The Next Day original graphic novella
Writers: Paul Peterson & Jason Gilmore
Artist: John Porcellino
Editors: Richard Poplak & Alex Jansen
Publisher: Pop Sandbox
Price: $16.95 US/CAN
The title is a little misleading, as the bulk of this book is about the days and years leading up to the decision — be it spontaneous or considered at length — to take one’s own life, but it does fulfill the promise of the title as well. I hadn’t heard of this project before a review copy of the graphic novella made its way to my desktop, but I’m incredibly pleased at having the opportunity to discover this poignant and powerful examination of the human psyche. And while the book explores the histories and thoughts of four real people who attempted suicide, my use of the singular form of “psyche” is apt, as the writers and the subjects expose just how many common experiences lead people down a dark path to the wrong but seemingly logical choice. In contrast to the honest and gut-wrenching script, the artwork is surprisingly simple in tone. One way to view the artwork would be as amateurish, but another is to note the basic, minimalist approach reinforces the notion that any of these four people could be someone the reader knows, someone the reader loves or even someone the reader sees in the mirror every day.
Jenn, Chantel, Tina and Ryan. They struggle every day, wrestle with their inner demons. They suffer from depression, bipolar disorder and emotional scars from childhood abuses. They try to hide from their dark thoughts in booze, in sex, in sleep, but they never go away. They’re in pain, excruciating but invisible pain, and there comes a time when people reach a breaking point. There comes a moment when the only option they can see is oblivion, as their pain and experiences blind them to all other options. But like Jenn and Chantel and Ryan and Tina, not all those who take that final option succeed, and they must face life on the next day, and each day that follows.
Artist John Porcellino grants the four characters incredibly basic designs, but more importantly, the simplicity of those figures and the settings allows all four stories to blur together. In some instances, that would seem like a bad thing to do when telling a story featuring four characters, but it works in the context of The Next Day. Not only does the flat approach lacking in detail allow the reader to identify with the characters, but it allows the same plotline to wind in and out of the characters’ lives. In effect, the art, along with the writing, allows the creators to present a single story made up of four different stories. The four characters and storylines still distinguish themselves in generally subtle ways, notably through the different approaches to lettering the characters’ narration. The art throughout most of the book is in black and white, so I found it interesting that some select panels — usually transitional ones devoid of characters in them — are presented with light blues for the linework instead of the more striking, dark black lines.
For a while, my wife and I were regular viewers of Intervention, and after watching a number of episodes, one realizes how… predictable the tragedies of the subjects’ lives are. I’m not saying the show was formulaic, but that the triggers for addiction (and other afflictions of the human condition) tend to fall into certain patterns. Souls are shattered by the same emotional hammers. The same holds true in The Next Day. Sexual abuse is something that turns up in almost every one of the plotlines in the book, and as is diagnosable mental illness and addiction. Honestly, it’s amazing how often such triggers and the resulting pain are overlooked, since they’re so common.
The subjects’ narratives finally separate from one another in the moment each faces his or her impending death, and more specifically, when each reflects on their beliefs, God and the afterlife. It makes for a powerful impact, as their voices diverge from one another, but each still exhibits so much humanity. Faith and different takes on it serve to set the characters apart. Faith grants them their individuality in the context of the narrative.
Some short text pieces at the back of the book explain its origin and purpose, noting the narratives were taken from interviews with survivors of suicide attempts, but more importantly, it reveals The Next Day is much more than this graphic novella. It was also developed as “an interactive online experience” in partnership with the National Film Board of Canada. I haven’t watched the online incarnation of the project, as I was more than satisfied with the strength of this comics component. It stands up incredibly well, as a cautionary tale, as a touching and heart-breaking examination of the dark side of everyday life and as a note of encouragement for those facing what they believe is the only choice left for them. 9/10
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