Written by Ray Fawkes, Art by Ray Fawkes
Published by Oni Press, 2011
This graphic novel is touted as an attempt to push the boundaries of the medium. It tells the stories of eighteen individual characters, each a panel at a time. That is, every page has nine panels and each panel tells the story of a different person. Each two page spread shows eighteen panels, eighteen characters, at once, and every two pages advances their life stories one panel at a time. Got it?
The stories are linked by recurrent themes, words, and phrases, and by visual images. As they begin, they are all very similar. A black panel represents the time before their conception, a white on black smear represents their fetal development, they are newborns in their mother’s arms, the homes the live in, the worlds they live in, as so forth. Each lives in a different historical period, from Paleolithic to modern times. We see them grow old and die, and once again their panel is black. They are also linked by the theme of random violence and death. By the idea that, if there is a god, he is indifferent to our sufferings. Some of the characters are angry and violent, but all have violence impact their lives in some way. If there is one soul, a life common to us all, then we are a suffering creature, lost in the dark.
My last comic review, two weeks ago, was of Jonathan Case’s work and, like everyone, I marveled at how someone with so little experience could produce such a polished work. I couldn’t help it. In his introduction Steve Lieber draws the reader’s attention to the fact and throughout the whole time you’re reading you can’t help by marvel at how polished the work is, incredibly so for someone’s first work. One Soul doesn’t have an introduction, but it does have a dedication: “To Dorian our beloved son: born and died March 13, 2010: In Memoriam.” That’s only fourteen months before this book hit the shelves, so rationally it was already conceived of and well under way before the Fawkes family’s tragedy, but it’s impossible to read the book without wondering how it was influenced by the event. I read the book twice. After a few pages I stopped and read each character’s story one at a time, though I randomly selected the order I read them. Then I went back and read from beginning to end. Fawkes is a writer and his art can be generously described as indie influenced. His hands are so bad, they’re a distraction. I was never drawn into any of the stories, but I don’t think that was intended. It is one story in eighteen lives. In the end I think it’s an interesting concept, structurally speaking, and worth a look because of that.
(If you are interested in comics that push the boundaries of form and convention, check out Rebecca Dart’s 2004 Rabbithead.)