There have been many times after I finish reading a comic where I simply think, “What the f*ck.” Often this is a confusion founded on a negative impression of the story and/or art. When I finished reading Fantagraphic’s Halcyon, written and illustrated by Ron Regé Jr., I thought, “What the f*ck,” but in a profoundly positive way.
Halcyon is a cartoon-style graphic novel that follows two non-binary protagonists and a host of heavenly beings in their search for and explorations of spirituality. The term “spirituality” seems to limit in this case, though, as the book doesn’t quite deal with the trappings of religion, but each character’s journey of finding their place in existence.
It sounds pretty… trippy, as some may put it, but it’s less psychedelic and more experiential. Just when you think you’ve got a grasp on its ideas it unhinges you from the story, throwing you in a new direction as much as the story’s characters are moved from their place. Halcyon’s art is no small part of this, masterfully playing with space and texture. Regé’s style of creating movement with lines is quite mesmerizing, almost dreamy, and sings with the clear pastel colors illuminating each landscape.
The lack of gutters between panels is what really sells the sense of the unrelenting melding of narrative. At times, pages just look like De Luca-style continuous images with a thin grid overlay. The last pages play with this no-gutter style even further, creating crisp, ethereal landscapes that slowly blend together so it doesn’t look like a page of panels but more like a singular illustration.
However, something that disrupted this visual continuity in the middle of the book was the introduction of narrative text with the entry of the second protagonist. It was also a bit jarring because up until that point the story was motivated visually, not through text.
But this is just my interpretation of Halcyon. “Hermeneutics” is what the story is subtitled at the start, and the term can be defined as, in short, the study of interpretation. Frankly, the story doesn’t make complete sense, but that’s kind of the idea. That you, the reader, interpret it as you will and take from it what you will. Because that’s what we as humans do, use concepts like spirituality, religion, science, to understand the world and our existence within it and take its meaning.
For example, Halcyon’s ideas of escaping suffocating societies and complacent life resonated with me the most, along with the two non-binary characters. It was interesting how even the ideas of non-binary identity are up for so much interpretation, seeing as there is no textual way to know that the characters are non-binary besides reading Fantagraphic’s description, as they are not referred to with any names or pronouns. Considering that decision, I guess all of the characters in Halcyon are non-binary, as is my interpretation.
Even if nothing is understood of the story plot-wise, the art alone takes you on a journey, bringing whimsical yet silky movement in the style’s use of lines that direct you and at the same time let you wander. It’s easy to hitch a ride on the smooth flow of whimsy and deep thought that brings meaning to the word halcyon’s definition of peaceful, nostalgic happiness.
But if a clear, coherent narrative is something that is non-negotiable, this story may not be for you. The advertised “main” story about the two non-binary protagonists doesn’t quite kick into full gear until halfway through the book. The pages are also ‘chaptered’ into loose sections by the month(s) and year the ideas for them came to Regé, ranging from January 2019 to September 2020. Seeing Regé’s thought progression is a cool detail, but the fragmentation can take you out of the experience at times.
Despite these minor qualms, fans of Regé’s The Cartoon Utopia will eat this book up, and new readers are sure to be enchanted by his unique perspectives and art. It gave me an (albeit positive) “what the f*ck” moment, but Halcyon’s untethered narrative and dreamy, contemplative art make for an experience I won’t soon forget.
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