cover image Mothballs


Sole Otero, trans. from the Spanish by Andrea Rosenberg. Fantagraphics, $29.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-683-96961-7

With an immersive multigenerational story line and distinctive artwork, Otero’s debut graphic novel charts the ripple effects of wartime decisions. In the words of Ro, an Argentinean college student living in her late grandmother’s house, on “the chain of happenstances that led to my existence... Mussolini’s persecutions are at the top of that list.” In a series of flashbacks, Ro narrates her grandmother’s story: after Vilma’s communist parents flee fascist Italy for Argentina, Vilma and her brother Antonio form a close bond; she even keeps his cross-dressing a secret. When her parents force Vilma to work in a factory at age 12 to put Antonio through school, he promises to return the favor. After he chooses marriage to a woman for whom he must provide instead, Vilma becomes the bitter grudge-holder Ro knew as a child. Vilma dislikes most things, but especially politics—they upended her life once, and she wants nothing to do with “the wrong crowd” again. As Ro comes to resent her friends for ditching her for guys, and shrugs off present-day political unrest, she fears that she’s “going to end up alone,” like Vilma. But with help from her grandmother’s ghost—a shape-shifting portrait drawn in shimmering rainbow pencil marks—Ro realizes she can take charge of her life in ways Vilma couldn’t or wouldn’t. Otero’s brightly colored characters are doll-like yet full of passion, outrage, and schemes, and her storytelling is just as bold and memorable as the drawings. It’s an impressive achievement. (Aug.)