The Italian cartoonist Gipi is still an unfamiliar name for most American readers. His work first became available in English when First Second imported his Notes For A War Story in 2007, and the couple of works that followed announced Gipi as one of the next great Italian cartoonists in a decade beset with European comics artists. Like many of those, Gipi painted his pages, and his comics bore the lush texture of watercolors and the striking look of thin, confident ink work. Unlike some of those other artists, however, Gipi never became a “name.” But now, more than 10 years removed from that introduction to American audiences, Gipi’s Land Of The Sons (Fantagraphics Books) serves as the beginning of his second life on American shores, and hopefully it is met with the awe and attention it deserves.
The book tells the story of two brothers—both unnamed—living with their father near a lake in some distant future hellscape after what is called “The End.” The end of what, exactly, is never alluded to with any specificity, but it looks like the end of modernity: no state, no infrastructure, no forms of communication, little food, and even fewer people. In a series of adventures that slowly become increasingly dramatic and violent, the book follows the brothers on a journey of loss and self-discovery. Through these adventures, which unfold in a direct, acutely linear sequence reminiscent of the energy of “one crazy night” movies, Gipi reveals little of this land of sons, and what little details he does reveal tend to be clichéd (there are shades of a satire aimed at Facebook) and casually dispensed. Still, it’s difficult to imagine Gipi producing the book that he did without concerning himself deeply with those seemingly inconsequential details of plot.
Presenting itself in an anarchic parade of anger, impulse, and violence, Land Of The Sons moves with a rare energy. Shedding the soft, still aesthetic that characterized his earlier American releases, Gipi draws Land Of The Sons like a maniac. He composes each figure as an accumulation of circles spiraling endlessly on top of one another until they become recognizable—as a shape, as texture, as light. The whole thing is an illustrative tour de force. The beauty and style of Gipi’s drawing is impressive, but the economy of his cartooning is equally noteworthy. Pages have neither too few nor too many panels, and Gipi lays each in its proper place. And yet, Land Of The Sons doesn’t work as well as it does because of Gipi’s capacities as an illustrator; it does so because of his capacities as a cartoonist—someone who writes with images. The father-son story, as well as the story of brothers that supplements it, is affecting because of Gipi’s skill in alluding to or evading the depth and complexity of the relationships. This tension between the surface and what lies just beneath it elevates this book to one of the year’s best.