Persimmon Cup opens with a character looking the reader straight in the eye, with openhearted look on his face. He's green-skinned, with a square head and an abstract sort of body and he beckons "Come on!" while holding something in his left hand that looks suspiciously like an artist's brush.
It's a moment that welcomes readers to the book, that asks us to trust creator Nick Bertozzi and come along for the adventure that he's about to provide us. On the next page, we see a shy woman emerge from the corner of a cave. She looks apprehensive, and as the next few pages move ahead, we see why she's worried. She's going to miss the place that she's coming from and there are frightening creatures ahead of her.
As she (and we) soon see, those dangerous creatures are real. After his kind welcome, Bertozzi has brought readers into a world for which we have no basis in reality, in which we must trust Bertozzi to follow his own internal rules and deliver a story that will pay off, make sense and have powerful character arcs.
I love books that show me a place that I could never have imagined. I love meeting characters who are complex and intriguing and thoroughly unique. And I love watching those characters solve their strange problems in ways that fascinate and spark an odd sense of recognition in me.
Persmmon Cup is a fascinating high-wire act, an exercise in pure creativity. As he creates the complex setting for this visionary graphic novel, Nick Bertozzi gives readers few things to grasp onto. There are weird creatures that switch from threat to friend and back again and there are settings that are essentially incomprehensible without giving yourself completely to the creator and trusting him to bring you along. Nothing is grounded in the comprehensible real world so we are completely at the mercy of the creator.
There are mysteries upon mysteries upon mysteries in this book. There's talk of Harvest Telling sans Weavers, of mysterious stones that burn some creatures' hands but not others', bizarre creatures of all shapes and sizes. Even our lead characters, who seem so human at times with their open emotions and need to find closure to their problems. But when we watch them suck nutrients out of water via their feet, or see the very weird effects of a virus upon one of our characters, or see the characters thrown into a weird membranous creature, it creates a feeling of dislocation that pushes the reader along.
I found myself stumbling through Persimmon Cup in a kind of dazed joy, enjoying the story as Bertozzi laid it out for me, all bright colors and evocative, loose linework. This is a very lively work, delivered with the eventfulness and boldness of a webcomic (which is what this is). I jumped aboard with the Kickstarter because I'm a big fan of Bertozzi's work and am so glad that I've gotten to take this journey with him.
Yeah, me too Sacks. This story is one nutso back-handed slap of mind-fuckery (a well-respected literary tradition, to say the least) that had me scratching my head, flipping back pages, tugging my beard, and furrowing my brow throughout – and yet, I loved it. It's a story about storytelling as much as it is an exploration of the possibilities of vivid colors.
Bertozzi is an interesting artist. When we reviewedShackleton: Antarctic Odysseywith Giampaoli, we all spoke of the grittiness of the story being juxtaposed with Bertozzi's black and white line work. Here, with Persimmon Cup, he's working mostly with colors, Green and Red specifically, and through their use, Bertozzi opens up the alien, disassociates his audience, and spins a yarn that consistently teeters on the incomprehensible.
But at its heart, as I said, this is a story about storytelling, and, as such, it is a story about making meaning.Persimmon Cup breaks down all the components of culture, from the Cleaner to the Teller to the Weaver to the Collector, and all these characters play a specific role in how we understand our history, and, as such, ourselves.
Because what is culture if not an amalgamation of stories all focused on the journey of who we are and how we got here? But Bertozzi reminds us that the story of ourselves does not necessarily follow the structure of the Monomyth, but is one full of lies, misinterpretations, hunger, power, and rot.
It is also, a priori, a story of survival and evolution.
By winging us so far out of what we understand to be the basic constructs of narrative, Bertozzi is able to push us into, ultimately, examining our casual (if not lazy) reliance on causation which infers a linear understanding of the course of history. Persimmon Cup bends our notions of history and its markers and its players. It is an experiment in equivocation and prevarication, as much as it is an experiment with the possibilities of the sequential narrative.
This is a hard book to follow, but its beautiful hand is warm and strong and, as long as we trust our guide, its rewards are plentiful. Bertozzi is an artist worthy of our trust, and his Persimmon Cup is a peregrination worthy of the effort it demands. Though the callouses harden from the many steps it requires, and there are moments of abject exhaustion in the act of comprehension of its enormity, Persimmon Cup blazes a new trail back to the very essence of the parable of perception and the tale we tell to ourselves that gives us the place called home.