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Panel Mania: Sophie Goldstein’s Dystopian SF in ‘The Oven’

Time for the second Panel Mania of the month, this time previewing the wonderful Sophie Goldstein's first long-form work, The Oven.

Keep an eye on those insects within....

You can read Goldstein's mini-comics, which I also highly recommend, here:

In The Oven, Ignatz Award winning creator Sophie Goldstein places her characters in exactly that: a lawless community under a burning sun where people can escape the harsh population controls in a crowded world. A broody couple take centre stage in this subtle tale, science fiction on the surface and a familiar societal poison lurking beneath.

Originally serialized in black and white in the indie comics anthology Maple Key Comics, Goldstein’s six chapter story is presented here in glorious colour, orange-burnt beneath an unforgiving sky. Syd and Eric long for a baby, but with strict population controls enforced by the state, they see no choice other than to relocate to a backwater commune, off the grid and away from birth control.

The Oven is a book that unfolds slowly, gently even, as simple lines create this fable. A small encampment looks vast and empty, underlining a utopian vision that doesn’t quite line up with expectations. Syd is a beacon of optimism, but the corrupting influence of the outside world is never far from their doorstep. Perhaps even more dangerous is the insidious creep of gender conformity in an anarchic disguise - a small comment here, a sudden split there. It’s telling that the female friend Syd finds wears glasses at all times, blank eyes leaving no clue to the real soul beneath.

The colour palette, black and white, orange and grey, is both warm and foreboding, echoing within the blank skies and landscapes. Only a solitary bug type dances across the void in huge trailing swarms, bursting from the ground to escape up into the skies, leaving its influence behind.

Goldstein is perhaps best known for her long-running webcomic Darwin Carmichael is Going to Hell, co-created with Jenn Jordan, and her Ignatz Award winning mini-comic House of Women in 2014. As with the latter, science fiction and uncomfortable truths are somewhat of a speciality with Goldstein, as indeed are themes of motherhood and fertility. The gorgeous lines and meticulous character work are there to pose questions only – there are no answers here, no dictations, but a seed to be planted within the readers mind.

The Oven is Goldstein’s first long-form work and is perfectly paced; the subtleties within demand re-reading. And like her mini-comics, the ending leaves the reader aching for more.

Read the full preview here: Sophie Goldstein's Dystopian SF in 'The Oven'

The Oven

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