Italy 2048. The protagonist is a 50-something psychiatrist. What else will you find in this graphic novel? Alien visitations, telepathy, broken marriage, a lot of emotion and love. Drawn in charcoal and Indian ink, Manuele Fior’s The Interview is an atmospheric work that does not use the confines of a storyboard to talk about the significance of moments.

Fior sets the narrative in the near future to allow himself the luxury of using familiar objects such as human driver-driven fossil fuel cars, Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture, Armani perfume and so on. The Italian cartoonist imports the future into his graphic tale by using some subtle touches such as paintings on the wall that change when tapped or “teledriven” taxis. There is also no effort on Fior’s part to force the sci-fi credentials of the graphic novel on the reader.

Hide and seek

As with many soft sci-fi narratives, The Interview is a tale whose preoccupation is with human relationships and not the hard-edged history of the future kind of narrative. Alien communication notwithstanding, it takes a while before one actually realises that this is indeed a sci-fi comic book. The future grows on you.

Even Raniero, the middle-aged consultant protagonist, is shown not to care much for the technology-driven society that forms the backdrop of the story. The psychiatrist is one of the last few of his generation who still are hanging on to the coattails of 20th century sensibilities. When Raneiro comes across the mysterious triangles in the sky, his preoccupations with the things past do not allow him label this as an alien encounter – he accounts for it as hallucination. But for the last 25-odd pages, the reader is made to take part in a game of past-future hide and seek.

After the introduction of Dora – a young patient suffering from the same hallucinations after seeing the same glowing triangles – who is asked by her parents to see Raniero, the past-future game intensifies. Young and attractive Dora with her affinity for the “new convention”, which Fior describes as “emotional and sexual non-exclusivity” presents a choice to Raneiro who is smarting from his recent estrangement from his wife. It seems Fior is pitching the psychiatrist’s wife Nadia as the past against Dora as the future. The play creates many beautiful moments in the work. The narrative moves at a leisurely pace and a few why-did-it-happen kind of questions remain.

Missing pieces

In fact, despite having a regular panel-driven structure, one must add that Fior does not use frames for panels but uses the negative space effectively. The narrative does not have that sequential rigidity to it. There are loose ends and characters whose presence in the narrative is not fully understood. Readers who look for “reasons” for people, places, actions and encounters in the story may find things missing. Fior is more intent on building up the moments than in creating a definite sequential flow. The intention is not to tell a story but to have a few situations that together create magic. It is a difficult choice to make in comics, but the Italian cartoonist pulls it off with some degree of ease. The text plays a big role in holding the narrative together and Jamie Richards’s translation does not betray the original. And the visuals take it to another level.

From "The Interview".

The visuals – black-and-white, with several shades of grey – are stunning. Smudged charcoal, opaque blacks and stark whites create a feast for the eyes. Even if one doesn’t care much for the text, the visuals alone can carry the loosely structured narrative forward. Fior is a consummate artist.

His last book available in English, 5,000 km per second, has a brilliant display of watercolours, but in The Interview, the moody, brooding setting deserved something special. The choice of medium reminds us of the black-and-white Italian films of the 1950s and 1960s.

In a 2014 interview with The Comics Journal, Fior said he wanted to create visuals that would remind him of “the films of Michelangelo Antonioni in the ’50’s, like, La Notte, L’Eclisse, and L’Avventura.” Some of the panels have a photograph-like feel to it and it is ironic that a narrative set in the future is drawn in a style that evokes sepia tinted nostalgia. The rendering of landscapes and the city in exquisite architectural detail (Fior is a trained architect) add to the attraction of the work.

Dark as black

Fior took a bold step while drawing the intimate scenes between Dora and Raneiro – he has two pages with seven panels completely black. Strangely, one does not find these pages jarring but they help build the beautiful intimate moment. One can speculate that Raneiro lost his attachment to the past in the darkness of his bedroom with Dora. Whatever be the reason, those two pages serve as a break and give the narrative a new trajectory.

The biggest surprise in the graphic novel is stored in the epilogue, which is also titled The Interview. Fior ties up several of the loose ends in the story in this part and leaves the reader to speculate. He also leaves the door ajar for another Dora story. The epilogue serves another important purpose: it settles the game in favour of the future.

This is not the usual sci-fi fan’s classic, but it is a brilliant story of love and loss set in the future. Do not look for aliens in it as there are none, but alienation is there aplenty.

The Interview, Manuele Fior, translated by Jamie Richards, Fantagraphics Books.