Writer: Anne Nocenti
Artist: David Aja
Berger Books, January 2021 (collected edition)
If there’s one book I have been waiting for with impatience, that has to be The Seeds. The first two issues of this book came out way back in 2018. The miniseries then appeared to vanish from the face of the Earth, with only a few updates by writer Ann Nocenti and artist David Aja keeping my hope of seeing it completed alive.
This January 2021 a collected version of the book, with the original two issues plus another two that never came out, was released by Berger Books. The wait was finally over, and I can now say without a shadow of a doubt that it was absolutely worth it. What’s more, the fact that this comic was planned and written before the pandemic, but got released in the middle of it, makes it a very special little book for a bunch of reasons.
The Seeds is atmospheric. Mr Aja’s art perfectly encapsulates the mood Ms Nocenti’s script is going for: it is bleak and dirty, but at the same time there is a feeling of conciseness that never allows the book to become visually confusing, even if it is black and white. This is Mr Aja at his best, not only because the art is superb, but because of the synergy he has with Ms Nocenti (which makes sense given this is their passion project).
The art itself, however, is not the most interesting visual aspect of this work, however. The repetition of visual motifs (most prominently, the hexagon) is very reminiscent of works like Watchmen and Planetary. The 9-panel grid has been overused since the 1980s, but this book deploys it to convey meaning in a pattern. On most pages, the central panel works as visual symbol of the entire page, and it serves to streamline the themes and meaning of each sequence.
The plot revolves around a post-apocalyptic world in which everyone has lost hope. A group of people that strongly believe technology was what caused humanity’s downfall exile themselves from society and go live outside of populated areas, with no technology in sight. At the same time, a few alien operatives recollect “seeds” from what is left of the planet, trying to preserve life before the Earth is completely destroyed. I won’t talk about the plot in detail because – it’s not the important part of this book.
While the plot is engaging and mysterious enough to keep you reading, the most interesting things about The Seeds are its themes and its metaphors. They kept making me return to a few key moments in the story to ensure I was understanding the references or that something I predicted way back actually came to pass.
And there is a lot to miss if you are not looking carefully. There are many layers of storytelling in play here, because this is not just a book about the end of the world. It is about the end of humanity – the end of the capacity to care for each other and create something together. The main characters are constantly struggling to find balance in a world divided in two opposite ideologies that are (but should not be) mutually exclusive. Because of this, the book does not condemn the more civilised, technology-oriented side of the conflict, nor the naturalistic Luddites that choose to live outside, on the other side of the world. If anything, it uses this divide to define what our main characters Astra, Lola and Race stand for.
Let’s address the elephant in the room. The masks, the isolation, the eco-fascism all make this book feels like a commentary on the social response to the global pandemic that is happening right now. However, it was planned and written way before the pandemic actually hit us. That’s what makes it so special: the message of hope, of trying to find humanity even under the harshest, most difficult circumstances is beautiful and necessary, and it comes just in the right moment without trying to do so. It is not a message that is tied to this very specific global event, but instead it is a universal idea that can be applied to any disaster of any scale. These characters are living under the most awful circumstances possible and yet they care about the little things, because for them they are as important as the big bad post-apocalyptic world they inhabit.
That, I believe, is the true power of this book: hope. When government systems fail and humanity is betrayed by its own planet, by its own nature, there is nothing to do but take care of each other and try not to ruin each other’s lives, even in the face of Armageddon. The main character of the book, Astra, is a reporter that, at the very beginning of the story, is determined to write one big story about the supposed alien sightings around town, and doesn’t really think about the consequences of her actions.
This is not an incident. It is just a result of late-stage capitalism and its doctrines. Even in a world that is falling apart, Astra’s does not think she should put others first and attempts to make her story public despite it having the potential to ruin many lives. Her character arc revolves around this paradox. The idea that even under the harshest circumstance we should compete against each other and try to come out as victors in a fight to the death is made literal when the world around her is so hostile and uncaring. Astra’s boss is convinced that if a story is not real, she should make it real, no matter how many dreams and hopes she has to trample on to do so.
In a similar way, the aliens are convinced that Earth has to end because they only get sent to planets that are about to die. So the leader of the group does whatever he can to make Earth die faster, because if something isn’t dead then what’s the point in collecting samples of it? Race sees through this self-destructive way of looking at things and, not unlike Astra, arrives at the conclusion that the only hope for both races is to be good to each other and be the change they want to see in the world.
The last of the trio of main characters, Lola, is not as prominent as the other two in the plot of the book. But she is the one who sparks the whole conflict between humans and aliens when she has a sexual relationship with Race. She soon leaves her side of the wall and goes to live with the Luddites, but she does not really develop through the book and is more of a spectator to the other characters and their arcs. The most prominent change in her life is possibly the removal of her cellphone, which forces her to find new ways of interacting with the people around her.
I think these three characters paint a very interesting picture of humanity and its relationship with technology, nature, and hope. Through the repetition of visual motifs and parallel storytelling, The Seeds manages to be a smart and hopeful, but strikes a balance by being acidic commentary on current affairs, yet not too heavy-handed or preachy.