Tuesday 8 April 2014

Cuba: My Revolution (by Inverna Lockpez & Dean Haspiel) - A Review

Cuba: My Revolution

Location: Cuba
Author: Inverna Lockpez
Art & Lettering: Dean Haspiel (pencils), Jose Villarrubia (colours), Pat Brosseau (letters)
Format: Graphic Novel
Publisher/Year: Vertigo Comics/2010
Genre: Historical fiction; Politics
Theme: A semi-autobiographical look back at the tumultuous period of the Cuban revolution, as told from the perspective of a young girl (or woman, given the story starts when she is 17)

A disclaimer to start with: while this is still a fictional work in terms of the central characters, this is very much based on the youth of the writer Inverna Lockpez, an artist who was supposedly coaxed by artist Dean Haspiel into telling her story in the form of this slightly more fictional graphic novel narrative. As such, it is clearly a very personal work, and this shines through quite clearly as one reads the novel.

The narrative starts with Castro's rise to power in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when seventeen year old Sonya is swept up in the initial wave of optimism and freedom accompanying the new regime. In a rush of patriotic fervour, she even drops her dreams of becoming an artist to better serve the country as a doctor. As with the nascent independent nation of Cuba, though, her passion is soon dealt a harsh blow as the United States of America invaded in a battle now widely referred to as the 'Bay of Pigs,' where Sonya serves as a medic and finds herself face-to-face with her boyfriend Flavio, now on the other side! He comes to a sticky end, but things go from bad to worse for Sonya as she somehow ends up accused of being a CIA spy and is tortured for days before getting released. Through it all, Sonya somehow continues to believe in Castro's Cuba. She returns to her art, finds a new life, and continues to believe in the Cuban dream despite the increasing concerns of many around her. It's her new life in art school, however, that leads to Sonya learning once and for all that her dream of a free Cuba under Castro is a sham, that rampant censorship and unspeakable horrors persist, and that the revolution was not all it was made out to be. Eventually she makes a big decision of her own, and manages to flee the country.

How she escaped is not the focus of this tale. The story is of a young girl, full of newfound idealism and pride in a new regime, gradually having her trust eroded and replaced with fear and utter disappointment, to the point that escape becomes the only option. This is very much the tale of Inverna Lockpez as well, and as such comes through clearly. The setting feels all too real, with Lockpez and Haspiel providing a front row seat to many key events in 'modern' Cuban history. The characters are reasonably strong, particularly Sonya of course, but few feel like characters that are explored in great detail. Understandable, given that this is a work focused on one character in the midst of a changing geopolitical landscape. It is the setting that is truly important, and Sonya's changing life in the midst of it. In this aspect it succeeds marvellously.

The art is stellar, which is expected from an artist of Haspiel's calibre and reputation. It manages a personal feel without getting overly 'real,' conveying the situation and feelings in an effective manner. The colours are also effective, while the lettering does the job it is meant to do.

All in all, it's a well-written and well-executed graphic novel with a very personal tale to tale, and is very much a recommended read for a look at Cuba during that tumultuous period. It's a period that has often been written about, but rarely does one get as personal a look at the historic events as one does with this novel.

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