I’ve been sitting here staring at my computer, scrolling through Young Terrorists, staring at my blinking cursor, trying to decide how to start. The problem is that I want to do it justice and I’m so afraid of not giving it the review it deserves. I asked my friends how I should start and they said “Write a paragraph!” (Super helpful, as always.) I ended up trying to describe the premise of the comic to my friends and wound up even more nervous to write this article. This comic is great. It’s amazing. It does everything that so many comics are trying to do right now so well. Somehow it just . . . worked. But when I told my friends the plot, it sounded silly! So how do I let you know how much this comic did the things and did them well? How do I capture everything that it had to offer?
I’ll start by talking about the elephant in the room – this comic is eighty pages long. When I first heard this I was a little suspicious. ‘What makes this issue so special that I needs so many pages?’ I thought. ‘I feel like it’s a bit presumptuous, but we shall see.’ When I started reading it, I intended to read a few pages just to start chipping away at the book, then take a nap, and then finish the issue. But I couldn’t stop!! By the third page, I was totally sucked in and my interest just grew and grew with every panel. Soon enough, I had finished the book, the letter at the end, and even the back cover because I just wanted more. At the same time, I was completely satisfied. It was a perfect first issue. It was lengthy, but it used all the space to develop compelling characters and establish a well thought out, intricate world. None of it felt like wasted space or like it was drawn out just for the sake of filling pages. It was exactly the opposite of the Hobbit movie debacle. The eighty pages were not a money suck, they were not showing off, they were just taking the time necessary to tell a fantastic story.
One reason the comic resonated so well was because it takes place in a dystopian future, but it’s very close to our reality right now. So much of the story feels like it could be happening today that it’s almost a comic set in present time. The only thing that really reminded me that it takes place in the future is the fact that there are clones grown from mushrooms. (See, I told you it sounds silly if I try to describe the plot.) A big part of the comic that was like, ‘Whoah, this is smart and relevant,’ were the Infocide news segments. Infocide is an online news source that claims to expose all of the facts that the government is covering up. The way it presents itself feels very much like right-wing conservative rabble rousing conspiracy theories, yet because of what you know from reading the rest of the comic, you know that Infocide is actually exposing the truth. But if I was watching it today, not knowing more than what the mass media was saying about current events, I would think Infocide was a bunch of bull honkey trying to make money and make a commotion. But it’s not!! And that’s where the brilliance stems from! What if all of these conspiracy theorists are actually right??
This book also gave me a more intensely visceral reaction to animal cruelty than anything else ever has, even those gosh darn Chipotle Scarecrow ads. The way it described factory farming and one of the main character’s reactions to Americans treatment of livestock was intense and beautifully worded and incredibly impactful. And the weird thing was, there were SO many narration boxes in this section, which usually drives me batty, but I didn’t mind it at all. Once again, it just seemed to work. Then the fact that the imagery used to describe chickens being pumped full of hormones, their legs cracking under their own weight, was later brought back in relation to Cesar’s experiences as an immigrant was extremely powerful. Characters have always been immensely important to me when reading comics and Young Terrorists made me feel the things each protagonist was feeling, such that I ended up wanting to support a cause I’d never given much thought to before. (Which I feel like I shouldn’t say on the internet because I sound like a bad person. I’m not cruel to animals or supportive of people who are, it’s just never been an issue at the forefront of my mind.) But anyhow, Pizzolo’s characters are real and I already feel like I know them.
This comic has so many levels, it’s hard to know where to even start unpacking them. You have commentary on social aspects like our society’s need for entertainment mixed in with political commentary on everything from our police force to terrorists and suicide bombers to government cover-ups and abuse of power and then there’s a little bit of occult, sigil magic and sci-fi thrown on top to add even more depth to this intricate plot. Every time I’ve read through this comic again or talked about it with a new group of people, I’ve discovered something I hadn’t previously caught on to. For example, I didn’t realize that this comic paid frequent homage to The Invisibles, but apparently this is a common theme throughout the entire book. There were also a bunch of song lyrics from various bands that I missed. However, the great thing about this comic is that although I’m the naïve, uncultured young’un I seem to be, I still really enjoyed this book and got a lot out of it, even without all of the background knowledge.
Young Terrorists has a little bit of everything for everyone. There’s political intrigue, violence, sex, a female protagonist, strong characters, a punk aesthetic, mystery, and dystopian societal commentary. I’ve noticed there has been a trend in comics lately where stories are leaning towards this darker, grittier punk feel. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes it just kind of sits there not doing much of anything. Young Terrorists establishes itself as an impressive example of how to do this genre correctly mainly because of how polished it was. When you’re dealing with a subject matter and style that’s removed from the mainstream trends, it’s easy to create a product that is rough and disjointed, much like the subject matter. While this can occasionally create an artistic and thought provoking book, it more often results in a hard to read, messy comic. Because it is a polished, clean project, Young Terrorists reads smoothly and cohesively, making its message even more effective because it does not get lost in an overly edgy interpretation of the comic medium.
This isn’t to say that the comic doesn’t take risks by any means. As my friend so aptly put it, “Everyone was naked a lot.” This is true. There were a lot of naked people in this issue. The nakedness never felt like it was just being used for shock value or for excessive sexualization, however. Instead, it acted as a means of stripping people down to their barest selves and forcing them to struggle through the challenges they came up against with no protection and no support outside of themselves. This comic also had a lot of violence, but again, it wasn’t just violence for violence sake. Well, the interesting thing is that the fight scenes were commentary on how our society thrives on violence as entertainment, so it ended up being violence for violence sake to make a point. Such was the nature of every panel and every word in this comic. It all had a purpose. There wasn’t a single bit of space in this book that wasn’t being used to make the reader think about and question a world that we have become so accustomed to.
I’ve just realized that I haven’t talked enough about Nahuelpan’s art and Csuka’s colors. The visual aspects of this book were perfect. They complimented and enhanced the story that was being told in every way. The color palette was a glorious compilation of slightly muted hues that expertly mirrored the emotions portrayed in each panel. The characters’ appearances were realistic and unique, capturing both pain and hurt and the beauty of rebellion. Movement was a major part of this story and Nahuelpan ensured that all action jumped off of the page, with dynamic lines and expert panel composition. This book gave space to scenes that needed space, taking the time to linger on an impactful image, while moving the action along at a fierce pace when the story calls for it.
The one thing that really bothered me about this book was that one of the characters, Cesar, who has very dark hair at the beginning of the book, dyes it white in one go. This is completely impractical and impossible. It took me two bleaches to get my hair even close to that light, it still had yellow in it, and my hair had started out light brown. I think, though, that if this is my main complaint with Young Terrorists, it’s doing alright. It’s been awhile since I’ve read a book that felt so complete and well formatted, yet still left me with a million questions and several different possible interpretations of multiple storylines. Young Terrorists accomplished what it set out to do and did so elegantly.