Sometimes, when I feel buried under a flood of stress both in my personal life and from the general state of the world, I want to consume media that just makes me feel joy. I need to smile and laugh, to step out from under the weight of anxiety, frustration, anger or fear, and read something that I know was written with my happiness in mind. Jessica Campbell’s XTC69 does just that; it makes sick burns on the messed up state of the world while asking you to experience joy.
The opening to the story is quite simple: a rocket ship lands on Earth. Three women exit, seeking human life. They find an empty landscape and, just as they are about to give up, discover a stasis chamber containing a single human: Jessica Campbell, a woman who loves ketchup chips. Jessica can’t help the alien women solve their planet’s population problems. All she can do is follow them and see if, along the way, she can find her place in the universe.
The first hint that this comic is delightfully self-indulgent arrives when Human Jessica steps out of the stasis chamber and learns that the aliens’ captain is also a woman named Jessica Campbell. Moments further along the line reaffirm that feeling of indulgence; the aliens reveal that they consider Betty Crocker’s cookbook to be a comprehensive tome of human foods, and in a glorious piece of dialog, Jessica Campbell asks Jessica Campbell a question her species longs to answer: “Who is Harry Potter, boy Lizard?”
I like to think that Campbell began writing this comic for her own enjoyment but quickly realized that others would delight in the way she uses the distance of sci-fi to critique human society. Her aliens come from a planet that, over time, has evolved to only have women. Their species has both cloning capabilities and the ability to evolve their spirits and bodies to match their gender. Eventually the entire species realized women were just better, and men ceased to exist. When Human Jessica asks why some don’t evolve purposefully as men to solve their current population problem, Alien Jessica snaps at her, abhorring the cruelty of forcing sex markers on people who don’t identify with those markers. It’s a quick moment, but also a sick burn against the cruelty of our society that is very satisfying to read. XTC69 is full of these satisfying burns.
While mostly focused on biting commentary and indulgent plot, XTC69 also contains some moments of sharp realness that contrast its usual tone. In an early scene, Human Jessica can’t climb up a cliff face and has to piggyback ride on Alien Jessica’s back. Human Jessica’s skirt rides up revealing her underwear, and when they get to the top she clumsily readjusts it. These details are small, but they’re unsexy and real. Jessica is already emotionally vulnerable from learning her entire world is essentially gone, and then has to face her physical vulnerability. Campbell’s character designs are simple and lack the familiar level of detail used to exploit women’s bodies; despite the thick line work and cartoony style, the women in the comic are awkwardly real. In a comic full of commentary on misogyny, it’s small details like this through which Campbell shows how easy it is to draw outside of the male gaze.
From the gorgeous pulpy cover to its sick burns on the cruelty of human society, XTC69 is pure delight all the way through. We all need a break from the current onslaught of awful, and Campbell has given us one full of hope that, someday, all our world’s horrors will be a distant memory. I’ll go farther than just recommending this book – I recommend that you read it while in a bubble bath, with a cup of tea, curled up next to a cat, or paired with whatever relaxing activity (that allows you to multitask and read) is your jam. You deserve the break.