by Anthony Cleveland
Aliens. Drugs. Government secrets. A UFO-obsessed, gun-toting podcast host. Impending planetary doom. When you stack up the elements of Anthony Cleveland and Antonio Fuso’s Stargazer, they look like the hot topics of a conspiracy theory subreddit. Indeed, the same anything-is-possible energy that powers those corners of the internet also surges through the opening pages of the graphic novel. In one instance, a bunch of kids are enjoying a night outside, in the next, BBRRRUUM, giant letters blanket the scene and the friends are transported to a water tower. Moments later, Kenny, the youngest of the group, is falling from the structure after quite literally reaching for the stars. The others aren’t quite sure what happened, but Kenny firmly insists the “sky people” took them. To the horror of his friends and family, Kenny’s infatuation with aliens turns manic. He’s never the same.
Fast forward 20 years, and Kenny is once again the subject of the group’s attention. This time, though, he’s gone missing. His sister Shae brings the friends together in a quest to find him, setting off a journey that ping pongs the characters between confrontations with the US government, an extraterrestrial life force, and the most painful events of their past. Stargazer is two parts sci-fi and one part horror—with a dash of mystery sprinkled in. Cleveland’s narrative moves with vigor, and Fuso’s vivid, noir-style illustrations match the story’s tenacity at every turn. Stargazer is a quick read, but it’s also a slow burn. Like a computer trying to process a large file, I spent the days after finishing the book mulling over each plot point. In the end, though, I keep coming back to the first thing I felt upon completing it: utter bewilderment. —Paul Sarconi