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The Bramble and the Rose


By Nnedi Okorafor & Tana Ford 

3 Aug, 2020

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Nnedi Okorafor’s LaGuardia is a near-future/alternate-future comic. Art is by Tana Ford and lettering by Sal Cipriano; the colourist is James Devlin.

In 2010 the first extra-terrestrials arrived in Nigeria. Nigeria, or at least its national government, welcomed the aliens and benefited from imported technology. Other nations, like the United States, took a very different view. Let Nigeria have its aliens, only let them have their aliens far from America. 

Unsurprising since, as returning Nigerian-America doctor Future Nwafor Chukwuebuka knows all too well, this is more or less the position the US takes on people like her. 

There are aliens in America, grudgingly permitted residence. Future herself cannot be barred from the US1, being a native-born citizen, but her recent past in Nigeria makes her the subject of close scrutiny from customs at LaGuardia International and Interstellar Airport. Her timing is fortunate: not too long after she arrives, the US government imposes a travel ban. 

Future brings with her two passengers: her as yet unborn and unnamed baby, and a plant-based alien named Letme Live, fleeing an alien-alien conflict back in Nigeria of which humans are barely aware and on the basis of which no nation will grant the plant refugee status. 

This isn’t the best future for Letme Live, but … life as an illegal alien in xenophobic America beats death in Africa. 

What’s happening in Africa: some aliens are quietly warring on other aliens. Humans are fighting too: the Biafran independence movement hates aliens as much as it dislikes non-Biafran Nigerians. The national military has come down hard on all sides. This merciless attack has failed to bring the opposed factions any closer to peace.

Professor Nwabara is the father of Future’s child. He has filled his apartment with plant-based refugee aliens; he is also is a supporter of Biafran independence. He works for the government, which cannot be allowed to find out about either of his inconvenient positions. He also has to hide his act of mercy from the independence movement. He’s in no position to be of much help to his lover and his child. 

Who may be part alien.


Sadly, I didn’t care for the art, which is a fairly major drawback when one is reading a comic book.

Trying to keep everyone happy works out for the professor about as well as one might expect: he’s alienated from Future, the government does not trust him, and his allies eventually decide he’s not really on their side. Over in America, Future picks a side and sticks with it. This isn’t exactly safe — her parents were murdered for working with aliens — but at least she has friends and allies who won’t decide she’s a liability. There’s a lesson there. 

It’s both funny and sad that Okorafor’s alternate-future US is a horrible place that is still better than the actual US in 2020. No C19, no wandering mobs of armed gestapo, and if there are cages full of kids, they’re never mentioned. It’s really impressive how quickly the Americans are ramping up the dystopian elements of their nation. I can hardly wait until 2021

Comics are limited by their nature to a lower plot/page count than prose novels, but granting that, I would have like more actual plot. Readers should be aware this is a novel in which people can, with hard work, deal with their personal issues. However, they are unlikely to succeed in causing significant social change over the course of the work, no matter how much they would like it. What we see in the graphic novel suggests that reform in the US is the work of literal lifetimes, not something that happens overnight thanks to a well-timed, impassioned speech to the right audience. 

LaGuardia won the 2020 Hugo for Best Graphic Novel.

LaGuardia is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Barnes & Noble), here (Book Depository), and here (Chapters-Indigo).

1: Ha ha just joking. No doubt mere law wouldn’t keep the DHS people from vanishing an American they didn’t want to let back into the US.