EARTHA tackles one of the pressing issues of our time: our technological addiction to escapism. The title character discovers that when people immerse themselves in harsh stories in order to stay "connected" they are actually not truly connected at all. Without knowing their own thoughts they are unable to be with one another or even dream. Worse still, they cannot envision a future for themselves other than the bleak stuff fed to them by the powers-that-be. Eartha is the hero who helps people come back to their senses.

Some of the Characters of Eartha



Characters of Eartha

Eartha

Reviews of Eartha






©Matthew Laiosa
for Quietus.com


With only four books to date, Cathy Malkasian may not be the most prolific of creators, but she is certainly one of the most original. Percy Gloom, Wake Up, Percy Gloom, and Temperance all feature oddball realities that fall somewhere in between the minds of George Orwell and Dr. Seuss, and her newest, Eartha, is no exception. Perhaps the scariest thing about her latest work is how topical it is, considering that the book had to be created before Donald Trump was elected president. Science fiction used to take decades to prophesize societal shifts and technological breakthroughs such as the cell phone and iPad, but it seems that we now live in an age where if something can be imagined, then it will probably exist within the week.

Eartha tells the story of a gullible giant in a pastoral community of dwarves where dreams from a faraway city pop out of the ground to finish their narratives. Sadly, what once was a thriving valley filled with thousands of dreams a day is now visited by no more than a handful of dreams a week. Worried that something terrible has happened to the dreamers, Eartha journeys to the city and discovers a society where everyone is forced to stay awake in order to literally consume a non-stop supply of, I kid you not, fake news printed on biscuits evocative of President Trump’s twitter feed. Logically, the size of a biscuit limits the amount of information that can be distributed, so the ‘news’ is restricted to four word exclamations such as, “Hysterical jackass stabs recluse,” “Corn accident mauls has-been,” and “Fat jackass oozes calamity.” At one point in the story Eartha encounters the biscuit assembly line and amusingly asks a disgruntled janitor, “I see a lot of jackasses. Is the printer stuck?” And the janitor responds, “Of course not! The world is stuck!!” Which might be true since the people in control of this city is the Brotherhood of Bouncers, a clan of short balding males with the authority to grope any woman’s breasts of their choosing. Perhaps their slogan should be “Grab ‘em by the titties.”

Eartha is another frightening example of life imitating art, but the importance of storytelling is to remind us again and again that we can change. Unfortunately, change typically happens at a much slower rate outside of the world of fiction, but the more we expose ourselves and invest in quality storytellers like Malkasian, the faster real-world change can occur.




National Public Radio (npr.org), Arts & Life
Glen Weldon
April 11, 2017


Cathy Malkasian creates fantastic worlds out of her proprietary blend of melancholy and dream-logic, and peoples them with characters who are all too dully, achingly human. Her landscapes and cityscapes, rendered in gorgeous colored pencils, can seem as chilly and remote as her facial expressions seem warm and intimate.

In graphic novels like Temperance, about the lies that the citizens of a walled-off city tell themselves, and in her two Percy Gloom books, a gentle absurdism asserts itself so quietly that story elements like talking goats and heads that glow come off like prosaic details.

That's important, because without a sense of assured, implacable groundedness, Malkasian's narratives could easily feel labored, built as they are on such baroque, involuted infrastructure.

To wit: the opening pages of Eartha, Malkasian's latest, ask the reader to unpack a series of high-concept premises, any one of which could form the basis of its own book:

1. Eartha, "big as a boulder and softer than the moss that grew on it," lives in Echo Fjord, a bucolic land and whose citizens harvest dreams.

2. Said dreams belong to the residents of a faraway city.

3. The dreams that grow out of the ground are detained, and a thick paste called shadow applied to them, to keep them from floating away.

4. The dreams' minders touch the dreams to provide "a boost of energy to ignite them back into themselves."

5. The dreams then scamper through Echo Fjord toward a doorway, giving off brilliant rays of light out of the top of their heads.

6. As they pass through the doorway, they dissolve, having achieved their purpose.

That's... a lot to take in, granted, but Malkasian is so careful and considered in rendering the array of dreams (the sad, the joyous, the horny and the hateful) that we don't notice how much narrative work she's doing.

In the pages that follow, Eartha will depart her homeland to make her way to the nameless city, where she — and we — will meet the men and women who sent those dreams to her people across the vast sea. Unguessed-at connections among them will come to light; insights gained in those opening pages will aid Eartha in her quest (as will a talking cat, an intoxicating plum tree, and an old woman who knows more than she's letting on).

Such steel-trap plotting is something new from Malkasian, whose previous graphic novels have felt free to abandon familiar storytelling structure to double-down on some surreal image or theme. She's consistently shown an eagerness to walk the line between fabulist fiction and social satire, and Eartha is no different: the city's residents are addicted to biscuits printed with headlines of lurid tragedy ("Sinister Dandruff Muzzle Hen! Septic Jackass Gambles Naked! Prominent Orgy Provokes Rabies!"), and are ruled by thuggish, Mussolini-like figures who encourage the populace to embrace dull-eyed cynicism and performative despair.

Eartha will win the day, of course, because she maintains the ability to feel, and dream, and her sense of fairness will protect her from the city's corrupt politicians and its emotionally bankrupt fascination with the ugliness of life.

Eartha is an extended dream with a fixed moral compass, a story about the central and transformative power of believing in humanity, even when — especially when — it lets you down.