Review: Retrograde Orbit (Avery Hill Publishing)

One of three books being released by Avery Hill at this year’s Thought Bubble, Kristyna Baczynski’s Retrograde Orbit is a beautiful and poignant tale about about a young girl looking to find a sense of home and identity in a galaxy where she feels like doesn’t quite belong.

Publisher: Avery Hill Publishing
Writer: Kristyna Baczynski
Artist: Kristyna Baczynski
Price: £11.99 from Avery Hill’s Store

Our heroine Flint lives in a mining colony on the edge of the solar system, but she dreams of life on her family’s home planet of Doma – the only problem is that it has been made inhabitable by a disaster and so the only way she can find out about her past is through her grandmother and the books which her or her mother can find. Struggling to grow up in a world where she doesn’t feel like she fits in, she is teased for her love of this irradiated world and is desperate to find an identity for herself that may or may not include Doma. But this struggle for identity and belonging sees her clash with her mother, who is attempting to bring her up on single parent wage.

For a debut graphic novel, Retrograde Orbit is incredibly accomplished. Flint’s story is heart warming and poignant, and very real at the same time. Her struggles to fit in will resonate with any one who has grown up as a teenage misfit, but it also touches on what it is to be an immigrant in a hostile world. Not quite fitting in or knowing how to be a part of the world you are forced to live in because your home is no longer safe. As with all great science fiction there are undercurrents of social commentary and Flint and her family have a non-specific ethnicity about them, that could be read a number of ways, but there are hints with the culture and cooking that point towards various displaced and disaffected cultures from around the world.

There is also a strong emphasis on family and what it is that makes a home. Especially poignant is a scene where Flint meets her best friend’s huge family and sees a hint of what she is missing out on. The relationship between Flint, her mother and grandmother is beautifully written though and the adversity is very real and identifiable, but never pushed into melodrama or extremes for the sake of story telling. All of which builds to an incredibly emotive finale, which really tugs at the heart strings and gives a perfect ending to this utterly wonderful book.

Visually, it looks as beautiful it reads. We are always a sucker for the use of a duotone colour palette, and Kristyna uses these to perfection making Flint’s home planet seem cold and clinical in blues and purples, whereas in later scenes it shifts to a warmer orange hue as she lives out her dreams of traveling the galaxy. Kristyna’s artwork has a beautiful mix of cartoonish and highly expressive faces, and at times look almost a bit Saturday morning cartoony (we were getting flashbacks to Galaxy High with the eclectic characters in every panel) and the aliens are a nice mix of humanoid and more bizarre creations. However, it also has a real sense of design and world building, and like the best sci-fi books you soon forget the tentacles and pointy ears and focus on the characters. The book also has a superb sense of design to it, from the sprawling landscapes and the intricate mining machinery, to the planetary diagrams that are used as chapter breaks.

Retrograde Orbit will be released at the same time as Tillie Walden’s On a Sunbeam and Kat Chapman’s Follow Me In, and they make one heck of a trio. All featuring beautifully written stories, by exciting and innovative female creators, showcasing the best indie and small press comics have to offer. But they also feel tonally similar with an emphasis on finding yourself through travel and personal journeys. With such strong output coming out of Avery Hill this year, Retrograde Orbit may struggle to find it’s identity with such notable competition, however this is not a book to overlook as it’s underdog status matches that of it’s protagonist and makes it even more deserving of the praise that it so richly deserves.