murders, etc., he is not expressing deeply held personal convictions but politically useful hyperboles of the kind discussed above. That doesn’t make it any less offensive to me. I also don’t know if he ever committed sexual assault, but I know he bragged that he did. Some defended his words as “locker room talk,” that it’s normal and therefore okay for men in the privacy of other men while unaware of being recorded to brag about assaulting women. I never have, and I have never heard any male friend or acquaintance of mine brag about assault either. Maybe I’m the wrong kind of man. Maybe Trump is no different from all our other white male presidents, saying out loud what the rest privately thought and privately committed. If so, then they all offend me equally. Again, this has nothing to do with political parties. No one who brags about sexual assault and expresses offensive stereotypes about ethnic groups should be electable, and I’m offended that Donald Trump got elected anyway.

  1. Trump thrives on the political divide.

It never even occurred to me that he would keep using Twitter after the election. It never occurred to me that he would continue to attack and mock his political opponents at literally a daily rate. Maybe I’m just old. I remember when George Bush’s campaign rhetoric went into panic mode a week before the 1992 election. He said, “My dog Millie knows more about foreign policy than these two bozos.” He nicknamed Al Gore “Ozone Man” because “we’ll be up to our neck in owls and outta work for every American.” Those sound like presidential tweets now, and during a Trump presidency, it’s always a week before the election. I’m not suggesting Trump created the political divide. Exactly the opposite. He got elected because the divide was already so extreme, and he is the perfect salesman to thrive in that political marketplace. And even this isn’t about political parties. I want a president—preferably a progressive one—who tries to bridge differences, not focus exclusively on his base by stoking their outrage in an endless get-out-the-vote campaign.

  1. I don’t like his politics.

Now, finally, this is about political parties. I’m a Democrat. Democratic candidates more often reflect a larger number of my political preferences than Republican candidates. That’s an absurd understatement. I have never seen a Republican candidate who came even close—though McCain during the 2000 primaries did make me sit down and really look at his plank-by-plank platform. I long for that.  Still, if Romney had been elected in 2012, or McCain in 2008, or Dole in 1996, I wouldn’t have responded to their presidencies in any way like I’ve responded to Donald Trump’s. When Bush was reelected in 2004 and elected in 2000, and when his father was elected in 1988, and Reagan in 1984, I had voted against them but accepted the outcomes with disappointment and only disappointment. November 2016 was nothing like that. I felt personally betrayed. I felt that the norms of decency had either been overturned or revealed to have never existed. Even when Clinton’s polls dropped three points after the release of the Comey letter in the last days of October, it still never seriously occurred to me that Donald Trump—a man who to me represented misogyny, bigotry, narcissism, and greed—could be elected. Clearly, I was wrong. But I maintain that it is not possible for anyone to have voted for Donald Trump if they understand Donald Trump to be the person I understand him to be.

And maybe I’m wrong about that too.  Maybe my impressions of him from the 80s and 90s and early 2000s unfairly biased and blinded me to his real character on the campaign trail. Maybe I have an idealized, antiquated notion of proper politics and my disappointment isn’t against Trump’s divisive style but the political arena that makes it effective. Maybe most or all white men who rise to power are at least latently prejudiced and abusive, and Trump has merely revealed that fact. Maybe it’s okay to use mistruths when it’s for a cause you and your followers deeply believe in. It’s also possible that my dislike for Donald Trump is really motivated by political preference, and that if a Democrat with the same traits had risen to power I would have accepted his shortcomings and supported his agenda. I hope not. But I fear it is possible. It’s also one of the things I most dislike about Donald Trump. He’s motivated a lot of good people to embrace a lot of very bad things.

Have you heard the argument that eliminating the Electoral College would undermine democracy because then only a handful of states would matter in presidential elections? That’s the status quo. As far as the Biden and Trump campaigns are concerned, the U.S. consists of ten states, AKA “battlegrounds”:

A couple of times in the last year or so Minnesota has joined that list, but it’s not currently in play. Apparently, Michigan and Wisconsin aren’t either, since all election forecasters predict Biden will win both. No battlegrounds are unanimously predicted for Trump.

