The Heavy Bright
Once, the world lived in harmony. People trusted and aided each other, dreamed freely, and communed with their ancestors. And then one day the eggs appeared. One thousand black eggs, heavy as pure lead, which by some mystical property, provoked greed and violence in all who came in contact with them. A family of brutish men managed to hoard the eggs and build a misogynistic dynasty that held all of the land in an iron grip. Years later, Arna, an orphaned young woman immune to the beguiling power of the eggs, is charged with a monumental mission: hunt down these formidable men, pilfer their eggs, and release the bright from the heavy. Along the way, she falls for the enchanting Sela, who shows her how beautiful the world can be.
Reviews of The Heavy Bright
Cathy Malkasian has delighting fans with her illustrations and allegories for a long time from The wild Thornberry’s movie to 2021’s Nobody likes you Greta grump and she is once again displaying her artistic talents in her latest work The Heavy Bright.
She takes her soft pencils and lush water colors which conjure a child hood innocence and uses them to tell a tale of redemption, and sacrifice. The Heavy bright takes place in a world that has been driven to madness from items that bring out the worst in mankind. Violence, domination, and prejudice have arisen and the only hope is a return to balance and the wisdom of the past. We follow Arna a lone girl who must travel the world in search of 99 black eggs and purify them to bring an end to the suffering.
The best thing about the story is how it succeeds on multiple levels; at one reading it is a story of a woman’s quest to save the world and be reunited with the woman she loves. Scratch just a little deeper and it is a feminist allegory of how we should be fighting against evil systems and patriarchy that maintain a dark hold on our own world. The book rewards you for reading it multiple times and letting you sink into its themes as well as its story.
Cathy Malkasian’s latest graphic novel pulls us into her world from the very first splash page, revealing a moody forest populated by naked male commanders and a bird lady. From that mysterious intro, we gradually learn that the evil soldiers have passed beyond the living world into a sort of genderless purgatory, placed there because their physical forms died when their “heavy” black eggs were converted into “bright” light.
Although the bird lady was the first to successfully convert the 1000th egg to light, she doesn’t have the ability to hunt down the rest, which is where our heroine comes into play. Arna is just a tween when she loses her father due to the effects of the eggs, setting her on her retaliatory path of egg destruction. Along the way, she meets and falls in love with a fellow tween girl named Sela, and also learns to disguise herself as a man to avoid gender discrimination and ease her hunt.
Malkasian’s writing has taken a leap forward with this epic 334-page book. While she has always delighted in spinning tales about strange characters in even stranger lands, dating back to the first Percy Gloom graphic novel in 2007, there’s previously been a dreamy, stream-of-consciousness feel to her stories that has been honed here to a clearly executed plot and sharply pointed social commentary. She describes her books as “poignant allegories”, but her narrative is so direct this time that you can practically feel her seething rage at the patriarchy boiling off the page, surely her response to the stupidity of the Trump era. All commanders are narrow-minded saber-rattlers who view young females as valuable commodities but completely discount and dispose of mature ladies. Among her related targets are religious zealots, warmongers, incels, and even bad girl comics, all sharing in common their objectification of women. It’s poignant, moving work, all the more so thanks to her lovely art.
Working in full color this time, she utilizes her described “soft pencil and lush watercolor” to fully explore both the physical world and the afterlife. Her color spectrum maintains a somber tone throughout, matching the dreary desolation of the real world and the hopeless morass of the afterlife. And yet, there’s beauty to be found in the bleakness. Arna and Sela’s romance leads to a moment that is both shocking and heartbreaking, gorgeously portrayed as a powerful beam of sunlight piercing heavy cloud cover to illuminate a newly formed tree stump. A towering men’s resort looks like architecture from Spirited Away buried in glitzy Vegas lights. Elsewhere, touches of Tolkien’s Middle Earth illustrations creep into lovely landscape renderings of forests, rivers, and islands.
