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The most effective science fiction frames itself in terms of reference that we can, on some level, relate to. That may be through parallels to our own direct experiences or because it speaks to us of the wider societal issues that we’re exposed to on a daily basis. Gustaffo Vargas’s Peruvian sci-fi story L1MA takes science fantasy elements and future tech and injects them into a very recognisable urban arena in the shape of the busy, frantic streets of Lima; one full of gangs and poverty, and a daily struggle to survive.
Our point of entry to this world comes in the form of a gang of teens working scams; a close-knit group including Migue, Umón, Lila and company who come into the possession of a mysterious squid-like creature in the wake of a local gang conflict. Their acquisition’s strange properties suggest a great market value. But other factions are intent on regaining it and the group soon find themselves fleeing robotic pursuers and rival crews as they look to rescue one of their own…
On the most immediate artistic level L1MA is a truly stunning spectacle. The greatest strength of Vargas’s premise is in the sense of place he creates. His Lima is expansive and sprawling and yet claustrophobic and dizzying as well. Multiple angles and shifts in perspective allow us to experience a city that embodies multiplicities as we move through its environs at an often breakneck speed. His panel-to-panel storytelling is also highly impressive with inventive page layouts and action sequences that are busy, frenetic and never less than utterly compelling.
Where L1MA is less satisfying is the areas of plot and characterisation. We’re thrown into a world that seems to be set just a little way off in the future but there’s little in the way of expositional scene-setting or explanation of the central elements of the narrative. The nature of the squid remains distractingly unexplained and the relationships between the various factions are only vaguely defined here. With so many characters bouncing around as well it’s difficult to feel invested in any of the cast given their brief time on page.
However, L1MA ends with much left open for potential follow-ups and the promise here is undeniable. In terms of pure visual storytelling craft you won’t find a better looking comic at Thought Bubble this year. L1MA may leave some plot threads frustratingly unresolved but its artistic merit guarantees this is a creator who should be on everyone’s radar in Leeds.
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Review by Andy Oliver