In My Darkest Hour
by Wilfred Santiago
(Fantagraphics, 2004)

On the eve of the millennium, in a world where the world is always with him -- or maybe he has no ability to choose to filter out the negative, Omar, a Hispanic-American, rises from sleep to journey through his numbed life. Of course, he works at a place that celebrates the special moments of life -- I'm not sure exactly what he does, but there are balloons all around. The only thing that gets Omar through his days is sex, or the thought of sex, or the possibility of sex.

Omar is in deep existential trouble. And the only reason he's half-aware of it is because he's having trouble with his long-term girlfriend, Lucinda.

The color palate is a warm monochrome with yellow as the only color added to the black-and-white graytones, and it mirrors Omar's vague depression and gives the reader a vague feeling of dread ... as if, well, Omar could very well fall into the wild side and become truly evil instead of just being skeevy and someone you don't want to touch.

I've got to say there were moments when I was confused as to what was going on. The storytelling has some moments when it's difficult to ride on Wilfred Santiago's pictorial stream of consciousness. At those times, when the panel structure and drawings are unclear if a scene is foreshadowing, a flashback or deep into Omar's point of view, the reader is not sure what the heck is going on.

There are pages that have all the great poeticism and muddy storytelling of a Nouvelle Vague picture. I'm all for auteurs and writers and artists going where the story leads them, but vagueness is a detriment to any story because a reader tires after a while if communication is unclear. I kept thinking that there are some snatches of imagery that would have served the reader's understanding better if Santiago had stood outside of himself to see things as the reader might see it. Because of this unclear narrative, when Omar reaches enlightenment I was somewhat confused, the plot thread being so unclear by the time this climax arrives. Even so, it's a great cinematic book, if depressing.

All the illustrations show the work of a wonderful artist. The irregular panels and splash pages are sometimes painterly, sometimes stark with a blockcut feel and sometimes iconographic. The pages where text is used as art and where skillful photography techniques are used also contribute to showing the different moods of the story. This is wonderful pictorial storytelling that certainly makes the reader understand what graphic novels can do.

The book is suggested for mature readers.

by Carole McDonnell
23 September 2006

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