Kate’s Review: “Ashes”

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Book: “Ashes” by Álvaro Ortiz

Publishing Info: Top Shelf Productions, February 2023

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from the publisher.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Three old friends reunite for the mother of all road trips! One of Spain’s most brilliant graphic novelists finally makes his English-language debut in this elegantly unpredictable gem.

Polly, Moho, and Piter haven’t seen each other in years. Now they’ve piled into a car for a loooong journey to a mysterious cross marked on a map. All their old personality quirks and conflicts are resurrected with new wrinkles as this surreal reunion gets underway. Up ahead are car chases, alcohol, roadside motels, banjo-playing thugs, a ship graveyard, violence, sensual tension, and, of course, a monkey!

The captivating first graphic novel from internationally renowned cartoonist Álvaro Ortiz is an explosive mix of emotional road movie and hooligan thriller in which nothing is what it seems.

Review: Thank you to Top Shelf Productions for sending me an eARC of this graphic novel!

I am admittedly a not so well organized person. This has been my reality for a number of years, probably partially in part due to ADHD and how I can be very out of sight, out of mind. This means that sometimes I miss details, be it things on my calendar or emails. That almost happened to me when I was approached to read “Ashes”, a road trip graphic novel by Álvaro Ortiz, as it was in our email box and it got lost in the shuffle. But I was very lucky in that it came up one more time, and I caught that email, and was sheepish that I had missed it before but also happy that I’d finally seen this story come across my screen. Because boy, was the description so, so weird, and therefore VERY intriguing. I consider myself lucky, and once again promise myself to be better about these things. We’ll see how that goes. But I’m glad that I did see it, because “Ashes” is unique and very fun.

This graphic novel is quirky and fun, with odd characters, a nutty premise, and a monkey companion named Andrés. Reading the description was a trip, but admittedly very enticing because of how trippy it was. And once I began reading, I realized that we were not only going to get a bunch of quirks, but also a sometimes emotional story about a group of friends who have to come to terms with the death of one of their own, and with the fact they all drifted apart when that, at one time, seemed unlikely. Polly is the high strung one, Piter is laid back and quiet, and Moho is a bit of a hardened degenerate. But when their friend Hector dies and leaves them the request to take his ashes and dispose of them at a place on a map he left behind, the three left behind feel the need for closure. Whether that’s closure for Hector, or for their friend group in general, remains to be seen at the start. I liked getting the background for the friends, seeing how they found each other, and in some ways how they drifted apart, and how we can see the pieces as to why they want to do this even though they aren’t close anymore. As someone who has had a number of friendships ebb and flow and come and go throughout my life, but who knows there are a couple that I would probably feel a need to reconnect with in similar circumstances, it just felt very realistic when examining the ways people grow apart, in part due to changing values, bad behavior, or just plain distance and lack of time.

AND THEN THERE ARE THE WEIRD THINGS, and I say that in the most affectionate way. Moho, Piter, and Polly have to go on an emotional road trip, but there are definitely wacky aspects to it. Whether it is Moho’s monkey Andrés, whom he saved from a run down circus and who gets his own little backstory vignettes, or two biker-esque thugs on their trail who have a love for the banjo, or a ghostly presence that is revealing itself to each friend as the story goes on, and it reminded me a bit of the kind of quirky caper that you may see in a Coen Brothers film. It also made the tension feel pretty high at times as they all realize that they are being followed, and that this trip may not be plagued only by awkward friendship baggage, but also true danger. But always done with a bit of cheekiness. I mean, there is a silly little monkey! The stakes are high but it never feels overdramatic in the way that things unfold. And just for funsies we also get some historical tidbits about cremation, be it as a process, a historical footnote, or a use in various cultures death practices.

And finally, the art style is so unique and unexpected. When I first saw it I found it a bit jarring, but I quickly started to appreciate and enjoy it, and didn’t feel like it took away from some of the more tense and emotional moments. And honestly it really worked when it came to Andrés the monkey.

(source: Top Shelf Productions)

“Ashes” is both humorous and bittersweet, a study in how friendships evolve and change, and a wacky road trip romp. It comes together well and is very entertaining.

Rating 8: Funny, emotional, and bursting with adorable monkey shenanigans, “Ashes” is a charming road trip story about changing friendships.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Ashes” isn’t on any Goodreads lists at the moment, but it reminded me of a Coen Brothers movie as I was reading it.

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