A mix of comics, illustrated stories and single images, Grace Wilson’s Eyes Peeled has a slightly zine-like feel to its collection of fragmentary but evocative slice-of-life moments. In the opening pages Wilson describes the book as a compilation of “drawings and comics from real life” from between 2013 and 2014 and, like a scrapbook of memories, there’s no overarching narrative to Eyes Peeled. Rather, it’s more of a largely disassociated selection of individual points from her travels in that time period, taking in Scotland, Sweden, England and China along the way.
Something of an abridged comics diary then, and it’s that very sense of disconnection to the proceedings – of fleeting snapshots of other lives encountered or brief, almost ephemeral periods of time in Wilson’s existence – that gives such a sense of poignant understatement to some of the work on offer here. One of Wilson’s greatest skills as a storyteller is her ability to bring the reader into the moment, to let them see the world as she sees it, as the barriers of the page are broken down and reader and narrator form a kind of emotional symbiosis.
A pensive pre-Christmas walk caught in a five-page autobio strip dated ‘Dec 21’, for example, with its rambling ruminations on the link between middle-aged Scottish national identity and comfortable branded outdoor clothing, life’s passage, and Christmas tree lots as pine-filled prisons. Or a character study of a bewildered old couple (’13 Nov’) whose ill at odds poise with the modern world drifts off into a moment of speculative reverie and the possibility that they are, in reality, geriatric party animals.
Wilson’s constant shifts between presentational approaches – in both terms of form and technique – does give Eyes Peeled a slightly disjointed feel but it’s one that adds to the tone of the book rather than detracting from it. It emphasises the slightly random, chaotic procession of the strips and the way that captures life’s arbitrariness and unpredictability. A constantly diverting stream of experiential vignettes linked only by the artist’s journey through them; the jumps from prose to sequential art, from black and white to vibrant two-tone colour, all feeding into this philosophy.
A metafictional account of being refused wine on a plane at age 31 is quickly followed by a chance moment of shared curiosity on a bridge late at night, and then by a one-page visual record of a foot massage, for example. Part personal account and part social commentary, the contents of Eyes Peeled represent scattered, solitary instants in time, that never quite coalesce into a whole, and are all the more memorable for it.
Wilson’s versatility is never better underlined that when contrasting her longer-form diary entries with her non-sequential illustration. There’s a casual, modest wit to her writing style that fully engages the reader in the tiniest minutiae of her adventures, and yet her “silent” one-off images like ‘New Year New You’ at a New Year’s Eve party are all replete with storytelling detail, inviting the reader to construct their own multiple narratives from a lone tableau.
Given the fluidity of her visuals and the borderline caricature of some of her cast there’s a sense that Wilson is attempting to recapture an essence of events on the page for herself and not a strict reproduction of them for others. Often the best autobiographical work is that which feels like it has been created for the author first and foremost rather than an intended audience. It ensures there’s a raw honesty to it – a truth unconcerned by the dictates of formal storytelling structure. Those who so casually dismiss the diary comic – that much maligned staple of self-publishing – would do well to take a look at Eyes Peeled and prepare to be rapidly re-educated…
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Grace Wilson will be exhibiting at Safari Festival on August 22nd. Full details here.