Through a Life
It doesn’t surprise me that Tom Haugomat has an animation background, since Through a Life is broken up into tiny, cinematic moments about seeing.
It’s a unique format. Most two-page spreads consist of a small image establishing the setting on the left, with a date and place line showing where Rodney is and what he’s looking at, and then on the right, a picture of what he sees. (The format is occasionally opened up for a particularly important image that takes the full scope of both pages.) The coloring is stunning, all done in the deep blue-green, orange-y red, and maize gold shown on the cover. Here are some pages — the best way to understand this book is to see it. The protagonist has red hair, so we can identify him easily, even as he ages.
You can see more preview pages at the publisher’s website.
It’s a read that rewards reflection and a strong appreciation of design. There were a few of the smaller images where I wasn’t quite sure what I was meant to be seeing, but most of it can be pasted together once the reader knows it’s the story of one man’s life, someone who, as a boy, was inspired by airplanes and science fiction to become an astronaut.
There are no words, and the faces are blank, so the interpretation of motivation or emotion is up to the reader, but the events — the passing of a parent, a job setback — are universal enough. It felt, at times, remote to me, both because of the child growing up in Alaska and because it’s very much a baby boomer kind of tale. Rodney is born at the end of 1955, and there’s no sense of worry or want in the images, as I read them. Although the time we see is constrained by windows or screens, there’s still a feel of the universe expanding beyond, with potential. That feeling isn’t as common these days.
Through a Life is a reflective work, and not everyone will want to put the time into it, but it’s certainly something to see, as an artistic accomplishment. (The publisher provided a review copy.)