Stacking the forecasts from smallest Biden lead to largest Biden lead reveals how each battleground state factors.

Biden 259

FORECASTER: Polls as of October 20.

New polls are released essentially every day, and so the conglomerate numbers are in constant flux. Placing states with Biden or Trump leads under 5% as toss-ups, on Tuesday October 20, two weeks before Election Day, the state polls put Biden at 259.

If Biden wins Michigan and Wisconsin, but loses both Pennsylvania’s twenty electors and Arizona’s eleven electors, he’s at only 259. To win the election he’d need to pick-up one more toss-up: Florida, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, or Ohio. Iowa’s six electors wouldn’t be enough. For Trump to win, he would need to sweep them all but Iowa.

Biden WINS with 279

FORECASTER: Politico, Polls as of October 26.

If Biden wins either Pennsylvania or Arizona, he wins. Arizona would pull him up to exactly the magic 270 (assuming he also wins the one elector from Maine’s second district), and Pennsylvania would put him over at 279.

As of today, Monday October 26, eight days before the Election, the polls would put Biden at 279 by including Pennsylvania. All of the other battleground states remain in the toss-up column’s margin of error.

Politico predicts Pennsylvania for Biden too, leaving Arizona in the toss-ups and shifting Georgia and Texas to the Trump column.


Biden WINS with 290

FORECASTER: Crystal Ball, Cook Political Report, CNN, NPR, U.S. News.

If Biden wins BOTH Pennsylvania and Arizona, he wins in the Electoral College by a margin of twenty. Four of those five maps feature five toss-up states: Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, and Iowa. U.S. News gives Iowa and Georgia to Trump, and all give him Texas too.


Biden WINS with 319

FORECASTER: Inside Elections.

Biden wins not only Pennsylvania and Arizona, but also Florida, leaving four toss-up states: Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, and Iowa. And Texas goes to Trump.

Biden WINS with 323

FORECASTER: The Economist.

A week ago The Economist agreed with Inside Election’s count, but they’ve since moved North Carolina to Biden and Arizona to toss-up. They also give Ohio to Trump.

Biden WINS with 334

FORECASTER: Decision Desk, PredictIt Market Probabilities, FiveThirtyEight.

Biden wins Pennsylvania, Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina. Two of these forecasts leave Georgia, Ohio, and Iowa in the toss-ups. PredictIt, which is based on actual betting where there is no such thing as a toss-up, gives all three to Trump, though by the smallest margin range possible. All give Texas to Trump.


Biden WINS with 335

FORECASTER: JHK Forecasts, Princeton Election Consortium.

Sorry, did I forget Maine? There’s one swing vote in Maine’s second district. That’s how Biden might pick up on additional elector. Both JHK and Princeton leave Georgia and Iowa in the toss-ups, but JHK predicts Ohio will go to Trump. And Princeton is the only forecaster placing Texas in the toss-ups.

So the two most popular predictions are Biden at 290 and Biden at 234/235, each with five forecasters.

Combining them all, using Biden’s worst-case scenario and Trump’s best-case scenario, leaves four states in the unknowns but leading toward Biden: 

A majority of the forecasters predict Biden will win one, two, three, or all four of the middle column. No forecaster predicts Trump will win any of them, and Trump needs to win all of them to win the election. Biden needs to win any and only one. 

Here are the currents polls (according to FiveThirtyEight and updated October 26) for the middle column:

Pennsylvania: Biden up 5.6.

Arizona: Biden up 3.0.

North Carolina: Biden up 2.5.

Florida: Biden up 2.4.

And the current polls for the other battleground states:

Wisconsin: Biden up 6.7.

Michigan: Biden up 8.

Ohio: Trump up 1.5.

Iowa: Biden up 1.2.

Georgia: Biden up .4.

Texas: Biden up .1.

