“We declare that the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed.” – Filippo Tommaso Marinetti
“Go, Guarantee! Go!” – The masses of Decelerate Blue
Adam Rapp and Mike Cavallero’s Decelerate Blue is a story about love and resistance told against the backdrop of a society controlled by the global, authoritarian Guarantee Committee whose rise to power was facilitated in the name of security. Mandatory chips allow access to an omnipresent network controlling daily activity while feeding information to the massive Orwellian Database. Meals are Quik! The latest movie is a hyper experience at 14 minutes. The latest rage is to sleep standing up. Shakespeare’s heavily edited works are taught in Brief Lit. Language is concise: contractions are de rigeur; adverbs avoided; and every sentence ends with a mandatory “Go” as a prompt for others to speak without even a moment’s consideration. The social nexus is Megamall where everyone goes to make meaningful purchases. And a reduction colony awaits you when you become too old and frail to keep up with the frenetic pace. It’s a world in which the most mundane of situations seems empty of humanity and teenager Angela Swiff (even her name sounds fast) wants nothing to do with it. She’s not the only one who despises this status quo, as we learn about “floater” outcasts during a dinner conversation between Angela and her parents. The mysterious appearance of “Kick the Boot:, an “Old World” activist book (simultaneously as Angela is reading Romeo and Juliet for Brief Lit) and a trip to a small wooded hidden behind the Megamall to discover a part of her grandfather’s history fortuitously combine and Angela finds herself falling through a “rabbit hole” into the Underground, a ragtag community brimming with floater mentality. It’s here that she meets and falls in love with another girl and she decides to join the resistance in the hope of making a future together.
I do not know if author Adam Rapp is familiar with the Futurist movement founded in 1909 by Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti or if Rapp took any cues from certain individuals during the last presidential campaign to incorporate into his dystopian story. Likely inspiration came from author Kurt Vonnegut whom Rapp cites on the dedication page. However, the Futurists with their obsession for speed, machinery, and industrialized cities and their loathing of history and old forms of art and politics seem a good psychological starting point for me as a reader. I imagine the Futurists would likely feel exhilarated living in this hyper kinetic world of Rapp and Cavallaro. Like the Guarantee Committee, Marinetti had another side to him which became more readily apparent when he collaborated with Alceste De Ambris to write the Fascist Manifesto a decade later. The desire for speed seems to negate the depth of human experiences. I also find myself thinking about the rapidity of the Guarantee Committee in remaking the world in its ideal and looking at the rapid succession shock level events of the new administration. Isn’t this how one goes about destabilizing a society in order to remake it? But I digress. Only slightly. It’s far too easy for me to look at Steve Bannon’s admiration of Lenin and his own vision of tearing down all institutions in order to replace them with something of his own vision and a virulently anti LGBTQ Vice President and Cabinet combined with a likely Putin compromised, self serving robber baron in the Oval Office colluding to lay the groundwork for a United States that begins to resemble the Guarantee world if they’re left unchecked and in power. I believe Rapp’s Angela represents the nascent queer person transitioning from a non supportive, perhaps potentially hostile, family of birth to an accepting and nurturing family of choice, albeit one firmly rooted in a counter culture whose existence is considered unlawful by the institution in power; the illegal status of the Underground would not be so far a cry away from the effects of the highly discriminatory LGBTQ executive order rumored in the days following the ill conceived, ham handed Muslim ban.
I did say this is a love story, didn’t I? There is the friendship with Gladys (itself a name that connotes a different era) , who’s first seen rising through the surface of an underground river during a “Deceleration” ceremony. They appear to be kindred souls in that “Kick the Boot” started their journey and they share a love of Old World literature. Their friendship quickly turns into a romantic relationship over the course of days, which is perhaps a bit ironic given that the appreciation for slowness is the binding element of the Underground. Love happens at its own pace, right? and they’re certainly more in love in a short span of time than Angela’s parents are after sixteen or more years of marriage.They’re in such a haze from their accelerated pace that neither one shows any emotion towards one another or their daughter. They’re happily, giddily in love baring their souls to one another. Beyond this amorous affair Angela has fallen in love with life itself and all of the possibilities that a few short days before felt unimaginable to her. The depth of her new love of life is so great that she’s willing to risk her own life and love for Gladys to run a secret mission for the Underground.
Cavallaro’s style is a great match for Rapp’s vision. Sharp, angular lines and rhythmic geometric shapes with stark black and white contrasts define the binary philosopy of the Guarantee Committee’s world. The people living in and around the mega city of New Fleet Tempopolis reflect the speed ideal by being tall and thin. They’re faces scowl or blank or occasionally display an unsettling rehearsed smile. Angela’s mother is a prime example as she tries to encourage her daughter to engage in hyper themed social events with her peers. Their clothing is basic because taking time to choose your clothing for the day is a waste of time.
The Underground is a 180 degree contrast. We feel as if we’re a part of this environment thanks to the panel composition of Angela’s own entrance whereas we feel visually held off at a distance in the city. Cavallaro fills the Underground with organic shapes and a range of lighting to evoke a feeling of mood and location. People in the Underground have a variety of body shapes and sizes and their clothing, however limited, shows individuality. People touch, they talk and laugh, are happy and sad. They’re aware of every moment and how fragile their lives are.
Lettering is a typically overlooked component of comics storytelling. Now and then letterers find a novel way to enhance a character or a scene’s mood. Cavallaro takes a subtle approach to using word balloons to reflect the opposing forces of the two communities. It’s a very effective method of converying Angela’s emotional state as she moves between these two worlds.
There is an aspect of this graphic novel I’m torn about mentioning. Aside from the cover I’d assumed the art was all black and white. It is not. The first time color appears in a panel I thought it was odd and somehow maybe a mistake. As I read through the story and color appeared again I had a visceral reaction as certainly Rapp and Cavallaro must want readers to experience. Cavallaro deserves kudos here and I would urge you to read the book simply from front to back without leafing through it so you can experience this first hand.
Decelerate Blue was an engaging and thought provoking read for me. Those requiring happy endings will be disappointed and miss what I believe to be Rapp’s point: One’s ideals and truths are worth fighting for and living regardless the price. Look for it at your local comic shop or bookstore and buy it from Amazon.