Will & Whit
Her new book, Will & Whit, has much the same charm as Page by Paige, with similar beautiful linework, but by expanding the cast, Gulledge demonstrates new skills. It’s a terrific read, enjoyable to explore and yet deep in meaning.
Will, short for Willhemena, is an insomniac who creates artistic lamps because she’s afraid of the dark and coping with unexplored grief. She lives with her aunt Ella, who runs the family antique store in a small Virginia mountain town.
Will’s friends are equally creative. Autumn is a blue-haired puppetmaker whose parents are pressuring her to pick the right college. Noel cooks, and his little sister Reese is addicted to electronics. It’s the end of summer, and they’re pondering what will come with the fall, whether they want to admit it or not. Another set of young people are putting on an arts carnival, and as the two groups interact, hearts get bent. At the same time, hurricane Whitney is predicted to hit the area hard.
There are so many wonderful and unusual themes in this book. The obvious is the play of light and darkness and what those things can symbolize, but I also greatly enjoyed the way the characters repurpose and appreciate older things and how they support each other’s artistic pursuits. Plus, how can I not love a heroine who quotes Doctor Who episodes?! (Specifically, “Blink“, which of course is perfect for a story about what you see in the dark.)
Will & Whit is more conventionally formatted as comics than the earlier book, but that just shows off how strong Gulledge’s storytelling is. I adored the character expressions and gestures. The love between Ella and Will, for example, as they sit in the kitchen too early in the morning talking about the details of the day is so visible in the active drawings. Her grasp of how young people interact is great, too.
Gulledge also uses a pointillist technique for the shadows (some of which populate Will’s imagination and symbolize her feelings) that’s quite gripping. It contrasts with the solid, firm lines of her characters, making the shadows look insubstantial and a bit scary, just as Will sees them.
Having recently moved from Virginia to the Midwest, it was a personal pleasure to see small-town Southern life, particularly during a blackout, when everything slows down. That’s another evocation of the old-fashioned, antique way of life, and another impressive way Gulledge ties her events and themes together. This is a strong, amazing book, just like Will herself.
Will & Whit can be ordered from your comic shop with Diamond code MAR13 0778. It’s due out May 7. (The publisher provided an advance review copy.)