In Sunshine State, John Carvajal takes us along for the ride as we follow Milo, stumbling through life, trying to find his feet. Carvajal’s watercolours are evocative of these youthful, washed away days as Milo navigates the limbo period he finds himself in; stuck in the in-between of high school and work, his Colombian upbringing and his American assimilation, and the highs and lows of seeking out the next hit.
Carvajal utilises recurring visual motives to represent the doubt and uncertainty that Milo experiences in this period of time. For example, when Milo is overwhelmed, Carvajal exemplifies this by drawing those who are talking nearby with empty speech bubbles. This shows how Milo feels distanced from their words, and – by extension – their worlds. This divide manifests the self-doubt Milo is experiencing as he struggles to find where he fits in. When Milo and some friends are tripping in the orchard, Milo begins to spiral and wonder what the point of life is until his friend Caro reassures him that it is to find what makes you happy and do that. Carvajal draws Caro in a more rendered style than the rest of the panels, emphasising the importance of this moment for Milo and how the combination of this resonance and the effects of the drug make Caro’s body transcend into something that – based on the precedent set by the comic style – is ethereal and sublime. In this scene, Carvajal draws the characters in black and white to contrast the watercolour of their surroundings; this could represent both their heightened awareness and how their own identities have been vacated – each experiencing their own limbo in this altered state of being.
Milo appears to be attempting to self-medicate his anxieties and hopelessness; unsure of the direction of his life moving forward, he is forced back into the present where the best solution seems to be to have a good time and try not to think about it. Yet, we see his anxieties represented by another recurring visual: a ghostly wisp of air that escapes his mouth like cigarette smoke whenever he is overwhelmed or forced to reflect upon his choices. Indeed, the crux of Milo’s anxieties seems to stem from the perceived limbo state he finds himself in: “But where do I fit in? I don’t feel like I’m enough to be part of any culture. I don’t really fit with either group. Like in a limbo…”. Next to this last sentence, we see one of the ghost clouds peeking out from behind the speech bubble, as if waiting to consume him, reinforcing the fact that the uncertainty of this state is a key source of Milo’s own uncertainty and doubt. With his state of being constantly shifting with every high, with every drunken night, with every come down and with every worry about the future, we see a deeper crisis being struggled with – one of identity.
Sunshine State is a relatable comic about the uncertainty we all must face upon leaving the structured school system and entering the adult world. It is a raw and honest story about struggling to find an identity and a purpose in a country that forces a duality upon those very things. However, throughout it all, friendship and family are shown to be key to grounding Milo and bringing him back down to earth.
John Carvajal (W/A) • Self-published
Review by Rebecca Burke