(For the full disclosure, I met Jed McGowan at Comic Camp in the ACA, in Florida, two and a half years ago and that is, indirectly, how I come to have in my possession his latest graphic novel: TAKE CARE Part 1. He, in fact, along with all my comic camp colleagues, should be looking for the Holy Grail at this moment, if he is following instructions. However! Jed did not ask me to review this book, and if I didn’t like it, I would just be very, very quiet on the subject, and hope no one asked me what I thought.)
Take Care (Part 1) is the story of a accident that happens to a young man, and the broader, unexpected ramifications of that event and what that means for his family and his girlfriend. It’s about the pivotal moment where life splits into before and after and things will never be the same again, yet, (I promise!), it’s not as bleak as that might sound. It’s funny, rude and unexpected, too. Life is not always neat, it seems to be saying, it doesn’t always fit into a pleasing narrative arc with a happy ending. It two-fingers the trope of how people recover from coma on TV – where they sit up alert and pretty and ask in a perfectly normal voice where they are – instead, it deals with deeper questions about where personality – and, maybe, soul – reside – about what makes us who we are, what makes us function as social beings. It is miraculous but not in the way you expect and it is realistic, but not in the way you think it might be. Like life itself, it is made of mundaneity cut with startling moments. It is written and considered in a way that makes it look easy.
The story is rendered in textured charcoal, swept on the page, and in charcoal line, the spareness and simplicity of the style belying the complexities underneath. Jed uses negative space, and moves between black and white and grey to open the door to a terrifying and uncomfortable emotional reality. The dialogue is just as pared down, each word carefully measured, to hint at a larger narrative backdrop. The pacing is a real strength of the book – the author exploits his skill with timing to reveal the many empty moments that go by in hospital waiting rooms – the pauses and the silence being where that experience is captured. The cups of coffee, the uncomfortable chairs, the boredom, the horror, the strip lighting and polystyrene ceiling tiles – the specific detail points to a universal experience – all these resonate with the reader but are as if renewed and unsettling in this spare and unpredictable universe.
I look forward to Part 2, Mr McGowan. [Drums fingers impatiently]. And to more work – it seems to me that he is uniquely placed to push the conventions of the form – to offer us new places to explore, beyond realism and convention to something truer and more interesting.