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‘Gleem’ Review: A Glittering Glimpse into Carrasco’s Afrofuturistic Worlds

4 Stars

'Gleem' by Freddy Carrasco Cover
'Gleem' by Freddy Carrasco Cover By Courtesy of Drawn and Quarterly
By Claire C. Swadling, Contributing Writer

With masterfully rendered graphics and fantastical world building, Freddy Carrasco’s debut graphic novel, “Gleem,” dazzles readers with three well-crafted vignettes. Over the course of the graphic novel, readers get a glimpse of Carrasco’s Afrofuturistic cyberspace — and the euphoria that comes from diving into the unknown.

In “Gleem,” readers are treated to three distinct short stories: “Born Again,” the tale of a young boy who embarks on a psychedelic fantasy during church; “Swing,” a vignette of a band of kids who discover an out-of-commission robotic friend; and “Hard Body,” the final episode which details a party and its hallucinogenic aftermath.

While Carrasco’s three futuristic shorts don’t share characters or storylines, they have a few things in common. The stories offer readers Carrasco’s depiction of ecstasy in an Afrofuturist world — a euphoria attained through both enticing edible orbs that cause characters to hallucinate and delectably crafted cyberspace lore. Additionally, through its brief chapters, “Gleem” hints at the enormity of a cyberpunk future without betraying it, a task Carrasco carries out adeptly through world building.

Carrasco’s graphic artwork is a key contributor to the excellent world building. Most of the graphic novel consists of black and white line drawings, with a few pages colorized for effect. While Carrasco’s art style may initially seem too neat for a roaring cyberpunk universe, it quickly becomes apparent that the angular silhouettes and edges lend itself well to futurism. Reading the graphic novel is like hitting “start” on a video game: The illusion of pixelation and futuristic technology is created through minimalism.

For example, in “Born Again,” a rendering of a woman’s dress turns into a marbled sky after a child in church eats a psychedelic. Instead of wielding a wild neon palette, Carrasco depicts this transformation with just two colors. His black and white drawings and textured borders emphasize the hard truth of his cyberpunk future — after all, it’s not a utopia — allowing readers to experience his fantasy world without getting overwhelmed.

In “Hard Body,” Carrasco outdoes himself with wild scenes of psychedelic mania. With two-page spreads of cybernetic elements bouncing around across time, readers experience the hallucinations as his partygoers do. Carrasco capitalizes on the first two vignettes’ uniform style to rip readers out of their comfort zone, strategically adding color and texture at the same time as the readers enter the cyber club for the first time. In other words, Carrasco is an expert trip-setter.

The artwork in “Gleem” moves the plot forward as well. With little text, readers discover Carrasco’s fantasy world through his depictions of characters — the young church boy, kids wishing to revive a robot, and cyberpunk partygoers. Each story is driven by its respective protagonist, who each reveal a different glimpse of Carrasco’s Afrofuturistic society. By focusing on only Black characters, he challenges non-white underrepresentation in science fiction.

Curiosity is at the core of all of the characters in the graphic novel. This trait fuels all their adventures — consider the boy itching to try something new and clubbers experimenting with psychedelics in the bathroom. There’s also “Swing,” the story of teens itching to get a new battery for a decommissioned and potentially volatile robotic friend. Readers are given several ingredients — a natural leader, an empathetic dreamer, a tough cookie, and a warning adult — and receive a soufflé of mischief in return. As the teenagers investigate the glittering dangers of cyberspace, readers are able to follow along with bated breath. The result? An entertaining and eerie tale of discovery.

“Gleem” is a unique read that packs a punch in just 209 pages. With his debut graphic novel, Carrasco makes it clear that he’s not only giving readers a taste of what an Afrofuturist world would have to offer. Instead, he wants readers to embrace their imaginations and follow him headfirst down the cybernetic rabbit hole.

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