There’s often a lot of existential dread that comes as part of being a living, thinking person. Fortunately, the help of a friend can go a long way toward saving someone from losing themselves to that dread.
In times of struggle and uncertainty, our friends can bring us back to who we are. This week’s best comics are built on the idea that friendships, whether they be lifelong or relatively new and forged in distressing circumstances, are sometimes the one thing in the world that will keep you grounded when everything seems as if it’s falling apart.
Image’s Barrier is a story that’s physically designed to make you read it in a way that you’re probably unaccustomed to consuming comics at length. Unlike most comics whose pages are laid out vertically and meant to be read from top to bottom, Barrier is presented entirely in landscapes that emphasize the vastness of the book’s setting and the loneliness its two heroes feel in their hearts.
Barrier tells the story of Liddy, a widow on a substantial plot of land in Pharr, Texas, right along the Mexican border, and Oscar, an undocumented immigrant fighting to make his way from Honduras to the US in search of a better life. Though the two don’t know one another as the story opens, their destinies are intertwined because of the passionate convictions that draw them to the boundary between countries, where a series of vicious attacks on animals have locals spooked and on edge.
From Liddy’s perspective, the mutilated animals she finds on her land are a sure sign from a drug cartel operating in the area that they mean to use the area as part of their smuggling route—something she wants to put an end to. But as Liddy looks to her peers for solutions, she realizes that many of Pharr’s white residents are less interested in simply protecting their borders from crime and much more invested in using violence to send the message to any Mexican immigrants that they aren’t welcome.
When reading Barrier from Oscar’s point of view, the story is written entirely in Spanish in order to emphasize the fact that his life and the way he moves through the world is decidedly different from Liddy’s. It’s obvious from the jump that Oscar and Liddy are on a collision course, but Barrier throws in a twist by introducing an alien abduction just as the comics’s heroes meet. Both are stunned and confused at what’s happening to them, and while they’re understandably suspicious of one another, they quickly realize that they’re all they’ve got if want any chance of making it back home alive. (Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin, Muntsa Vicente, Image Comics)
Jim Henson’s Fraggle Rock
As silly as Fraggle Rock could sometimes be, beneath the layers of felt and the dozens of infectious musical numbers the show was actually a heartfelt and meaningful exploration of the various aspects of being a person—something we don’t often associate with children’s TV. The Fraggle Rock comic opens on something of a somber note befitting the depressing times we’re living in.
When Mokey, Fraggle Rock’s resident free-spirited dreamer who loves to express herself through her art, sinks into a depression, the other Fraggles are at a loss as to how to best help their friend. Though they make good faith attempts to break Mokey out of her funk, the sadness and gloom she feels isn’t something that one can really just wish or will away. The more the other Fraggles try to reconnect with Mokey, the more she pulls away from them—something that leads to her getting lost in a dark cave with only her thoughts to keep her company.
In its way, Fraggle Rock is a charming, thoughtful story about how it’s perfectly normal to give one’s self over to melancholy from time to time—even though as a culture, we’ve decided that it’s best to keep those sorts of feelings private. Simple and kid-like as the comic may be, it’s a heartwarming reminder that it’s ok to cry, because often, you’ve got to let your negative emotions flow freely before inspiration and hope come rushing back. (Jared Callum, Archia)