Compiling four short stories all, to some degree, with environmental themes at their heart Giorgio Pandiani’s A Day on the River (& Other Stories) is an anthology offering that is carefully and thoughtfully crafted on every level. It’s a collection that is hardly treading new ground in its social commentary but it’s the manner in which it explores those much examined themes that marks it out as a most worthy resource among comics material tackling green issues.
The first story ‘Supernova’ is set on a contemporary Earth where a potential radiation wave from the exploding star Betelgeuse may be about to threaten civilisation. Created at the beginning of the pandemic, the parallels it draws are obvious ones but are couched in biting parable. In this scenario no government imposes safety guidelines on its population – instead trusting to their common sense – with catastrophic consequences. Reflecting the attitudes of the conspiracists and those who branded anyone acting with caution, consideration and sense in that time as “sheeple”, it allegorically takes those early Covid months and underlines the irresponsibility of the pandemic deniers and the libertarians by applying their behaviour to a disaster one step removed.
The shortest tale in the comic is ‘The Truth of the Lake’ which in its three pages has something of a lyrical pacing both in panel structure and use of language. Another study of denial – this time based on those who reject climate change despite the undeniable evidence around them – it’s also a sobering exploration of the plight of the voiceless in a world stacked against them.
The longest entry in A Day on the River is the beautiful but devastating ‘The Colour of the Sky’ in which we are taken to a near future where environmental collapse has led to humanity retreating to what appears to be bunker cities. In this story we see the world primarily from the child’s eye view of Daisy, whose e-messaging with another child Willow in a different location guides the narrative momentum. This is a time where the idea of a blue sky is a forgotten one, the heavens are a stygian blackness, and unknown dangers lurk. While it builds up to an almost Future Shocks-style ending this is a thoughtful piece that draws us in instantly through the connection we make with its young leads.
Finally the title story ‘A Day on the River’ introduces us to a mysterious old man and his daily routine to survive in what appears to be another post-apocalyptic environment. Told entirely without words this is a masterclass in the intricacies of silent storytelling in comics, deftly playing with page and panel structures, comics’ relationship with time, and between-the-panels comprehension and pacing. It acts as the prologue to a new longer-form project from Pandiani but also works perfectly as a gentle, standalone story.
Pandiani’s visuals play to the strengths of black and white storytelling, particularly in his use of contrasting light and shading in the claustrophobic world of ‘The Colour of the Sky’ and the sense of awe and foreboding majesty in ‘Supernova’. Solid and highly recommended work with an important relevance in these dark times.
Giorgio Pandiani (W/A) • Self-published, £8.00
Review by Andy Oliver