The book is unlikely to find its way into any Florida school libraries due to questionable content including the tween lesbian romance, depictions of their “budding blood”, and gender confusion by a different cross-dressing girl. Don’t let the narrow-minded stop you; this is a monumental, important work stuffed with fascinating characters and themes all thoroughly brought to life through Malkasian’s masterful writing and dreamy artwork. There’s plenty to unpack and appreciate here, with a story and images that linger in memory well after the book’s conclusion. I’ve greatly enjoyed all of Malkasian’s previous whimsical books, but this is the first one that really feels like it matters. She has elevated her work above mere fantasy to a dire warning about our heavy times, suffused with hope for a brighter future.
‘The Heavy Bright’ is a haunting allegorical tale of corruption and greed.
An absolutely beautiful examination of the human condition, and the type of empathy and healing we must lean into if we are to survive into the future.
A surreal and fantastical new graphic novel, The Heavy Bright by Cathy Malkasian is unlike anything this writer has read before, weaving together a provocative and haunting allegorical tale of toxic masculinity, the cruelty of humanity, and the horrors of war, while also highlighting the beauty and power of friendship, womanhood, and queer love. The graphic novel, published by indie comics publisher Fantagraphics, is an absolutely beautiful examination of the human condition, and the type of empathy and healing that humanity must lean into if we are to survive into the future. While the nuanced allegories contained within Malkasian’s writing are not subtle, they are also not overly heavy handed, making the novel a digestible read that will leave you reflecting on its messages for days to come.
Cathy Malkasian, a multi-award winning animation director and cartoonist known for Rugrats, The Wild Thornberrys Movie, and the Percy Gloom series, weaves a powerful and unique vision of a world suffering from male violence, that can only be saved through the combined efforts of a refreshingly queer protagonist with the support of her ancestors. Described by Fantagraphics as, “a lushly watercolor, Ghibli-esque fantasy world tinged with equal parts whimsy and menace,” Malkasian’s feminist writing and stunning watercolor art makes for a fantastical experience with deeply real psychological underpinnings, tasked with taking on heavy topics like political corruption, capitalistic greed, and gender-based violence, while showing the power of a girl’s journey into womanhood and the strength of harmonious community.
The Heavy Bright begins in a Limbo-like realm filled with the dead souls of the “Commanders,” a multi-generational group of vicious men who have destroyed the world through war, violence, and greed, with the help of the “heavy,” 999 black “eggs” that causes humanity’s worst impulses to come to the surface when places near people. This realm is guarded and ruled by “Old Bird,” the only female in the Limbo realm, and one of the first people to discover the heavy, a hopeful woman who is dedicated to eradicating the eggs in the real world, and restoring humanity’s connection to their ancestors. Eventually, the young Arna, after experiencing a great tragedy at the hands of a Commander’s egg, is able to make contact with Old Bird, learning the history of her world and the only way to transform the “heavy” into the “bright.”
Thus begins Arna’s years-long hunt, using intelligence gained through the Commanders in Old Bird’s realm to locate where each of the 999 eggs are, destroying them and killing the Commanders through the power of her ancestors, legacy, and family. While a reader could attempt to read The Heavy Bright as a purely fantastical novel, it would be difficult to ignore the rich allegories Malkasian applies to Arna’s journey, the cruelty of the Commanders, and the powerfully beautiful way in which the story concludes. Yet, there is also a likelihood that a reader would need to read the novel at least twice to fully grasp and appreciate the nuances of the allegories and themes Malkasian illustrates, a fact acknowledged by the writer herself in the dedication page, where she dedicates the book to “anyone willing to read it more than once.” While some readers might be turned off by the need to read The Heavy Bright more than once to gain a full, deep appreciation for the story – one of the only potential “negatives” this reader could find with the story – more than likely anyone who enjoys the novel the first time around would be more than happy to read it again to see scenes in a new light.
Malkasian paints a depressingly realistic vision of society’s current values, vices, and shortcomings, while also instilling in the reader a sense of hopefulness at what the world could become, if folks were able to increase their empathy and acceptance of others. That being said, Malkasian makes no attempt to show that there is a “miracle cure” for the poison that has infected Arna’s, or our, world, with Arna’s “destruction” of the black eggs, turning the “heavy” into the “bright,” being more an example of the ongoing healing that must be done to repair the generations of harm caused by horrific misogyny, corporate greed, warmongering, and toxic attitudes around masculinity and vulnerability. Another major theme of the graphic novel is the power of female friendship, queer love, and womanhood, with the gender non-conforming Arna – who lives a secret life of “gender deception” – entering into a queer romantic relationship with a young woman named Sela that gives her the strength to keep on fighting the battle against the Commanders for years.
