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Dengue: A look behind the fever

Friday, July 24, 2015

It's often said that science-fiction is merely a reflection of our current society, a filter to examine current concerns and issues. That being the case, Rodolfo Santullo and Matías Bergara's Dengue couldn't be more relevant today. With climate change creating ever more extreme weather across the globe, it's almost inevitable that storytellers have started exploring this subject. But Santullo and Bergara's approach is far more subtle and sophisticated than the typical eco-disaster movies of 2012 or The Day After Tomorrow. Instead they looked at the more pragmatic results of an increasingly warming Montevideo, their home city—namely the increased risk of disease.


While other recent outbreaks, like the headline-grabbing Ebola in Africa in 2014/2015, attract more attention, dengue, or "bonebreaker fever," still manages to hospitalize around half a million people every year. While not nearly as fatal as Ebola (only 2.5% of all victims die) there is similarly no known cure and infection rates are growing. Once only found in the tropics, in recent years there have been dengue outbreaks in Florida and Portugal, thanks to rising temperatures, increased rainfall, and rapid unplanned urbanization. The interesting element of dengue is that contracting it once doesn't necessarily provide immunity. It's possible to contract other strains, which can make symptoms even worse and it's this starting point that forms the crux of Santullo's story.


Into this tense environment Santullo and Bergara introduce us to a sarcastic, jaded yet indefatigable cop, Sergeant Pronzini, and an ambitious TV journalist, Valeria Bonilla, as they try and resolve not only the mystery of thrice-infected dengue victims, but also the apparent conspiracy that keeps the city fearfully locked indoors, away from the epidemic. This original combination of police procedural, political conspiracy thriller, and science-fiction adventure mellifluously blend into a unique, and humorous, tale that rattles along at a pace. No wonder Spider-Man/Deadpool writer Joe Kelly calls it "a cool book" and screenwriter of AI: Artificial Intelligence, Ian Watson, agrees that it's "a powerful and deadly cocktail!"

Creators, Santullo and Bergara are part of the new wave of South American comic creators, such as Eduardo Risso, Gabrial Ba, and Fabio Moon, who are making big waves outside of their continent. Mexican-born Uruguayan writer, Santullo is a prose novelist, journalist, and the author of over 12 graphic novels, including two earlier black and white, historical books, illustrated by Bergara; The Last Days of The Graf Spee (2008) and Act of War (2010). The former graphic novel won the pair the First Prize in 2009's prestigious JC Onetti literary awards. Bergara has gone on to work on several major US comics, illustrating Sons of Anarchy for Boom! Studios, as well as stints on Scott Snyder and Stephen King's American Vampire.


But it's Dengue, the creative duo's first English language translation, that sees them really spreading their mosquito-like wings—telling a sophisticated, multi-layered tale full of fear, hope, and laughs against seemingly insurmountable odds. Fortunately in the real world, progress is being made with pest control trials in Brazil in 2013 appearing to suppress dengue-carrying Aedes aegypti or yellow fever mosquito by 96%. The battle between man and mosquito goes on. Whether we'll ever be able to live in harmony will have to be seen… bzzz…bzzzz… *smack*

Tags: Across the Pond