Elaine M. Will, 256pgs, Cuckoo’s Nest Press, blog.e2willustration.com, $19.95
Elaine M. Will’s graphic novel debut (originally released periodically online and now collected after she won the now-defunct Peter Laird grant for self-published comic artists) will sound familiar to most small-town people looking to embark on a creative career — we often feel crazy, weird and alone. But Will’s protagonist Jeremy takes these sentiments to the next level when he has a full-on nervous breakdown while facing the pressures of school and ambition.
Will draws on her own experiences. Her candor, particularly when it come to the subject of mental health, is admirable. She can speak with authority and her story gains a stronger heft once the reader learns her own history. Without this information, however, the book seems to lack subtlety.
Often I was frustrated with Jeremy and overwhelmed by his melodramatic verbal tirades. On the flip side, Will’s book possesses a lot of visual strength. Colour was nicely used to explore Jeremy’s burgeoning mania in the otherwise black-and-white world, and her work grew in confidence as the story progressed. While I’m excited to see what Will produces next, on the whole Look Straight Ahead is a muddled debut. To me, it read as not-quite-autobiography, drawing on experiences rather than detailing and exploring them for real.
I think that it would have been far more satisfying if Will had explored the topic using herself as a character. This switch might have given the work more heft. (Mike Heneghan)