In The Oven, Ignatz Award-winning creator Sophie Goldstein follows up on themes from her earlier work in a subtle SF tale. Set under a relentlessly burning sun, the story follows a broody couple who escape from the harsh population controls of their crowded society. But they find the lawless community where they try to start a family tainted with a familiar social poison lurking beneath.
In this futuristic tale, Syd and Eric long for a baby, but with strict family size enforced by the state, they see no choice other than to relocate to a backwater commune, off the grid and away from birth control. Originally serialized in black and white in the indie comics anthology Maple Key Comics, Goldstein’s six-chapter story is presented here in glorious color, figures outlined in burnt orange beneath an unforgiving sky.
The Oven is a book that unfolds slowly, gently even. A small encampment looks vast and empty, underlining a utopian vision that doesn’t quite line up with expectations. Syd is a beacon of optimism, but the corrupting influence of the outside world is never far from her doorstep. Perhaps even more dangerous is the insidious creep of gender conformity. It’s telling that the female friend Syd finds wears glasses at all times, blank eyes leaving no clue to the real soul beneath.
The color palette—a stark mix of black and white, orange and grey—is both warm and foreboding, blank skies and landscapes broken up only by the trails of huge swarms of bugs, who are at least free to leave the earth behind them, unlike our protagonists.
Goldstein, a graduate of the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vt., is perhaps best known for her long-running webcomic Darwin Carmichael is Going to Hell, co-created with Jenn Jordan, and her Ignatz Award winning mini-comic House of Women in 2014. As shown in the latter work, science fiction and uncomfortable truths are somewhat of a specialty with Goldstein, as are themes of motherhood and fertility. This is her first long-form work, and it’s perfectly paced; the subtleties within demand re-reading.
The Oven comes out on April 21st from AdHouse Books.