Many of these polling numbers are well within the margins of error (Texas and Georgia are really dead heats), but if they reflect actual votes, Biden will win with 394, taking nine of the ten battleground states:

With a final map that looks like this:

Is that too much to hope for? Definitely. Handicapping Biden with a two-point Trump-favoring margin of error produces this map:

And raising that margin to three points looks like this:

Raising it to four points makes no difference. And neither does five points. In all those scenarios, Biden wins.

For Trump to win, Pennsylvania’s polls have to be more than five points off. FiveThirtyEight puts Biden ahead there by 5.6. The right-leaning Real Clear Politics says it’s only 5.1. FiveThirtyEight also gives Biden an 86% chance of winning Pennsylvania, an 87% chance of winning the election overall, and a 31% chance of a double-digit popular-vote landslide. If state polls are as wrong as they were in 2016, they still predict Biden wins with 280. 

When will we know the outcome?

Both Arizona and Florida expect to report on election night. If Biden wins either, Trump has no plausible path to victory. If Trump wins both, we have to wait for Pennsylvania, which probably won’t report its count until late Saturday November 7 (because it has to accept mail-in ballots arriving as late as November 6). Whoever wins Pennsylvania almost certainly wins the country. 

I had a dream that progressives and conservatives could overcome differences, that we could strip away reductive stereotypes and destructive rhetoric, that a path toward common ground was only a matter of choosing to believe that political opponents are not bad people intent on bad things, but good people disagreeing on how best to achieve good.

I co-founded a local group and Facebook page, Rockbridge Civil Discourse Society, dedicated to those goals, and spent a couple of hours every day talking to people with opposing partisan backgrounds and ideological reflexes. I thought if I worked hard enough, reasoned through each issue, addressed all objections, provided verifiable support for every claim, and, most importantly, built trust and friendship, that we could bridge our local portion of the political divide.

I was wrong.

I blame Ann Coulter.

Not just Ann Coulter, but Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh and Tucker Carlson and all professional political pundits, who most definitely include Ms. Coulter.

I’ve not met her, but I once sat in a gymnasium of folding chairs twenty yards from her podium. James Carville, another for-hire-horseman of the Democracy apocalypse, was slouching at the other podium. I have no idea how much money my university poured on them to perform their political theatre skit, but let’s assume buckets. W&L stages a mock convention every four years. I’d watched a startled Newt Gingrich saunter onto that same stage to the thump of Rocky III’s “Eye of the Tiger” and the thunder of the improbably conservative student body. Bob Dole literally phoned it in, as he and his campaign faded into the static of his departing plane.

The Coulter-Carville show was 2012, within spitting distance of the first primary. Gingrich was duking it out with Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney. Rick wanted to eliminate the Department of Education. Newt wanted to go to Mars. Coulter, a savvy reader of conservative weather patterns, staked her tent in Romney territory. When asked about Gingrinch’s still-formidable polling, she performed a diplomatic pause and said: “He’s not attracting our more thoughtful voters.” And I thought: “Hey, this woman’s okay.” That was before she said “Chinamen” were taking our jobs, and that the audience of youthfully open-minded undergrads would someday be home-owners and not want certain unspecified kinds of people moving in next door.

That’s Coulter c. 2012. Coulter c. 2020 is a Gingrich groupie who regularly throws Romney under the wheels of her MAGA bus.

How do you explain her change?

You don’t. Because she didn’t. Ann Coulter today is exactly what she was then: a professional commentator paid to say things that appeal to her market audience.

Eight years ago that audience leaned Romney, so Coulter leaned Romney, entertainingly contemptuous of little Newt. Now her audience bleats in harmony with the Trump Twitter account, so Coulter swings hard right, out-Gingriching even Gingrich. So does Hannity and Limbaugh and Carlson and anyone else trying to make a fortune as a conservative pundit.

