Back Barking by Lucy Sullivan  Cover-B

That it ends on a double page spread  suddenly rich with detail and therefore rich with real world context; but also rich with texture, gesture and general drawing noise, seems so apt. It’s an exclamation mark rather than a full stop or comma. It lands like a cliff hanger, but it is delivered visually; stylistically rather than through a plotted beat.

Why is it apt? The whole work is mood driven rather than plot driven or even a real world driven. This is a work all about feeling someone else’s experience, whether it’s the communication of how it feels inside the person experiencing these events or the bafflement of those viewing that experience. Barking shifts from first person suddenly to a bystanding outsider’s view and then dives back in to altered reality and differentiates between none of it. Whichever perspective is being depicted is still clearly a psychological view. Until that last panel when suddenly, the pages aren’t the paired down sets of a self-absorbed mind, they’re the detailed frame of reality. That’s what makes it a punch line, that even in the real world the nightmare still holds form. It adeptly captures Alix’s true escape from reality. She hasn’t left it, she’s inserted her fantasy as a true part of it.

Barking works so well due to the intense nature of the artwork. Cleverly designed, often layouts are echoing work from pages before. Knowingly designed, enough detail to situate the action, but managing to show the distance from physical reality Alix has travelled in her psychosis. This is a psychological landscape, where self-absorption means little of reality fixes Alix’s attention and so little of it appears on the page.

But this is not laziness or to expedite production, this is to open out what the situation FEELS like. You are not meant to impartially view this character’s experience, you are meant to be IN IT with them. You will be Alix from start to finish. That’s delivered clearly from the first page on through the whole work.

You don’t know what is happening in that first panel, but you’re there and you know what it feels like to be in that situation. That lonely foot splashing, both giving the physical experience whilst illustrating the fleeting and confusing emotional experience. This is a story starting right in there without benefiting you with an explanation to distance you from what is happening. You’re confused, it’s clearly frightening and that’s exactly what Alix is experiencing.

There is a rhythm to the work that reinforces the experiences you see as well. Page 1 running looking backwards, page nine running looking backwards. Both real, but 1 is a big black dog, 9 are police officers, you believe the police are real and the dog is not, but you can’t tell that there’s a difference and you’re not meant to be able to, the two call back and forth just like Alix has mixed reality in her head.

Many people refer to world building as one of the fun things to see in Science Fiction or Fantasy, yet here are the same skills used to build the psychological world of the main character. This is modern Gothic using the landscape and the nature of the world to illustrate the psychology of the protagonist. Just like Gothic literature, this work is ‘sturm und drang’ drama, shadows growing and warping into giant spirit animals, death wishes lived out again and again. Both the art and the feeling are relentless and breathless. Nothing to lose yourself in, except those frenetic lines and smeared fearful mess of life.

CTM-3-4

 

all art copyright and trademark it's respective owners. 
content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019

 

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