Look Straight Ahead
I value graphic novels that give me another experience, one I would never otherwise be able to sample or understand. That’s the strength of Look Straight Ahead, the story of Jeremy Knowles’ struggle with mental illness and treatment (collected from a webcomic I’ve previously mentioned).
Jeremy’s life seems typical for a comic protagonist — he’s an artist, without many friends, picked on by the popular bullies, with a crush on his friend’s girlfriend whom he’s too shy to even say “hi” to. He can’t sleep, and soon he starts seeing things. Then he slips over the line between “depressed” or “disturbed” into “needing professional treatment”.
The pages are immensely detailed. It’s the kind of art that tells the story through realism, layered with symbolism that uses the unique qualities of the medium to show us how Jeremy sees the world. His art and his visions intertwine, leading to the classic artist’s conflict: worry over whether treating his problems will also kill what makes him special, his creativity.
By using the occasional burst of color in a mostly black-and-white book, Elaine Will adds another layer to the theme. Jeremy’s hallucinations really are more interesting and alive than everything else he sees (and us through him). Yet they’re otherworldly as well. At times I was lost, not sure I was getting everything the author intended, anther way I could sympathize with Jeremy’s struggles.
Nothing but comics could present such an authentic and sympathetic portrait, using the medium itself — such as jagged panel borders — to indicate Jeremy’s (changing) state of mind. Look Straight Ahead can be ordered now from your local comic store with Diamond code AUG13 0935. It’s due out at the end of October. (The publisher provided a review copy.)