Chronicles of Fortune
Books are like coffee. Just as all the factors related to how coffee beans grow, blossom, and make their way into a tired drinker’s cup can affect taste, each aspect of creation, distribution, and publishing affects the impact of a book. Chronicles of Fortune by Coco Picard is a perfect example of this idea; each facet of the book’s publication illustrates how, when publishers, distributors, and creators are truly invested in a work, the result will be wonderful.
Chronicles is the first book published by Radiator Comics, a Chicago-based distro run by Neil Brideau. Brideau’s name will be familiar to those involved with Chicago’s self-publishing scene; he’s a former Quimby’s employee, assisted in the founding of Chicago Zine Fest and CAKE, and creates his own mini-comics. When I asked him why he wanted to make the jump from distributing to publishing, he gave the best answer: “publishing and distribution [are] two great ways to support artists whose work I think deserve broader audiences.” Chronicles is clearly coming from a publisher passionate about comics and invested in ensuring the publication process treats creators well.
Like Brideau, Coco Picard is a jack-of-all-trades; the author blurb at the back of Chronicles reveals that she runs Green Lantern Press, a boutique nonprofit publisher of fiction, poetry, and art criticism, and co-directs Sector 2337, a hybrid art space/bookstore/bar, with Devin King in Chicago. When Brideau decided to embark on Radiator’s first publishing venture, he turned to Picard for advice, and in return she turned to Brideau for help finding the right publisher for her book. The nature of their collaboration says a lot about the nature of the DIY publishing community: by supporting each other’s new projects, Brideau and Picard also found the perfect home for this wonderful, chunky graphic novel about grief.
Chronicles of Fortune advertises itself as an exploration into the life of a woman experiencing extreme ennui. Edith May, AKA Fortuna, is the greatest superhero in the world. She could stop wars, restore the arctic, replace all prisons with libraries, and do much, much more—if she weren’t suffering from that damn ennui. No one knows about Edith May’s alter ego, and even extraordinary encounters with fantastic beings fail to liberate her from the numbness that dictates her life. Ennui, however, is a symptom, and the overarching narrative reveals that the source in Edith’s case is grief. Her dejected superhero-self comes to life just as she begins to grieve her mother, and Fortuna becomes a part of Edith in the same way that loss embeds itself in the bereaved.
The story itself maintains a surreal calm analogous to the plodding pace at which some move through intense grief. Picard rarely uses panels, and instead captures a single moment on each page to slow the narrative. However, the story never drags because Picard injects Edith’s life with surreal characters. A mountain grows in her living room, a constantly weeping crocodile becomes her sidekick, and several talking moths take up residence in her apartment and develop a complex plot of their own. Edith responds to each encounter as if it is completely normal, making it impossible to tell if these strange occurrences are actually normal for a superhero like Fortuna, or if they simply cannot penetrate the wall of numbness and despair that separates Edith from the world.
The story’s individual chapters are more like vignettes that, as standalone stories, will be relatable for readers coming from a myriad of emotional experiences. This makes sense, as Fortuna’s stories were originally published as separate mini-comics. In one of my favorite chapters, Edith has to attend an uncomfortable bachelorette party that increasingly feels like a petty middle school sleepover. While the party itself is absurd, Edith is unable to rise above her depression and consider how to approach a joyful event. We’ve all experienced those inescapable social events in which we must attempt to set aside sadness and celebrate, and sometimes it is impossible.
The simplicity of the art—black and white, no backgrounds, shading used sparingly—allows Picard to focus on single objects or spaces that have a monumental impact on Edith’s emotional progress. When she accidentally lights her sketchy gas stove at the wrong moment and it almost blows up, Edith loses all her arm hairs except for one. The tickling sensation of that tiny hair brushing against her forearm in the wind elicits a rarely seen smile. Later, in the chapter that introduces the moths, Edith produces several hidden objects from cupboards and closets of her apartment, remarking on their sentimental value but noting how neglect is leaving them literally moth-eaten. Picard gives a particular amount of love to cracked, spider web-filled teapots, precious because they belonged to Edith’s parents, but indicative of how preservation can become neglect.
As Edith slowly wrangles with death and mortality, these objects feel increasingly significant. Is a dead body just an object? Does the coffin that holds it carry any meaning? How do we hold on to our loved ones after they pass away? The narrative never asks these questions explicitly, but they are vividly present.
Stories about grief usually center on the relationship between the living protagonist left behind and their deceased loved-one. Edith’s mother does weave in and out of the narrative, but Chronicles focuses on the sheer experience of loss. It’s an affecting and satisfying story for anyone who has experienced ennui but especially for those grieving, and contemplating the surreal nature of death. Grab a copy from Radiator Comics!