With immigration in general and Mexico in particular having become such issues of anger in modern America, Dave Ortega’s tender, informative family saga Dias de Consuelo couldn’t come around at a better time. Pulling a story together from family lore and historical sources, Ortega takes a look at his grandmother’s childhood during the Mexican Revolution and offers not the glory of war, but the reality women faced during those times.
Opening in 1914, Ortega introduces readers to his Great-Great Grandmother Isobel, whose husband disappeared on a diplomatic mission and is living alone with her daughter, Evarista, who has her own plans with suitor Pedro. Over four issues — I believe there are six planned total — Ortega wraps the domestic drama around the sweeping events in the country, showing how the events involving Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata, who fight against the government of President Carranza, affect the daily life of Mexicans. Churches are seized, men are called up to mandatory service, women are afraid of bandits, and attempts to flee the chaos break up families.
Ortega acknowledges the action and bloodshed, but he never focuses on it, and that is the strength of his narrative. Instead, Ortega turns his vision to not only the plights of Isobel and her daughter and grandchildren — one of whom, Consuelo, is his 100-year-old grandmother, who appears both as a child and an elderly woman in the comic — but to their quiet, daily moments as well. The family takes no great actions in their survival, but small steps, simple motions. Survival is a process, and it is sometimes bisected by moments of candor or splendor. It is a small approach to relating history, seeping narrative into the cracks of the wider surfaces, those spaces where individuals and the stories their families tell lurk.
Ortega realizes his personal vision with an art style dominated by clarity, with clean lines that capture humans and landscapes perfectly and plainly, complimented by some muted coloring that give the story the feeling of the distance past, part of a incorporeal past that only exists in the memory of an elderly woman now. But Ortega has the history books to prove the stories in his grandmother’s mind are real ones, though faded like the oranges and greens and blues that slowly build up their presence as the issues move along, inching us closer to what we think of as the present, though still very far removed. Unfortunately, with the current political rhetoric and the loss of empathy that too many Americans have embraced as normality, not removed enough.