'Contrition' addresses pedophilia, revenge and the right to reinsertion in the key of a 'thriller'

A fortuitous fire causes the death of a drunk with a criminal record for sexual crimes.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
23 May 2023 Tuesday 22:48
4 Reads
'Contrition' addresses pedophilia, revenge and the right to reinsertion in the key of a 'thriller'

A fortuitous fire causes the death of a drunk with a criminal record for sexual crimes. The case hardly deserves a brief in the local paper. But things are not always what they seem and what the police initially consider a very clear case begins to show blurred and increasingly sordid contours. As the tenacity of a journalist unravels the skein, the true dimension of Contrition (Norma Editorial) is also glimpsed, a comic book that drags the reader from its first page and that is masterfully led by Carlos Portela and the Keko cartoonist.

Contrition's starting point is powerful. The title refers to the name of a small town in Florida, an urbanization rather, where sexual predators with firm convictions reside. They live there because, under the laws of that state, they are required to reside within 1,000 feet of a school or day care center. Contrition, the town, is thus a kind of swamp, a rotten and stagnant place where society removes its remains after they have served their sentence. Like plagued, like lepers. This town away from everything is nothing but a way of living in a life sentence.

Contrition means contrition, that is, "repentance for a crime committed", according to the RAE. And that's where this graphic novel begins to reveal its ability to rise from the simple thriller and delve into moral questions that multiply the interest of this album. Because, indeed, one of Contrition's great successes is its ability to introduce several stories within the same plot. Beyond the detective story derived from the initial fire, new and delicate questions arise around guilt, repentance, the possibility of reinsertion of sexual predators, pedophilia, revenge or forgiveness.

The screenwriter Carlos Portela manages to catch the reader from the beginning. Throughout six chapters he shows the inhospitable place where these outlaws live, while chaining other stories that will come together in the main plot. The most shocking is that of young Josh, a victim of school abuse. His story is told with effectiveness and a memorable narrative economy, without explaining more than it should, without stretching out unnecessarily. Forcefully explaining a thorny issue. An episode that certifies the good work of Portela in this work, where only a somewhat more generous extension would have been desirable in the final chapter, a detail that, however, does not tarnish the great final result of this work. Portela has written scripts for highly recommended comics such as La cuenta atrás, about the Prestige catastrophe, and for such popular television series as Velvet or Las chicas del cable.

Another major success must be attributed to Keko's drawing. In Contrition, the man from Madrid uses a memorable black and white drawing, right from the cover, where he condenses the duality of the world he portrays: the relaxed and almost idyllic position of a man sitting in the garden of his house next to the sign that warns the visitor that a sexual predator lives there. It is an image that embodies the unfolded world that this album describes. What is seen and what is not seen. What we really are and what we represent to be.

It seemed logical that such a dark story could only be told without a drop of color. However, Keko is not satisfied with using a conventional black color in his pages. Quite the opposite. This is a black full of shades, swampy like the place he describes, or like the souls that inhabit it. As if the black masses of these cartoons had been filled with mud and not ink. As if that color was there not to show but to hide something, to erase traces.

Keko's good work is not news. The most veteran reader will remember his extraordinary album Livingston against Fumake (1987), with a script by Mique Beltrán, reissued a couple of years ago. Then came works like 4 boots, awarded Best Work at the 2003 Comic Fair, and above all the impressive selfish trilogy –or trilogy of the self– with a script by Antonio Altarriba: Yo, assassin; I, crazy and I, liar. Perhaps the only truly surprising thing is that Keko's drawing, which has always been excellent, in Contrition is perhaps better. Take a walk through Contrition, it's worth it.