California Breaks Up With The U.S. In Dystopian Comic Book Series 'Calexit'
So maybe the Calexit movement is losing steam IRL, but it's going at warp speed in Calexit, the comic book. The new comic series depicts a California that has fully seceded from a United States run by a (fictional) fascist president who issues an order to deport all undocumented immigrants.
It's not all roses, however—in Calexit the Golden State hasn't withdrawn into some inner sanctum to meditate, play ultimate frisbee, and gorge on fiber-rich plant-based dinners. Rather, the state itself has fractured and descended into chaos. There are the resistance fighters, those who align themselves with the Feds, and everyone else in between. As Matteo Pizzolo (who's writing the series with Amancay Nahuelpan helming the artwork) tells LAist, our state is so big and diverse that, inevitably, it comes face to face with an identity crisis. "It's kind of a microcosm of the rest of the world," said Pizzolo.
Aside from the intriguing ideas, the major allure of Calexit is how closely it (seemingly) mirrors the current political landscape, of course. Curiosity has been bubbling over the series ever since it was announced. The fanfare is so huge, in fact, that stores have reportedly sold out of copies within a day of its release (the first issue came out this Wednesday). LAist spoke with Pizzolo about the catalyst for his project, why California is such an odd bird, and the role of comic books in this new era.
Obviously, people draw connections between the current political landscape and Calexit. But you've said before that the idea for Calexit materialized before Trump even became president.
It wasn't written and drawn before Trump became president, but we worked on it before that. These things don't really happen linearly. The world of the book first crystalized in my mind when...well it's funny, it was the Silver Lake Reservoir. They'd moved the water, and I just saw it empty one day. And you remember that the drought was going on at that time, like there were only specific times that you could water your lawn, so it was kind of an intense period. Anyway, there's that park by the reservoir, and there were these kids who were playing in front of this empty, apocalyptic-looking space. That kind of stopped me in my tracks. It just resonated with me.
I think I was also reacting to the primaries. It was stunning—the vitriol that was happening between not just different people, but like-minded people as well. I don't believe that there really is a deep-seated rancor between people. I know it feels that way, but I don't think that's the way we really are. As a people I think we're dependent on one another, and we need to depend on one another.
And this is part of the book's theme? That we're reliant on one another, no matter how fractured the current situation may be?
Yes. The world of the story is about a dystopian place where its characters are—through the course of the narrative—being called up by the story to take care of one another. So it's really about that sense of hope, about this optimism breaking through the dystopia of the world. The story really doesn't just wallow. We don't want it to be something where you read it and you're extra depressed about the state of the world. We hope that it celebrates the spirit of a resistance, and that it's ultimately an optimistic book.
I understand that, in the series, the state secedes and is fighting against a federal occupation. But I believe there's a civil war going inside the state as well? We're definitely a state of divergent ideologies...in real life, I mean.
The premise of the book isn't that California is just a blue state, and that if it seceded it would be this utopia. The premise is that we're not a consistently blue state; there are different cultures and contentious political ideas among groups that are actually reliant among one another.
The second half of the issue is non-fiction, about political organizing and things that focus on optimistic, constructive topics. There's an interview with a political organizer, and I'd written an essay that serves as a transition between the fiction and non-fiction material. What I say in it is that, if California were to secede, there would be a civil war within the state before the government even comes across our border. The point of the book is to say that California is not, as a whole, like San Francisco or L.A., or what people often think of. It's just so big and so diverse.
What sparks everything in the story? Why does Calexit happen?
What happens is, the president in this story—he's a fictitious, autocratic president—passes an immigration bill to deport all immigrants. It's harsher in the story than what has come to play in the real world.
So this president is not Trump? Rather, he's like a Trump-like figure?
It's a Trump-like figure. It's a clear nod to Trump, the way that it's in the book, but it's only on the first page. Trump's not a character in it, and it's not about Trump. There's a newsreel that happens in the beginning, and there are a couple paragraphs of the president speaking in the syntax of Trump. I hadn't realized it until I did it, but it was really fun to write in the syntax of Trump [laughs]. The cadence of how he talks is fun to write. It's bombastic with no self-reflection, so I never have to go back and revise it.