Despite its appeals to fixed traditions, “conservative” is a fast-moving target. A century ago Coulter and Co. were hocking the anti-American horror of women voting. A half-century ago they were demonizing John Lewis and Martin Luther King as pinko agitators hellbent on desecrating our founding fathers. Today they’re telling their revenue-producing viewers that Marxist pedophiles have infiltrated the Black Lives Matter movement and the Main Stream Media. They’re asking whether Democratic governors’ and mayors’ decision to promote rioting is a smart reelection ploy. If Biden is elected, Antifa will be invited to the White House, all borders will be open, all police departments will be eliminated, and the United States will become a socialist dictatorship. First-term Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, they tell their thundering audience, commands the entire Democratic party.

There’s a word for all of that.  Philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt calls it “bullshit,” describing a “bullshitter” as someone who “does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.” The pundits’ purpose is to please a conservative audience and so attract advertisers who indirectly pay them salaries. For Carlson that’s $6 million a year, for Hannity $40 million, and Limbaugh $85 million. Coulter isn’t currently holding down a salaried job, but her net worth is $8.5 million.

Do they actually believe Marxist infiltrators are plotting to overthrow America? I don’t know, and I don’t care, because I know they don’t care.

But a lot of people do care. I used to chat with them regularly on the Civil Discourse page. Most still absorb their political content from Fox News. I’ve spent literally years arguing that biased sources are the driving wedge of our two-reality political divide. Every time I criticize Fox News, I include MSNBC in the same damning sentence. I cancelled my internet subscription to the Washington Post and stopped skimming inflammatory headlines at CNN. I balance my daily New York Times reading with my daily Wall Street Journal reading. I study the polling data at both RCP and 538.

The Civil Discourse conservatives continue soaking in the comfort of daily Fox News punditry. As a result, they believe in Revolutionaries, Deep State saboteurs, and Socialist policies designed to eliminate capitalism and America with it. They’re not capitalist Coulters contorting themselves for profit. They’re sincere and sincerely patriotic conservatives incapable of thinking through complex national problems from multiple political angles. Unlike the pundits they parrot, they actually care about and believe in the truth of the bullshit they soak down to their DNA and regurgitate with foot-thumping certainty. 

So after two years of shepherding the politically diverse participants of the Rockbridge Civil Discourse Society page, I’ve retired. The pundits won. My Facebook corner of the Internet is Coulter Country now, same as the rest.

I posted a “Predicting the Next President” round-up analysis of election forecasts on August 31, six weeks ago.

Did anything interesting happen since then?

Ginsburg died on September 18, and McConnell announced his intent to replace her hours later. The White House hosted a celebration for Trump’s pick, Amy Coney Barrett, on September 26, resulting in at least thirty-four CV-19 infections. On September 28, Ginsburg was buried, and The New York Times released Trump’s tax records. Trump debated Biden on September 29, tested positive two days later, and was hospitalized the following day, October 2. He returned to the White House on October 5. A fly landed on Pence’s head during the vice-presidential debate on October 7, and the second presidential debate was cancelled on October 9 after Trump refused to participate in a virtual format. The Senate Judiciary Committee begins Barrett’s nomination hearings today, October 12.

That’s the short version. Normally, an October 2 release of a recording of the First Lady saying, “who gives a fuck about the Christmas stuff and decorations? …I say that I’m working on Christmas and planning for the Christmas and they said, ‘Oh, what about the children that they were separated?’ Give me a fucking break,” would be THE ONLY headline.

On the day of the first debate, Trump was polling six points behind Biden, 43 to 49. Ten days later, he was ten points behind, 42 to 52. It’s hard to diagnose which had the most impact on that four-point leap: Trump getting sick, Trump hosting a superspreader event, Trump paying no income taxes, or Trump delivering the worst presidential debate performance in U.S. history.

The election forecasts were already leaning hard in Biden’s direction in August. None predicted Trump, nine predicted Biden, and three made no prediction due to toss-up states. Biden’s lowest electoral college count estimate was 268, two short of the 270 needed to win. Trump’s highest was 204.

What are those forecasters saying now?

