Saturday, July 20, 2013

Look Straight Ahead Review

Elaine M. Will was kind enough to send me an advance copy of her upcoming book, Look Straight Ahead. If the names of Will or the book sound familiar, it's likely because she garnered some attention by serializing the story online beginning last year, wrapping up the 250-some page story in March.

The story is about 17-year-old Jeremy. At first, he comes across as a typical teenage outcast, but he soon slips into a depression that in turn leads to a mental breakdown. The story then follows Jeremy's journey through a hell that's largely in his own mind, but where the lines of reality start falling away. It's an excellent, and what strikes me as extremely realistic, take on what "going crazy" feels like. (I can't say I've ever been as far removed from reality as where Jeremy gets in the story, but some of the earlier stages of his descend feel familiar.)

The story is largely black and white, but Will uses color on a few occassions to highlight the extremes of Jeremy's hallucinations. It's a powerful technique, and I'm really impressed that Will carried that over from the online version. It's easy enough to do online, but even the very small number of panels that were in color I'm sure increased the cost of printing the book substantially. The limited use of color here really makes those few instances where it's available stand out, and Will clearly demonstrates her restraint in making sure the color doesn't detract from its importance. Kudos to her for maintaining the artistic intergrity of her story, by not sacrificing those moments to save some printing costs!

Will also changes her illustration style in a few spots to further highlight the dramatic shifts in tone as we follow Jeremy. Clean line art and a regular panel structure give way to rougher backgrounds and looser page layouts. There's also a shift in the overall visual tone, with panels becoming generally darker the deeper into Jeremy's psychosis we get.

What I didn't realize when I first read this online was that Will had won one of the very last Xeric Awards with this work. It's incredibly easy to see why. Not only is the whole thing exceptionally well-written, but the artistic thought that went into the whole book is extremely impressive as well. In Will's bio, it notes that she divides her time between freelance illustration and volunteering as a DJ at a local radio station. I would highly encourage everyone to pick this book up, and see if we can't collectively convince her to just make comics full-time!

Look Straight Ahead is available for pre-order on Amazon currently for a November delivery, but comic shops should have it a week or two earlier. Or you can order it directly from the publisher and get a free sketch from Will. You can still read the story in its entirety online here if you'd care to check it out before ordering.

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