The Heavy Bright is being sold by Fantagraphics in a gorgeously bound and textured hard cover novel, over 300 pages in length, a truly beautiful addition to anyone’s collection of novels, graphic or not. The impressionistic watercolor art in The Heavy Bright is one of the highlights of the emotionally impactful graphic novel, grounding the surreal story in a soft, flowing, yet solid environment that, while very different than our modern world, allows the reader to easily extrapolate Arna’s experiences into our own. Described by other readers as a fantastical blending of The Handmaid’s Tale, The Chronicles of Narnia, and the works of Tim Burton and Studio Ghibli, The Heavy Bright is a graphic novel unlike any other, pushing the boundaries of art, narrative, and philosophy to grant the reader a nuanced, haunting, and beautiful glimpse at what the world is like, and what it could be.
Once upon a time, people could talk and visit with their dead ancestors easily. Then a group of children found a thousand heavy stone eggs whose very presence amplified negative emotions, causing massacres that the children profited from by collecting the spoils. The boys (and all but one of the children were boys) set themselves up as commanders, ushering in an error of callousness, mistrust, and mistreatment of women. That's the setup for Malkasian's allegorical The Heavy Bright, which follows Arna, an orphaned girl immune to the eggs who has the overwhelming, decades-spanning task of hunting them all down and destroying them so the world can heal. Also explored is the idea that indifference to the suffering of others can be more instrumental in causing evil than aggression alone. In a bit of juxtaposition with the hardness in the state of the world, the events play out in a soft, impressionistic landscape among animated characters in a style recalling Malkasian's work on shows such as Rugrats. For readers who enjoy didactic philosophy in their graphic novels.
In a mystical-realist preindustrial world, people thrived in harmony with their ancestors, the living conversing convivially with the dead. But then a “something” visits the land, revealing itself as bright lights and then a thousand heavy black egglike shapes. The eggs spread greed and violence among men, leading them to torment the women and ultimately break the connection with the ancestors. Then girls, too, disappear. Only Arna, a queer girl passing as a man and assisted by her luminous partner Sela, learns how to release the Bright from the Heavy to bring men and women together and restore love. Malkasian (Eartha) infuses her fable with whimsy, adding some playfulness to the grim plot elements. Beautifully limpid watercolor art sets the story outside reality but close enough to reflect current society’s flaws.
VERDICT Malkasian’s “once upon a time” parable infuses a Handmaid’s Tale–type set-up with surrealistic charm and bittersweet resolution, reminiscent of Studio Ghibli’s work. Highly recommended for fantasy connoisseurs.
Malkasian (Percy Gloom) hurls readers into a feminist fantasy fictional universe that’s alternately baffling and all too familiar. In a patriarchal dystopia where the warmongering Commanders rule with iron fists and women are treated as chattel, Arna, the daughter of a traveling puppeteer, commits the double sin of being female and a queer practitioner of “gender deception.” An envoy from the spirit plane enlists Arna to rid the world of egglike objects that spark aggression. As her quest progresses, humanity becomes less warlike, but not less cruel. “Our life is crazy... but we’re the sanest people alive,” comments Arna’s girlfriend, Sela. Malkasian renders a world that feels lived-in, building every detail from the ground up: architecture, customs, religion, music. The fluid, confident art has a funhouse-mirror hyperreality, reminiscent of alternative cartoonists like Renee French and Dave Cooper, that adds a satirical sting. If the sociopolitical commentary is sometimes heavy-handed, the endlessly imaginative worldbuilding is more than enough to keep the pages turning. This smart, surrealist work has the appeal of Handmaid’s Tale crossed with Tim Burton.
Chronicles of Narnia meets The Handmaid’s Tale in this gorgeous allegorical epic. It’s set in a fantasy world in which men known as Commanders ravage and pillage the land and its people, their power coming from ancient black stones passed down to them by their ancestors. The destruction goes unchecked until one day, a young tomboyish girl discovers the secret to defeating the Commanders once and for all (and falls in love along the way).