I’ve gotten this question a lot the last few months: What’s it like releasing a book about the end of the world when it seems like the end of the world?
To be honest, I was worried about this as I was writing the book years ago. Selfishly, my big concern then was hoping that my book about the devastating earthquake that destroys the West Coast would come out before said earthquake could actually happen. It seems my wish was granted, and instead of that apocalypse we had a much different one to reckon with on its release.
Globally, COVID-19 cases top 50 million, with the deaths well over a million. Here in America we have topped 10 million cases with deaths almost reaching the quarter million. We just had one of the most important elections in American history, where it seemed democracy itself was at stake. (Even though there was a very clear winner, democracy still seems at stake.) Stack that on top of climate change and systemic racism and social inequity that has reached a boiling point… It’s hard not to feel like it’s the end of the world.
There’s an overwhelming sense of hopelessness in every breath we take these days. Even after an election that dragged on for what seemed like forever and an outcome that left us with a glimmer of hope, we’re seeing an administration refusing to leave office that makes you wonder what the possibilities of a coup actually are (Seriously. Is that something that’s gonna happen?). Meanwhile, COVID numbers continue to rise.
So, yeah, maybe a book that follows three siblings across a world where the Cascadia Subduction Zone has erupted, devastating the West Coast, splitting California in half, and leaving it in a state of lawlessness and violence isn’t what you want to be taking in right now.
There is a scene in Chapter 5 of Odessa.
The Cranes have barely escaped an encounter with the Fat Tires motorcycle gang and their new friend, TK, has been severely injured. In the quiet of the night, TK finds Virginia catching a moment of peace while her brothers are asleep. The two have a conversation and connect about what they were doing in the recently escaped ruins and a bit of their past. They also talk about what it was like for each of them on the day the earthquakes happened and the aftermath.
And that’s the thing, right? Everything we’re going through now… It isn’t the end. It’s a change.
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When I set out to make Odessa
, the main theme I wanted to focus on was loss and how it can create this emptiness that has such a presence, and the desperate search for answers that can haunt those who are left behind. I wanted to focus on the relationship between the siblings and how while they might fight and bicker and be at each other’s throats, they love each other and learn to take care of each other and survive this harsh world. The apocalyptic world was just a backdrop that served as a metaphor for the way a child feels their world being destroyed during the separation of their parents.
As the book formed, another theme sort of developed on its own. One that I wasn’t even aware of until it was pointed out to me. Xan Drake, a former student and friend whom I had hired for art assistance and production prep, pointed out a theme that spoke strongly to them as they read Odessa
It was one of hope.
In the world of Odessa
, like many post-apocalyptic stories, the rules are simple: Survival at all cost. Every person for themselves. The Crane siblings are constantly told these rules and witness the danger and violence firsthand on their journey. This is the world now. It’s a world that exists because people made it that way.
In the world we live in, we almost have very similar rules. It’s a world on the verge of ruin, ravaged by unfettered capitalism and climate change, where those at the top have taken as much as they can and left the rest of us to live off the scraps. Again, this is a world where we have chosen those rules.
But in both worlds, it doesn’t have to be like that. It’s a choice that people make. Selfishness and individual survival is a choice. Just as kindness, compassion, and hope are choices that you can make, too. That's the choice Virginia and her brothers make. Even when it’s the hard choice, you can choose love.
This was what Xan saw in Odessa
. They saw children in a world constantly showing them how horrible it is and at each turn, they choose to do the right thing.
We have this choice, too.
We can choose to care about other people. We can choose to stay inside, to wear masks, and socially distance if we have to go outside. We can choose to speak up and fight for those people and communities that are most affected by systemic oppression.
That’s the thing about postapocalyptic stories. Often, they’re not really about the world ending. They’re about how we find hope when it doesn’t seem like there should be any reason to have any at all.
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So what’s it like releasing a book about the end of the world when it seems like the end of the world?
It’s weird. But it’s weird to be doing anything right now, right? The NBA season finished up in a bubble in Disneyworld; we haven’t left our houses since March; and we do everything through Zoom, a program nobody heard about nine months ago. Weird is normal.
I would even argue it’s not that weird at all. Maybe, actually, the end of the world is the best time to be releasing a book about the end of the world. It can remind people that big, society-changing events can happen. The world as we know it can end, but life will continue on. It can remind people that no matter what, we always have a choice.
Let’s choose to care about each other.
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is a cartoonist, illustrator, and educator. He’s done work for Fantagraphics Books, First Second, The Believer
magazine, and the Portland Trailblazers. He also serves on the Board of Directors of Literary Arts, the Advisory Council for Create More, Fear Less, and teaches comics at PNCA. His newest graphic novel, Odessa
, is published by Oni Press and serves as his debut as both the writer and artist.