One aspect of Olivia Sullivan’s experimental comics work that always appeals is the way in which the reader is free to take their own meaning from her often abstract approach to the page. Her recent visual poetry in Muscle Memory last year was far less about inferring a definitive narrative and more about the audience immersing themselves in the rhythm and essence of motif and movement. As I’ve said recently on social media, Sullivan’s importance as one of the contemporary pioneers of the UK indie comics scene – alongside such voices as Peony Gent, Gareth Brookes, Karrie Fransman and Simon Moreton – should not go unrecognised. All of them have genuinely been pushing comics in new and exciting directions, helping us to re-imagine the supposed boundaries of the form.
Fried Milk is the first part of an ongoing story and marks a more panel-to-panel presentational style than recent Sullivan offerings. In our recent interview at Broken Frontier she described the project as “a short comic that introduces more sequence into my work, while still maintaining some experimental approaches.”
We’re drawn in intuitively into the mysterious quest of Fried Milk‘s central character through Sullivan’s initial depiction of her with a slightly heavier line, ensuring she stands out against her surroundings and making her struggles with the environment around her feel all the more immediate. There’s a slow build here as the trappings of the human world weave in and out of the unnamed character’s travels, huge expanses of desert close down into tightly claustrophobic panels, and perspectives shift and blur. A seeming supernatural encounter at an isolated diner begins to hint at ideas of discovery and loss, with a limited line in narration hinting at motivations.
What strikes the reader first about Fried Milk is the sense of place that Sullivan creates; an oppressive, barren desert landscape with an enormity and desolate majesty to it. It’s all the more impressive for her decision to create this story in black and white without the added atmospheric impetus of her usual careful and highly evocative colour choices. It makes this wilderness seem all the more imposing, with every panel full of detailed renderings of its untamed beauty.
Like much of Sullivan’s work there’s a tantalising obliqueness that gnaws at the edges of the reader’s comprehension here; one that constantly draws us back to read and re-read in piecing the narrative symbolism together. Olivia Sullivan remains a creator unafraid to challenge her readers and motivate them to interact with her pages on the most intricate and intimate level. At a phenomenally accessible £1 price point Fried Milk is an absolute must-buy at HCZF this coming weekend.
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Review by Andy Oliver
Olivia Sullivan will be exhibiting at Hackney Comic + Zine Fair on Sunday September 8th at Table 18.