So he passes this law and that's how everything gets going.
He passes this law, but Sacramento refuses to enforce it and declares a sanctuary state. Later, what happens is the state itself fractures because there are two huge blocks of the state that side with the federal government, and they declare themselves the Sovereign Citizens Coalition. They reject Sacramento and cut off resources that are being sent to San Francisco and Los Angeles. In response to this, there's the formation of the Pacific Coast Sister Cities Alliance. And the big thing that changes the center of the conflict is that Tijuana joins this group. Once this has become international, that's when the federal government decides that it's gone way too far, and that's when they invade and basically occupy California.
In the time it took us to put this together, things [in the real world] obviously didn't quite turn out like this. But it is still a little haunting to me how things are mirrored. Like how the president announced we were leaving the Paris Accord, and how we formed an alliance with other states and also making a deal in China. This is the way things escalate. It's the idea of how groups react to one another, and having it become a global crisis. But we're not there yet.
California has a history of holding novel and even rebellious ideas. There's our emissions regulations, for instance, which has helped pushed for progress in the auto industry. And the fact that schools and cities are declaring themselves to be sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants. Calexit really seems to feed off that subversive spirit.
I think the state still has some of that frontier spirit. California was a part of Mexico before it seceded; it wasn't always an American state, of course, and I think that's still in the DNA of California. I think you see that sensibility come across everywhere. Our flag was the bear flag of the California Republic, which was around only for a brief time.
Sometimes you see it in something like the L.A. Riots, or in how Hollywood has a history of making movies about individuals fighting oppression; you can see that in Star Wars. And I think, with Silicon Valley, the innovations can be disruptive in how they can empower the individual. Sometimes it works out well. Sometimes it doesn't.
With the current environment, different mediums are finding new ways to address the day's issues. How do indie comics fit into this? And what does it bring that other mediums like film and music can't?
I think, historically, indie comics have played a big role in social and political commentary, going back to the dawn of comics. If you want to talk about the rebel spirit, comics was one of the first forms that was self-publishable, that was sold in head shops, and from the back of cars, and in underground comic book stores. Except for a brief period with the Comics Code, it's insanely unregulated, and it's a little bit lawless in that there's not a lot of authority figures that stand between the reader, the artist, and the reader. This enables comic books to have a very intensely personal point of view.
I've made films. I've worked in TV. And those are very different, because it's made by a committee that's collaborating on this. And that's wonderful, but with comics you have a small group working in real time. And, you know, the news cycle and the political cycle re-contextualizes the work that we're doing everyday. And with comics the product goes on the shelf weeks later, not months or years later. That speed and nearly direct relationship between the creators and the reader is extremely unique.
Have people taken offense to your work? Have individuals been outright nasty to you about it?
Another interesting thing about comics is that there's a different comic con every week. There are always shops for creators to stop by and meet readers. So, the wall between the creator and the reader is thin, not just through the comic, but also in a face-to-face way. We're just standing apart from each other with a table separating us. The people I've met have been very open and interested. One on one, the conversation has been very constructive and interesting. But when you dive into anonymous content, like comments on articles, then yeah you get people who say they want Kim Jong-un to nuke L.A.
The internet really can be an awful place.
I'd interviewed a political organizer, and she'd said that when she knocked on people's doors she'd rarely have a door slammed on her face. Even if people disagree with her, they'll be respectful and have genuine conversations. But if it's over the phone, they become must more rude and aggressive. And now there's more texting involved with organizing; she said that there's literally nothing someone won't say to you in a text.
Issue one of Calexit is out now at your local comic book store, though many stores have reportedly sold out. In the case that your store has run out, you can ask shop owners to place an order for the issue. Calexit runs monthly. You can keep up with updates by following Black Mask Studios on Twitter and Facebook.