Border Futures

Curator's Note

Arguably among the most notorious border zones in the world, the Mexico-United States border is continuously a site for national and international controversy: from the threat of a militarized fence to the ongoing drug trafficking to the recent immigration wave of Central American children. Yet it is also a productive ground for artists and academics exploring issues related to the United States and Mexico as well as those unique to this area.

Caustic Soda, Shane Roeschlein’s and Daniel Crosier’s in-progress graphic novel, sets these issues “five minutes in the future.” Unlike the famous futuristic border tale Sleep Dealer, Caustic Soda pictures the border dissolving as regional conflict escalates into full-fledged war. But, like Alex Rivera’s film, Caustic Soda paints its dystopian future with the familiar tropes of the present: a postnational conflict between a private paramilitary security corporation and a rising narco insurgency; the threat of a Snowden-like whistleblower exposing illegal surveillance and spying programs; a league of sicarios with close ties to a music band that disposes of their victims in sodium hydroxide.

Adopting the maxim that future is already here, the graphic novel renders this forecast in stark browns and oranges. Its palette thus not only symbolizes the arid landscape of the region but also upends the classic deep-blue hues of futuristic dystopias to suggest that even the future won't bring solace from the unforgiving desert sun. In Roeschlein’s and Crosier’s novel, the border becomes the locus for a set of contemporary anxieties — surveillance, corporate militarization, cartel violence — taken to their extreme conclusion. Caustic Soda therefore demands an examination of the border's complex, often contradictory formations today, lest they unravel in the near future.

The posts in this week similarly approach the border region’s multifacetedness, treating it not only as a site of connection between two countries but also a space unto itself, a land with distinct cultures, logics, and idiosyncrasies. Dystopian futures notwithstanding, the border already offers multiple insights into the state of the Americas.




Thank you for your post and curation of this week's topic. This looks like a great comic. I think you are right to point to Sleep Dealer as also engaging in this discussion of border life from the perspective of the unenfranchised. Sleep Dealer is in line with cyberpunk narratives for its fusing of what Brucer Sterling called "high tech with low lives." As a spinoff genre from cyberpunk, desertpunk offers a similar display of life outside of society, where people are relegated to makeshift lives in order to survive in a world dominated by corrupt corruptions that are supported by police states. As the title page aludes, there seems to be a desertpunk element to this comic that I think displays a sense of powerlessness while still looking for ways of gaining agency. Beyond representing border life, I think comics such as these--as well as other forms of media and tech--allow for voices in the border to not only define the space but also present an identity that is otherwise constantly debated and negated. Can't wait to read more of it as it comes out.

I definitely agree, Roger — and thanks for introducing my to desertpunk, I hadn't thought about it in this way before. Also, I think what makes this desertpunk approach compelling is the continuity between future dystopia and present precarity: not only, like you mentioned, corrupt corporations and police states but also the desert as an eco-logic of austerity and adversity, especially for those struggling within it.

I frequently teach sleep dealer and one of the most notable elements of the film is the character Rudy Ramirez's gradual awakening to his position within the neoliberal system that has privatized water, virtualized Mexican labor, and militarized the border. The end of the film seems quite hopeful or at least open-ended. I'll be curious to see how this graphic novel handles issues of agency and solidarity on the bleak topos that it's created.

I'm definitely curious whether there is any residual hope in this story — particularly since Sleep Dealer has a protagonist we are supposed to root for whereas Caustic Soda focuses on a set of antiheroes. On the issue of solidarity, what I'm most intrigued by in this graphic novel is the ethos of "networks fighting networks": whether it's the narco insurgency, the paramilitary corporation, or the league of assassins, all these factions seem to veer into dark territory even as they defend their own positions.

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