'Centralia’ by Miel Vandepitte: A Race on Acid in the Heart of an Apocalyptic City
Centralia, the first graphic novel by the young Belgian illustrator Miel Vandepitte, is now also available in English. Centralia is a toxic ghost town made uninhabitable by a strange global warming event. Despite the risks involved, four heroes set off to discover the city and unravel its mysteries.
Lonca is fed up with the civil war waged against the villain Simia Nasalis. After retiring to Blitz with his men, he hoped to offer them a ‘haven of peace,’ but the increase in population causes a food shortage and unprecedented economic difficulties. Facing these challenges, the reckless cowboy makes it his mission to find the money to rebuild the city and buy the ‘biggest saloon in the New World’ for his wounded soldiers.
© Miel Vandepitte
Although he is well aware of the risk of being liquefied if he sets foot in Centralia – where the asphalt sometimes reaches a temperature of more than 200°C – he gathers a team in order to get there: Jack, his henchman (who can draw a gun as fast as he can pop open a can of beer); Charden, a scientist with a hefty collection of gadgets (who is something of a medic on the side) and Ace, a young journalist sent by the publication she works for to report on the situation.
Miel Vandepitte was inspired by a natural disaster that occurred sixty years ago in Centralia, a small mining town in Pennsylvania. In 1962, a fire broke out in the maze of the city’s coal mines, resulting in toxic gas emissions that forced the borough’s inhabitants to flee. They say that there are places there where glass will melt on the ground.
Fifty years on, fire still burns underneath Centralia. The disaster provided inspiration for illustrator Miel Vandepitte's first graphic novel.
The fires are still burning underground, and the heat, landslides and gas fumes have made the area uninhabitable. According to experts, it will take about two hundred years for the fire to cease burning underground. Though the city was wiped off the map in 1981, there were still ten people living there in 2010. When the author heard the surreal story of Centralia, he imagined this ecological disaster taking place not in a small, remote mining town but on the insane scale of a major megalopolis.
Mutant Creatures, Bazookas and Carnivorous Seagulls
As a fervent fan of strange, fantastic and apocalyptic comic books (such as those by Moebius, Akira, the duo of François Schuiten and Benoît, Geof Darrow and Brian Vaughn), Miel Vandepitte quite naturally distanced himself from the true story and gave free rein to his wild imagination. At the heart of this nightmare city, which is something like an immense furnace, he creates chaos at every reading level. The adventurers, forced to move at height via electric cables and the roofs of buildings, discover a pile of gutted edifices collapsing on top of each other, resting on ground that is spewing toxic fumes in a place rife with carnivorous seagulls, mutated creatures (with special mention for the ‘self-pollinating flower man’) and survivors feeding off of the guts of those who didn’t make it.
© Miel Vandepitte
Frightening, wacky and supernatural obstacles arise continually throughout the expedition, allowing the author to perpetually challenge his characters. And he doesn't forget to put the villain Simia Nasalis, who has been made aware of a presumed treasure, back in the spotlight, either. Despite their obvious stupidity, ‘villainous invaders’ unceasingly badger our heroes. And they have the advantage of being heavily armed with bazookas, wearing masks (with big red noses reminiscent of the snouts of proboscis monkeys) and perching on huge stilts (after three of their number were instantly melted when they crashed into the city).
© Miel Vandepitte
While noting that the plot is cleverly put together and endowed with fabulous leaps of inventiveness, it’s also crucial to mention the graphic and architectural tour de force that Miel Vandepitte has accomplished. In this work, readers are introduced to a true maestro of backgrounds: the phenomenal perspectives of the buildings, the surgical precision of the facades (everything is meticulously cross-hatched in ink), the striking intensity of the landscapes, the incandescent colours (which make readers feel quite warm!), the poetic alternation of sepia-twilight tones, the sophistication of the small details that one never tires of contemplating, etc.
Centralia is an extraordinary acid adventure that ingeniously mixes the genre of the western with science fiction, all against the backdrop of global warming and civil war. But the work is also, and above all, a breathtaking graphic immersion that gives meaning to what is referred to as the ‘ninth art’.
After graduating from the LUCA School of Arts in Brussels in 2020, Miel Vandepitte (Vilvoorde, b. 1998) spent a semester at the Pacific Northwest College of Arts in Portland, Oregon. There, he followed, amongst others, courses taught by Robert Alexander and Jonathan Hill, for which he drew a short story entitled ‘Octopucinno’, which was published in the Postscript Collective
in 2019. Since then, he has specialised in abundant illustrations of buildings, architecture and perspectives.
His first album entitled Centralia, which he completed in the Yellow Cube, the incubator for young talent at the Marc Sleen Museum in Brussels, was published by Scratch Books in 2021.
Miel Vandepitte, Centralia, Living the Line, 144 pages