Writer and Artist: James Romberger
Dark Horse Comics / Berger Books, 2021
Eco-apocalypse science fiction or “cli-fi” is very much in vogue. Within American comic books, Snowpiercer, a dystopian comic about an Ice Age-crippled Earth, which gave rise to a successful motion picture, is perhaps the most famous in the genre. The earliest American example of eco-apocalypse we can recall is Spaceman, published by Vertigo Comics in 2011. It was written and pencilled by the team from crime saga 100 Bullets, Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso. Spaceman contemplates a hot, flooded world, the entire planet reduced to the rot of the Hurricane Katrina-ravaged suburbs of New Orleans. The protagonist scavenges metal, and there is a guarded carved-out paradise for the rich, a walled Makati suburb but on a grand, oceanic scale.
Post York is a publication from Dark Horse Comics’ imprint Berger Books. Karen Berger was the editor of Vertigo Comics from its establishment in 1993 to her departure in 2012. Berger Books was created in 2017. Four years in and we regard the Berger Books label as a clear indicia of thoughtful comic books. This title, by writer and artist James Romberger, was originally published in a truncated form under the independent imprint “Uncivilized Books”, before being snaffled up by Ms Berger’s house after it was nominated for an Eisner Award in 2013.
This is the marketing copy for the title:
Set in New York City after the melting of the polar ice caps, an independent loner along with his cat and only friend, navigates the flooded city as he tries to live another day.
Each morning he sails in search of food, crossing paths with others from this makeshift community–from outsiders like himself to the depraved and ruthless elite–all struggling to maintain a sense of normalcy in a city drowned in its past.
But everything changes when he encounters both a mysterious woman and a trapped blue whale. Will they be each other’s salvation . . . or destruction?
An eco-fiction fable of epic proportions, POST YORK is an expansion of the Eisner nominated one-shot, and includes an environmental fact sheet, and other bonus material.
Post York has many things in common with Spaceman, save that its conclusions are, if it is possible, far more grim. Those conclusions are drawn from a research package commissioned from a think tank called Unbuilt Labs https://unbuiltlabs.com/ Unbuilt Labs have not pulled punches, and Mr Romberger details their conclusions in a written epilogue to the comic. Parts of New York are built on a swamp: they will collapse in a major weather event. Old brick houses in the Lower East Side of Manhattan would crumble. Hurricane Sandy demonstrated that any New York sea walls are unlikely to be effective. Post York envisages a complete collapse of government and authority. The population of New York has been devastated, reduced to scattered traders and raiders. The most disturbing thing about Post York is that it is the most likely outcome.
Yet this is hardly the only disconcerting part of the story. Rich people still exist, and they capture and butcher a whale for meaningless entertainment. This is a plain metaphor for how the rich are presently ravaging the planet: unbeholden, irrational, pointless.
Yet Mr Romberger offers us multiple futures. The lead character, Crosby (Mr Rothberger’s son, as envisaged within the story) has encounters with other marooned characters, with each of Crosby’s possibilities delineated by the words “OR”, appearing on separate pages in giant letters. The first timeline demonstrates Crosby is slightly goofy; the second future is much grim; and the third ghastly and brutal but with a curious and unexpectedly uplifting outcome in the last few panels. Is Mr Romberger telling us that the future is not set? That would be an unexpected interpretation of this stark and compelling plot.