Highway to hell

Swiss cartoon on pop culture literally spills out of new book

From trudging alongside the father-and-son protagonists of Cormac McCarthy's latest novel to riding shotgun in Mad Max's armor-plated jalopy, there are many ways to travel on the lawless road of humanity's bleak, postapocalyptic future. But why wait for the bomb to drop? A quick trip down Elvis Road, a 24-foot long comic strip by Swiss artists Xavier Robel and Helge Reumann, proves that apocalypse is, indeed, now.

Working at the outer limits of the definition of comics, Robel and Reumann have crammed every inch of their mammoth cartoon with scenes of only slightly exaggerated modern-day chaos and calamity. Imagine Mad's "marginal" artist Sergio Aragones channeling Nostradamus, or Hieronymus Bosch taking over art duties on Where's Waldo?

The cover of Elvis Road bears a pinched oval, a cross between a slot-car track and an infinity symbol, superimposed with a "one way" arrow pointing the reader onward to the accordion-folded comic strip inside. Across the pages, war machines, mad scientists, religious fanatics and random maniacs cut destructive swathes through a dense, banal urban landscape thronged with grimacing pedestrians and plastered with inane advertisements. On one page, a planeload of tourists watches excitedly as dogfighting aircraft explode and rain corpses onto the city below. Elsewhere a pope-like figure summons ghosts from their graves and hundreds of the spirits tumble into a waiting dump truck. Abandoned cars weep and plead for mercy before being pulled apart by junkyard mechanics. Folks get crushed by falling brains or drowned in floods of molasses. A parade of Nazis, complete with a Hitler's-head float, marches across a two-page spread, interrupted in the middle by an opposing parade of buff, long-lashed Tom of Finland models. As tightly packed as these thousands of characters are, they take little notice of one another, each concentrating on their own sliver of the mayhem or else forging ahead along the wreckage-strewn highway that flows through the center of the strip. It's a picture-book history of contemporary civilization penned by an uncomprehending Martian: The details are garbled, but the terrible and darkly funny gist comes through loud and clear.

There's salvation of a sort at the end of this road, though not the kind apocalypse fetishist fans of the Left Behind books imagine. When Jesus shows up on the second-to-last page he almost gets lost in the crowd, despite being 50 feet tall and bleeding. The trumpets are blowing but Big J doesn't look triumphant — in fact, he looks ready for re-crucifixion. Ahead of him on the final page, a Disneyworld police state called Cuteland is cleansing humanity of its ugliness, turning everyone, with assembly line efficiency, into grinning, bug-eyed cartoon animals. It's a shiny-happy Armageddon and a pop redemption appropriate to our modern age.


Elvis Road is available at Green Brain Comics, 13210 Michigan Ave., Dearborn; 313-582-9444.

Sean Bieri is Metro Times' design director. Send comments to [email protected].

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