The new comic book "Calexit" has a definite point of view, taking readers into a dystopian story that draws from elements of the real world. It's a book that has echoes of the real-life Calexit movement — which aims to get California to leave the United States and form its own nation — but it's been in the works for a while, even before the movement became a thing.
"It's inspired by the contemporary American politics, but it's not really a reaction to the current president," writer Matteo Pizzolo told KPCC. "We've been working on it since before the current administration. But it is very much about characters who are dealing with this contemporary place and time, where Americans are so heavily reliant on one another, but at the same time feeling very factionalized."
The comic introduces readers to a version of California that is seceding from the union over federal immigration policy. In response, the federal government has become an occupying force.
"It's about California, but also California as a microcosm of the country as a whole, because there is so much diversity in California," Pizzolo said. "Even though to a lot of the country, California is perceived of as Los Angeles or San Francisco, obviously politically and culturally everyone is here."
Pizzolo compared what California does in the book to the real-life impact of sanctuary cities and jurisdictions and to the alliance California formed when the U.S. pulled out of the Paris climate accord.
The book dissects the idea of California's interdependence, with L.A. in particular being reliant on water and agriculture from Central California and other parts of the country. Pizzolo said he felt that if there was ever a secession, there would be less a civil war between California and the rest of the country and more of one inside the state, as different sensibilities, regions, cultures and political groups clashed.
That diversity was something Pizzolo saw as he traveled around the state. He wanted to make sure the book had a strong sense of place, focusing on specific neighborhoods and what different parts of the state contribute to the rest of the state and to the world.
One of the ways the book is given a sense of place: extensive visual research. While the book's illustrator Amancay Nahuelpan lives in Chile, Pizzolo brought him to L.A. and walked through neighborhoods to figure out the visual design. After the artist left and Pizzolo would use a new area, he went through the neighborhood taking photos to send as reference. That approach even extends to the colors, as Pizzolo worked closely with colorist Tyler Boss.
"We went through a lot of different photographs together of the specific color of the sunlight and the sunsets in California that are so specific and that are so unlike anyplace else in the world," Pizzolo said.
While a sense of activism plays into "Calexit," Pizzolo was quick to note that the story's characters come first.
"We are not out there to be doing a polemic that pushes our characters to a secondary level. The world of it is a point of view," Pizzolo said. "It's not a dystopian story of survival. They're not running away from zombies — they're at risk from one another."
So, they're trying not to be "The Walking Dead." One of the central themes of the book: everyone's reliance on each other. While the comic's setting can feel hopeless, Pizzolo said he wanted to make sure he was offering inspiration and thinking positively while creating it.
"I wanted to make sure that the book was constructive, and it wasn't just wallowing in this sort of dystopia and how bad everything is. Because I don't believe that," Pizzolo said. "Certainly when you pick up Issue 1, [by] the end of Issue 1 characters are going to be in a difficult place. That's just drama. And I didn't want anyone to put the book down and feel more depressed than when they picked it up."
You can see if Pizzolo was successful in creating a "dystopia with hope" in comic book stores everywhere. Calexit #1 from Black Mask Studios went on sale Wednesday.