Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Review time! with ‘A Radical Shift of Gravity’

“So we’re orbiting the earth together and, right now, slightly to the left of Mars, it’s all so clear, we can see the madness perfectly from here”

Nick Tapalansky is a pretty good writer, so I was looking forward to this one, which is illustrated by Kate Glasheen and published by Top Shelf. Let us examine it!

Tapalansky is not trying to fool anyone with the title. This book centers around a literal shift in gravity, as the Earth begins to be uninhabitable due to the fact that, you know, people can’t stay on its surface. He tells the story so we drop in on the main character, a reporter named Noah, at different times during the weirdness, so we see the various stages that the planet is apparently going through the eject us from it. Now, you have to suspend your disbelief quite a bit in this comic, as I’m sure Tapalansky is well aware that gravity doesn’t work like this, but just relax and go along with it. As you might expect, it’s all a metaphor.

That’s not to say that gravity doesn’t switch off in this book, but it’s not about that. We can read this as a metaphor for general ecological disaster, as when it first happens, people gradually adjust, most even enjoying it because they can float around (the gravity is about equal to the moon’s). Then it gets worse, and people begin taking it seriously. One camp, led by a kajillionaire, wants to build space stations and eventually migrate throughout the galaxy. Another group thinks they can restart gravity through some fuzzy science. So if you want to, you can certainly see it as that kind of metaphor. But even that isn’t really what Tapalansky is going for!

Noah (nice name there) is our protagonist, and he moves through the book encountering both the kajillionaire and the fuzzy scientists, because as a reporter, he wants to write about them. But the book is really about the gravity of our relationships and what can sever that, whether it’s voluntary or not, and how we move on to re-establish that “gravity” or if it’s too late. You might roll your eyes at the idea of a writer giving us a book in which actual gravity doesn’t work to make a point about relationships, but Tapalansky does a very nice job with it. He tells the story completely out of chronological order, simply showing scenes from Noah’s life with seemingly no particular plan, although of course we begin to discern one quickly. Early on, we see him just after the first event, and he’s happily married, but we quickly figure out that in other scenes later in his life, his wife is conspicuously absent. Eventually, we find out that she “disappeared” in the second, more traumatic event, and one thing that bothers Noah is that he can never confirm if she’s dead (which, I mean, she is, but the absence of proof haunts him). Tapalansky also takes us back to when Noah met Sarah, and how he missed an opportunity to get to know her then but got a second chance, which he didn’t mess up. His daughter, Elycia, grows up in a world that doesn’t seem as strange to her as it does to him, as she was born after the first event, and when she gets older, she wants to join the kajillionaire’s cause and go to space. Noah is torn about this.

We can see the metaphor working throughout the book, but a nice thing about it is that Tapalansky focuses on the practical matter of gravity failing, so the allegorical part of the book isn’t heavy-handed at all. No one ever says anything about “my own personal gravity” to describe a relationship, in other words, but it’s clear that Tapalansky has this on his mind rather than the pseudo-science of gravity no longer working. Noah falls in love with Sarah at the exact moment when gravity fails, so it’s clear that she becomes his gravitational pull just as the Earth relaxes its own. As Ely gets older, Noah sees that she’s slipping away from him, and he doesn’t know how to handle it. It’s natural, of course, to have ambivalent feelings about your kids growing up – you want them to leave the nest, but at the same time you miss the times you spent with them and you’re scared that they’re going to be in trouble without you – and this is heightened by the ecological disaster that’s looming. Ely literally wants to leave the planet, so far beyond Noah’s gravitational pull that he might as well be dead, and it scares him. He throws in his lot with the sketchy scientists because he never got the answers about his wife’s death, and he can’t let it go and completely abandon Earth, so he clutches at straws and lives in hope that the past can be recreated. He is trapped by gravity, not the kind that the Earth exerts, but the nostalgia that the past exerts, and he can’t get away. Tapalansky does a really nice job of weaving this into the narrative, so that it’s obvious but not unsubtle. Noah has to grow to survive, or he at least has to let go of his past to let his daughter survive. It’s something every parent has to do, and Tapalansky makes it universal while keeping it specific to Noah’s situation.

Glasheen’s art reminds me a bit of Janet Lee’s, which is not a bad thing at all. She uses a loose line that makes a lot of the backgrounds a bit abstract, which actually helps both the tone of the book and the more close-up drawings. When we see the people floating around, her lack of detail helps create more of a feeling of freedom from the Earth’s pull, and when Ely is exploring years later, her loose lines help make the fact that nature is retaking the planet more of a beautiful rather than menacing reality. When her work gets tighter, she uses eyes and quirks of mouths to show emotions, and it works very well. She’s very good at showing Noah at different stages of his life, so we’re never confused as Tapalansky jumps back and forth through the years. Her color work is wonderful, too, as well. She uses greens well, painting the Earth a riot of different greens as people slowly become less important, while sticking to cooler blues and purples as humanity’s focus shifts to the stars. She uses warmer yellows and browns for earlier in the narrative, so while they’re not really flashbacks, as the parts in the past are just part of the time-jumping narrative, they’re from a time when Noah was happier, and the colors help steep us in nostalgia. It’s a beautiful book to look at, which makes the story more interesting.

This is the kind of book that makes you think, not only about the way we treat the planet, but how people interact with each other and what happens when those things change. Obviously, we should take better care of this place, as it’s the only place we can actually, you know, exist, but we should also pay attention to the way we treat other people and how they treat us and how interconnected we all are. It’s a terrific book, so give it a look!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆


  1. tomfitz1

    What a great title. It’s rather appropriate for the recent change in american politics, don’t you think?

    BTW, I just realized that on FB, I have misspelled Krysta’s name as Krista.

    AND you didn’t correct me!!!!!! You deserve to be punished by her!!!!!! lol

    1. Greg Burgas

      Tom: I didn’t correct you because it’s not like it sounds any different. It’s her weirdo parents that used the “y,” so it’s all good! 🙂

      I do like the title. Prescient!

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