Egg Cream #1 Reckons with Life After the Flood

Cover for Egg Cream #1, Liz Suburbia (art and writing), Czap Books and Silver Sprocket, February 2019

Egg Cream #1

Liz Suburbia
Czap Books and Silver Sprocket
February 2019

Alexandria, VA, once served as home to an enclave of unsupervised teens, all living a semi-normal life while awaiting their parents’ return—until a catastrophic flood destroyed most of the town. Ten years later, a television special interviews the survivors, finally making their story public. In Egg Cream #1, Liz Suburbia picks up where her debut graphic novel Sacred Heart left off. The first issue of her long-awaited follow-up, “Livin’ in the Future,” shows how Ben Schiller and the remaining former residents of Alexandria have been reckoning with their years of abandonment.

Cover for Egg Cream #1 - Waist-up view of a 20-something punk with a shaved mohawk, dark eyebrows, and earrings, wearing a studded vest/jacket with patches sewn on; their back is turned to the viewer and expression mostly hidden
Egg Cream #1 opens with panels establishing the interior of a grungy, seemingly unoccupied dive bar. Its empty stools and shelves of liquor, drawn in stark black-and-white, convey a sense of loneliness and anticipation. As the clock reaches 9 p.m., someone makes an off-panel request to turn on the TV. The channel changes to NBS News: Hardline, introducing a special presentation about Alexandria and its “forgotten children”—in the words of those same survivors.

Hardline’s tell-all starts with the founder of Alexandria itself: Alexander the Lesser, a Jim Jones-esque neo-prophet who started out a saint and devolved into a cult leader after buying an abandoned mining town and filling it with his followers. Said followers later left Alexandria, promising their children they’d come back in four years, but Alexander led them to their death by mass suicide before that promise could be fulfilled. Just after their death, the children of Alexandria faced their own crisis: a flood that wiped away the few still living there, leaving just thirty-eight alive out of the three hundred originally abandoned by their parents.

Survivors of Alexandria discuss the effects of the flood on the adult lives, while a caption above reads "For the first time, in their own words..."
Where Sacred Heart felt permeated by ominous impressions and unanswered questions, Egg Cream #1 presents answers from page one. We learn where the adults of Alexandria went, what factors allowed the enclave to exist in the first place, and how the few survivors of the flood made it out alive. We see some familiar faces—Jenna, Hugo, Donnatella—and what they’ve been up to since their escape. The only missing piece is Sacred Heart’s protagonist, Ben. She doesn’t appear until the end of the issue, and at that point we get to see how ten years have changed her: she’s rocking a shaved mohawk, sporting new scars, and working at the very bar that opens the story.

Liz Suburbia’s art continues to shine with monochrome linework whose width rarely varies. Depth is added not through shading but through scrupulous attention to background detail, keeping the characters from feeling like they’re lined up against a flat surface. Another artistic high point in Egg Cream #1 is the clean, eloquent design of those characters. Everyone’s pupils are drawn as vertical lines, but the eyes themselves are lashed, or lidded, or circled by dark makeup; a diversity of face and body shapes is on display. The art conveys expressions and attitudes efficiently without losing individuality.

Since the chapter is framed by the news special, it mainly sticks to a simple six-panel layout, imitating the square confines of a TV screen. It’s a change from the paneling of Sacred Heart, which would expand to take in whole landscapes or go close-up to highlight some revelatory detail; here, the perspective is limited to what could reasonably be shown on TV. But every square of that perspective is filled with information. Nothing seems left out, whether it’s graffiti on the chalkboard of a deserted classroom or the zodiac pinned up to a character’s dorm room wall. Suburbia’s hand-drawn lettering complements the art with bold, well-defined capitals that make the story feel both intense and personal.

Hugo talks about life without adults over panels of an overgrown high school football field and a garage where he practices drums with a happy expression
As a longtime fan of Sacred Heart since before its publication (it originally came out chapter-by-chapter online), I could not have been more thrilled to read Egg Cream #1. I wanted to know everything that happened to the kids of Alexandria, and “Livin’ in the Future” delivered enough to keep me hungry. But satisfying as it was to get an explanation for all the unanswered questions of the first volume, I miss Sacred Heart’s irascible, vulnerable, tenderhearted Ben Schiller. I longed to see more of her than one glimpse at the very end of the issue (if you don’t count her cameo on the back of adult Ben’s jacket patch, on the cover). I’m also curious about Ben’s (former?) best friend Otto, who was neither seen in the TV special nor confirmed as dead. Otto’s story was left open-ended, so I’m interested in the changes that ten years’ time might have had on the well-meaning (if not well-behaved) punk who was last seen waist-deep in the flood, calling out Ben’s full name.

In addition to “Livin’ in the Future,” Egg Cream #1 includes a few other short one-shots in Suburbia’s signature art style. “Collect ’em All” imagines a trading card game for saints, complete with portraits and a quote; featured is “Briseis of Rappahanock Crossing,” “our lady of unseen maps,” looking appropriately beatific with an open chest wound and enigmatic smile. “Goth Ex-GF” pictures a skeleton lackadaisically smoking while being embraced by a living lover, with the cynical caption “Sooner or later, they all come crawling back.” “What a Dog Dreams” is the most delightful of these offerings: an illustrated dream diary, mixing menace and the mundane in episodes no longer than a page.

Egg Cream #1 might be most rewarding to readers already familiar with Sacred Heart, but it’s also a great introduction for newcomers to Liz Suburbia’s unique punk aesthetic. This issue showcases her flair for artistic detail and the desolate but ultimately hopeful thread running through all of her stories. I can’t wait for her next installment to return to Alexandria’s survivors, bringing that hopefulness to whatever future they’re living in now.