Land of the Sons

I learned about the illustrator, writer, filmmaker Gianni Pacinotti (known by his pseudonym Gipi) in November on the main street of Pisa, Italy. Pisa is the home city of Gipi and there people were promoting his new collection of short illustrated stories, Boschi Mai Visti (2018). This collection, although recently published, is of his earliest work some dating back to 1994. It is full of colorful drawings that show the darkest corners of humans and society. As I work my way through reading his graphic novels, his work is hard to erase from my mind, and I am interested in seeing how although Gipi’s illustrations are very diverse, there are central themes that persist.

In his graphic novel, Land of the Sons (2016), two adolescent boys live with their father in swampy post-apocalyptic world mostly empty of humans except for the dead bodies that float around. The boys, raised without compassion from their father thought that love would make his sons unable to survive the harsh world, have no problem killing dogs or people for that matter. When their father dies, the illiterate boys go on a quest (as often young characters do in books and movies) to see the rest of the world and find someone to read to them their father’s forbidden diary. They discover a world where a group of “followers” obey a book of rules of the “God of Kool” transmitted to them by a Uberpriest. These rules tell the followers to keep women as slaves, violate them in every grotesque way possible, and eventually eat their faces.

The black and white hand drawn illustrations are scratchy and swirly– creating the impression of a foggy and hazy world. This frantic energy Gipi uses to draw the plants, skies, and bodies of water creates a real movement on the page as if the world were spinning around you as you read. Likewise, when Gipi wants to slow a moment down he is the master of negative space on a page– with blank white spaces stretching endlessly. All of the people are drawn as part human/part animal is some way.  The sons faces, constructed from a few simple lines, are hopeful and wanting; yet we see the father from the perspective of his children– hulking and hairy.

Grotesque and brutal, the graphic novel is deeply disturbing. One of the most disturbing aspects of the book is that it is not a complete fantasy, but an exaggeration or fictionalized version of the real world– a real world where brutal authority, religious rules, and barbaric treatment of women all exist. Gipi questions the idea of authority and the rules imposed by others. At its core, Land of the Sons, poses the question: what does it mean to be a man? For the father it means breaking his own book of tough rules and loving his sons. For the sons it means breaking both the rules of their father, the “fathead twins,” and those of the “followers” in order to save two women from having their faces eaten off. In their journey from adolescence to adulthood, the two sons eventually decide to ignore the book of rules, which tells them they must treat women as sub-animals. Only when they break these rules do we see even the slightest glimmer of humanity and compassion in such a dark world.