Pictures of You original graphic novel
Writer: Damon Hurd
Artist/Cover artist: Tatiana Gill
Publisher: Alternative Comics
Price: $11.95 US
It’s been far too long since we’ve seen new comics work from indy, slice-of-life writer Damon Hurd, but those of us familiar with his short but universally strong list of previous work can take solace in the fact that the wait is almost over. Later this month, Alternative Comics will release Pictures of You, a followup to Hurd and artist Tatiana Gill’s previous collaboration, A Strange Day. That previous project chronicled the first meeting of a couple of kindred spirits, the beginning of a beautiful love story. Pictures of You is a prequel, following the same characters as they follow separate, sad paths the year before. Gill’s art isn’t the sort of clean, tight work that manga and super-hero genre readers are accustomed to, but it’s grounded and honest, more than compensating for any superficial inconsistencies. Readers will be hard pressed to feel disconnected from this story. There are universal elements at play that makes Pictures of You a compelling read. One can easily relate to pieces of the various characters, but really, that comes as no surprise. It’s what Damon Hurd does best.
Before they met and fell in love over the course of an afternoon, Miles and Anna led lives in different towns, at different schools. Miles felt cursed, living a life of unrequited love. He’d do anything for his best friend, Sarah, but she’s oblivious to any romantic potential in their friendship. She’s smitten with a track star at the school who also plays guitar in a band. Elsewhere, Anna retreats from her chaotic home life to the only safe haven she knows: the arms of her boyfriend, Ethan. He’s an angry young man who’s about to leave town and go away to college, and Anna doesn’t know what to do. Her fears and pain come to a head when she attends a concert given by a band for which Ethan sings lead vocals.
Tatiana Gill’s artwork boasts the kind of minimal backgrounds and anatomical inconsistencies that one can often find in the world of indy or small-press comics. At times, that can bring a crude, unprofessional look to a project, but such is not the case with Gill’s performance here. She does an excellent job of capturing the emotional subtleties that serve as the main appeal of this story. The artist’s depiction of Anna is quite strong. She’s not an emaciated figure. There’s meat on her, but that doesn’t detract from her appeal. In fact, it makes her more attractive. She’s a real person, not a comic-book fantasy image, all breasts and bones. Gill also distinguishes between Present Anna and Past Anna. Anna today moves with great confidence; her contentment is as apparent as Past Anna’s sadness is in her walk, shoulders and face.
There’s a key scene between Anna and her mother in which the letters merge into the art, even eclipsing it. It works, given the harshness of the moment and the words being exchanged. Gill often merges art and text to great effect, especially when it comes conveying the flow of music through a scene. I also appreciated the manner in which the scenes set in the “present” are distinguished from the rest of the book. The art is for that opening “present” scene is printed and presented with a faded look, bringing an appropriately dreamy tone to the happier time to follow the melancholy ones at the heart of this graphic novel.
Man, is there anyone out there who can’t relate to Miles’s frustration over his desire to turn a friendship into something more? It’s something we’ve all experienced, and that universal appeal draws one into the story in an instant. What’s most heartening about the friendship between Miles and Sarah is how important it really is — for both of them. They may not be lovers, but neither one has anyone more important in their lives. Anna’s story is a much more tragic and heartbreaking one. Both of her parents are shattered souls; her emotional predicament is much more difficult to empathize with — sympathize, yes, but empathize? Her circumstances seem almost alien to me, but they’re clearly all too real. While Miles’s conflict finds its happy resolution later in the book, Anna’s happy ending is actually to be found in the beginning of the book, as we see that she was able to move on and build a new life.
While there are parallels in Miles’s and Anna’s lives prior to their meeting, there’s a key distinction as well. In the “present,” Anna is completely transformed. Physically, she’s a different person, but emotionally as well. In the main part of the story, she’s withdrawn. She feels invisible in her own home and connects with only one other person. But in the opening scene, she’s an open book, completely exposed and revelling in the simple moments and joys life has to offer. She’s grown significantly, but Miles seems to be pretty much the same. Hurd isn’t saying that Miles had already matured. He’s exploring the notion that Anna has had to do so in order to survive and thrive. 9/10
Note: Pictures of You is slated for release later in September.