Written by Francisco Sanchez
Art by Natacha Bustos
Published by Centrala
170 x 245 mm
188 pages – Black and white interiors
The Story: This is a story of one of many families that were forced to leave their homes after the tragic accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in what is now Ukraine. They were told that they could return after a few days, but it was too late – the invisible enemy had already claimed all their possessions and occupied their houses and land for years to come.
It’s been decades since the events of the 26th April 1986, but it’s nothing compared to the tens of thousands of years that will have to pass before the radioactive fallout around Chernobyl is no longer a hazard. This graphic novel is a tribute to those who personally experienced the consequences of nuclear power that got out of control.
In their story – which aims neither to shock nor cause controversy – Francisco Sánchez and Natacha Bustos look from a distance at three characters who, though fictional, could very well be real. The authors make their readers understand what happened in Chernobyl and reflect on its meaning for today’s generation.
The Review: Sometimes a book just hits a chord with you. It has an impact from the first few pages, crying out with both emotion and quality. These books don’t come around too often, but Chernobyl – The Zone hit me like a claw hammer.
I received this through the post on the morning of the first day of the London Super Comic Con. I was getting ready, excited for the weekend ahead. But as soon as I unwrapped the parcel and flipped through the pages, I realised this would not only be an amazing book but also something I would treasure.
26th April 1986 is the day that Chernobyl, the Russian nuclear power reactor exploded. It is described in an eloquent introduction (by author Alvaro Colomer) as the last major news event not to be reported as part of a twenty-four hour news cycle, partly because the disaster precedes the widespread use of the Internet, but more the result of the disaster’s location, behind what we then called ‘The Iron Curtain”.
Much of the story takes place in the town of Pripyat, a busy, family-oriented, bustling town that was completely evacuated and remains so until this day. Stories tell of dogs howling in the town for a week after the event. Then the silence came.
“The world moved on and forgot about us long ago…”
It is this quiet, this still and hollow world that creators Francisco Sanchez and Natacha Bustos recreate on the comics page with such impact. It’s all the more potent because they don’t take a political or scientific standpoint in their storytelling but rather offer a personal point of view.
Chernobyl – The Zone revolves around three generations of a family confused, scared and grieving as the story turns from a gentle soap opera into an apocalyptic disaster story. They are marshalled out of their homes by radiation-suited, gas mask wearing, black and soulless-eyed soldiers. They are put on buses and driven deep into the country, past homes and villages filled with people who are scared of radiation sickness and do not want to take them in.
The dialogue is kept to a realistic minimum and tells more through the artist Natacha Bustos excellent use of expression and scope than exposition and explanation could. The world under the huge sky is cold and stationary; nothing moves, the cold permeates the page and scenes are left to breathe and open up in front of our eyes.
At times, hope leaves the book completely. Even the apparent arrival of a foal in a snow-laden landscape is twisted and subverted by the radiation and the cruel and stupid acts of mankind.
I cannot compliment Natacha and her choices more highly. She uses a clean and solid black line that portrays a stillness. The world around the characters is allowed to stop and look around. We see broad, breathtaking views of nature and destruction intermingling. The people have great character and you can feel their sense of family, friendship and community. The eyes say so much it is heartbreaking.
The last section of the book has a resident returning to his childhood home and haunts and discovering with a camera the devastation on the country. A whole town that people seemingly left at a moments notice, leaving both their possessions and their lives behind.
(Just to emphasise the size of this disaster, it is worth pointing out that it will take 25,000 years for the contamination in this part of Russia to disappear. The impact of this disaster is both incredible and baffling in scale).
While Chernobyl – The Zone will educate you about the awful events surrounding the Chernobyl disaster, it also make you feel something and is breathtaking in both scope and heart
This is a book you need to read.
• Find yourself a copy at on the Centrala website
You can also find this really interesting publishing house at TCAF – The Toronto Comic Festival on the 8th – 9th of May 2016
• Centrala are also planning some UK signings around the anniversary of the explosion of Chernobyl and will be releasing details of this soon
Many thanks for reading.
Antony Esmond is a comic reviewer and writer – his hips don’t lie.