All but one predict Biden. Only Politico remains with Biden at 268, Trump 203, and 67 toss-ups. Six weeks ago, CNN and Crystal Ball placed Biden at 268 too. Now they both say 290, as do NPR, U.S. News, and Cook Political Report.

How, according to half of the forecasters, does Biden get to a minimum of 290?

By winning Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Arizona. None place those four most pivotal states in the toss-up category. And according to the Real Clear Politics conglomerate polls, they’re right. Biden is up seven points in Pennsylvania, six and half in Michigan, five and a half in Wisconsin, and two and a half in Arizona.

Biden is also up three and a half in Florida. A year ago, half of the forecasters had Florida for Trump. Now six place the state with the toss-ups, and four for Biden.

Biden is up one and a half points in North Carolina, a state that all of the forecasts called a toss-up six weeks ago. Now two give it to Biden.

Real Clear Politics doesn’t list them with their “Top Battlegrounds,” but Biden is up by one point in Iowa, Ohio, and Georgia, and Trump’s lead in Texas is down to two. Biden leads by nine in Minnesota, a state one forecaster still placed with the toss-ups six weeks ago.

According to current polls, Biden and Trump are within five points of each other in a total of seven states: Arizona, Texas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, and Iowa, with Biden ahead in all but Texas. Only one of the forecasts considers Texas a toss-up, and the rest predict Trump will win it. Only one considers Arizona a toss-up, and the rest predict Biden. And only one still considers Wisconsin a toss-up, and the rest predict Biden.

Biden can lose either Wisconsin or Arizona and still reach 270. Which of the possible toss-ups states does Trump need to win?

All ten, plus both Pennsylvania and Michigan, states that all of the forecasts predict for Biden.

Can Trump still win?

Yes. But he has only one path: through the courts.

The states and national GOP will fight to disqualify every ballot possible, with mail-in ballots especially vulnerable. Since Democrats are twice as likely to vote absentee, the danger is very real. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled last month that mail-in ballots not placed inside “secrecy envelopes” will not be counted. 100,000 votes could be tossed—placing Pennsylvania back in the toss-up category since Trump won it in 2016 by only 44,292 votes.

He won Wisconsin by 22,748, and Michigan by 10,704.

Biden needs big margins of victory to keep his electoral college count safe.

Even then, Trump is guaranteeing November chaos while states count mail-in ballots. Most can’t start counting until election day, a process that can extend to December 9, the day Congress must have a certified count from every state. Since mail-ins are likely to include twice as many Biden votes, early counts and exit polls could favor Trump—fueling baseless claims of fraud when his leads erode over the following days and weeks

The best and probably only way to avoid that is an election night landslide.

Early in-person voting in Virginia started on September 18. The day Ginsburg died.

Have you voted yet?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice, Dies at Age 87 - HISTORY

UPDATE: As of late afternoon October 12, Politico predicted Wisconsin for Biden. That means ALL forecasts predict Biden, regardless of how any of the toss-ups states end up.

Inside 'Old Growth' by Niv Bavarsky and Michael Olivo — CYA

Sometimes the mark of a good comic is its inability to be summed up in words. Here’s my one-sentence attempt for Old Growth:

“Sentient mushrooms build a city in the forest of an expelled caterpillar who returns as an avenging butterfly tasked by angels to prevent the mushroom people from completing their tower of Babel and invading heaven.”

That plot summary may be engagingly odd, but it’s neither the most engaging or even the oddest thing about Niv Bavarksy and Michael Olivo’s graphic novel. Old Growth is foremost a visual work, and no verbal description will do it justice.

That includes the authors’ own attempts. In a concluding four-page interview, Olivo writes: “The book is largely an exploration of immature and arrogant attainments of power, and the two polarized factions represent the individualistic and collectivist manifestations of that.” Bavarksky wisely adds: “I’m not personally inclined to explain too much. Maybe it’ll become clearer over multiple readings or be interpreted very differently from our personal interpretations and I welcome that.”

