July Underwater, Zoe Maeve, 82 pages, zoemaeve.tumblr.com, $16
The debut graphic novella from Toronto and Montreal-based artist Zoe Maeve opens with a Hamlet quote on remembrance, thoughts, and grace. Essentially a diary entry (a fragment of which appears early on as text), the digaenesis of this gorgeously inked story occurs within the span of a day: the funeral of the protagonist Lina’s childhood friend in the morning, and an informal high school graduation party on the beach of Toronto Island that night.
The storytelling style thus gives space for quiet in-between moments and has the feeling of a nostalgia trip through adolescence. Whole illustrated passages of Virginia Woolf ’s To The Lighthouse punctuate the story, as well as musings on The Price of Salt, a lesbian romance novel from the 1950s. The influence of Alison Bechdel (master of the graphic literary reference) is a bit heavy, but is mostly well executed.
The book’s climax happens at the beach, where the ex-boyfriend of a friend flirts with Lina in the water. This scene is prefaced in the diary entry, but Maeve masterfully expresses the strange and subtle motions of the characters’ bodies in the water.
Overall the story is sweet, if a bit twee, and the artwork truly wonderful, if also a bit twee. This is an excellent first shot at longform comics. (Jonathan Valelly)