I’m Not Here
GG, Koyama Press, koyamapress.com, 104 pgs, $12
“…today we are the living cadaver of yesterday’s lost life.”
This musing from the poet Fernando Pessoa opens GG’s graphic novella, I’m Not Here. The quote is functionally an epi-graph explaining the book’s key thematic questions — the body, aging, memory, loss, death. Yet it is also a hint, an evasive explanation of the book’s structure. Its eight vignettes (or is it nine? It can be hard to tell…) start with the most recent and go deeper and deeper into the protagonist’s memories. The fragments depict, in reverse order, a daughter struggling to cope with her parents’ aging, measuring the slow creep towards death in missed phone calls and awkward silences.
It’s hard to say if there are lessons to be learned or glimmers of hope to be found in I’m Not Here. To try might be missing the point. Rather, GG meditates on the pain of expectation, the stubbornness of expectations, the paralysis of guilt, with more patience than judgment. In one scene, the protagonist gives directions to her father, who is lost and driving around just a few minutes from his home but deadest against letting her get in. She tells him to take a right. He drives off and takes a left. Good intentions, misdirection, pride, and disappointment dance quietly on the dark, sub-urban street where they meet.
The art style is beautiful digital black and white illustration, two-dimensional but alive with detail and subtle expressions, reminiscent of Adrian Tomine. As the scenes go back in time, they get paler, muted, playing in light greys and lots of whites. Deeply sad, the entire book is imbued with a quiet candor. GG’s knack for depicting stillness, slowness, and solitude is heavy and mature. Telegraphic, short on words and context, GG gives her story and herself tight limits to express quite a lot — and the result is exquisite. (Jonathan Valelly)