I welcome it too. Exploratory interpretation is even built into the DNA of the two artists’ creative process. They began with no story, no character, no situation, just a few panels they passed back and forth by Dropbox (they live on opposite U.S. coasts). Like their later readers, they had to figure out what was going on based on initially ambiguous drawings, before working backwards to build a foundation for the sequence and then forwards as the narrative coalesced panel by panel.

Old Growth - Comics by comiXology

That’s not your typical approach to comics writing. More often a scripter hands a penciler page-by-page descriptions of would-be panel content paired with dialogue and narration. The artist doesn’t start drawing until the writing is over, making most comics just illustrated scripts. The penciler divides up the pre-determined number of images into layouts, sketches them, and then hands the work-in-progress to an inker who finalizes the line art, before handing it off again to a colorist. That’s the conveyer-belt production style of mainstream companies like Marvel and DC.

Olivo and Bavarksy worked nothing like that. They instead drew “completely in tandem,” trading the same panels back and forth, each adding new details, both and neither taking the role of primary artist-writer. Little wonder Old Growth took three years to produce.

Inside 'Old Growth' by Niv Bavarsky and Michael Olivo — CYA

They offset their complex creative process with formal simplicity. Most of the novel’s pages divide into a 2×3 grid of equal squares, providing a comfortingly simple progression through an internally complicated world. The choice of squares isn’t random. Bavarsky and Olivo recount how their first collaboration began when both were separately commissioned to draw an album cover. Instead of competing, they submitted a single, combined work. (They don’t name the album, but I’m guessing it’s “Cartoons” by the Australian band Hollow Everdaze.) Apparently, the shape appealed to them, because Old Growth includes over six hundred more.

Old Growth - Comics by comiXology: Web UK

The only images not co-drawn are the authors’ self-portraits, and there it’s clear that their styles are so merged it would be impossible to identify either’s specific contributions anywhere else in the novel. Their cartoons also evoke a higher level of abstraction than the majority of graphic novels. Sometimes panels seem to be shifting arrangements of flat, single-color shapes more than a storyworld of environments peopled by characters. The caterpillar, for example, is a string of overlapping pink circles with an anthropomorphic eyeball at one end but no other facial features.  The opening full-page image highlights a yellow triangle, which only after rereading with information gleaned from later pages can be deciphered as a heavenly ray of light bursting through darkened clouds.

Inside 'Old Growth' by Niv Bavarsky and Michael Olivo — CYA

Most panels are isolated images, but some pages (usually those depicting underground networks of mushroom roots) are appropriately interconnected, as though the white of the gutters blocks the view of the full picture. The second chapter (which might be an extended dream or prophecy?) breaks form, with squiggly panel edges and an eight-page sequence of full-page images that heighten the authors’ abstract style and push even harder against the novel’s narrative coherence. As a result, it’s one of the most interesting segments in the novel—though I admit I equally enjoyed the visual allusions to 1970s Godzilla movies when the caterpillar suddenly has a death ray emitting from its head. I also suspect the authors have seen a few Harry Potter movies, since the death ray and a mushroom laser tank lock beams like Harry and Voldemort.

Given that level of visual playfulness in both style and content, it may seem odd to interpret the novel as a philosophical struggle between domesticated comfort and antagonistic growth as Olivo suggests. He argues that the key to happiness is the understanding that pain is necessary. I’m guessing it was also Olivo who drew a literal key in the novel—a skeleton key with a skull for a head—that unlocks a heavenly door to the unknown.

I prefer Bavarksy’s description. When you’re taken “out of your comfort zone,” make something positive from the challenge. I suspect Old Growth will take some readers out of their comfort zones too. Personally, I wouldn’t mind a little more happy discomfort and a deeper exploration of heavenly unknowns, but it’s a treat to watch such an unusual collaborative process regardless of what flavor of fruit grows from it.

Niv Bavarsky — Just Six Degrees
Michael Olivo (Person) - Comic Vine

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