Writer: Cathy Malkasian, Artist: Cathy Malkasian
Published by Fantagraphics, 2010
Temperance is an unusual book, but easiest enough to describe. Pa is the leader of a group of refugees, and he organizes them to build a walled community called Blessedbowl, in order to save them from the enemy. From the beginning we know this isn’t true. “Pa” is no ones father and there is no enemy. He is an abusive, angry, selfish man, who exploits his followers, isolating and abandoning them in the walls of Blessedbowl, which they are taught is a great ship floating on a sea of fire. This illusion is kept alive by a follower named Minerva, who feeds them stories of Pa’s great battles and of his need for them to keep ready for the great final battle. She keeps this story and community going for thirty long years.
But what Temperance is about is a far more difficult and interesting question. Malkansian was a successful animator before turning her hand to graphic novels and her first book, Percy Gloom, was nominated for an Eisner and won her the Russ Manning Award (the Eisner award for best newcomer). Her visual storytelling is very strong, unquestionably, but it was how she chose to tell her story that I found most interesting. Once walled in the city Minerva struggles to keep her husband Lester together, a hero to all, the reality of his past forgotten. Except when he drinks. Then half remembered events come back to haunt him. Temperance is the story of fear, the unity it fosters, the exploitation it can lead to, and what we will do to protect ourselves. How Pa came to be what he is, and exactly what he is, is left unsaid. Why people followed him is only implied. Rather than proscribe how we should react, Malkansian is confident enough to leave us enough space to interpret what we see ourselves, even if it doesn’t bring us to a pat conclusion. I myself am still wondering, for example, whether Penny and Minerva are meant to be the same person.
A remarkable book.