Imagine a future in which California secedes from the United States after a fascist president orders all immigrants to leave. The new comic book Calexit, expected to be one of the stars of the show at San Diego Comic-Con this week, takes its readers into a dystopian world that has strange parallels, many unintended, to today's political environment.
Los Angeles–based creator Matteo Pizzolo said he and co-author Amancay Nahuelpan started conceiving their story before President Trump was nominated, and that they were unaware of the real-life Calexit movement, manifest in an initiative by a group called the California Freedom Coalition. One of the original organizers of Calexit, Marcus Ruiz Evans, said he doesn't know the term's history. "No one knows who invented the term or made it the term to use," he said via email.
The latest independence measure, which aims for the statewide ballot next year, would give voters options that would take steps toward independence from the United States, a goal scholars and the California Legislative Analyst's office say is not legally possible.
Pizzolo is making one vision of a California nation possible through fiction, although he says his story, which includes the journey of Mexican immigrant Zora and her compatriot Jamil, is neither a warning against secession or an endorsement.
"The book itself is not a polemic for or against secession," he says. "In the story, California is forced to secede when a lot of people are put into a position where they need to take principled stances and conflicts escalate."
In the book, California becomes split between pro-immigrant sanctuary cities and more conservative inland areas. Los Angeles, San Diego and the Bay Area are occupied by federal forces, but Zora and Jamil, under the Pacific Coast Sister Cities Alliance, which eventually also includes Tijuana and Vancouver, battle the U.S. government.
"We focus on characters who are hopeful, and that's what's driving them to resist and to ultimately help one another," Pizzolo says. "Our goal is for the characters to shine through the dystopia. We want the book to be hopeful, optimistic and constructive."
The characters are diverse; Black Mask Studios comics always attempt to be inclusive, he says. But, interestingly, authors had to go out of their way to portray background characters as mostly white because immigrants have largely been banished. "We were forced to make California look less diverse than it actually is because it's an occupied fascist state with a travel ban," Pizzolo says.
Will such a dark vision of a California torn from America hurt the prospects of the Calexit initiative? Or could it drum up support because it might be foreshadowing the rightward political direction of the White House? "It is fiction and meant for entertainment, so we're not too worried about it either way," Steve Gonzales, board member of the group behind the initiative, California Freedom Coalition, said via email.
Marcus Ruiz Evans, who has worked on secession proposals since 2014, said he's impressed because "the comic book storyline mirrors real life."
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Ruiz recently left the California Freedom Coalition to return to the original group promoting Calexit, Yes California. He said that a Facebook page about Calexit, the comic book, "received many more views than the announcement that Yes California was back."
San Diego Comic Con takes place July 20 through July 23. Pizzolo says he'll be at the Black Mask Studios booth most days. Additionally, he'll appear at the Hotel Cafe in Hollywood on tonight at 8:30 for a Comic Con kickoff event.