Grace Wilson’s work is so acutely observed, so perfect in capturing the fragile human foibles of the people she brings to her pages, that she puts me in mind of a comics version of Victoria Wood or Alan Bennett. Whether in the pages of her graphic novel Saving Grace from Jonathan Cape or self-published work like Eyes Peeled, her comics combine social commentary and depictions of those smaller, recognisable moments of life that instantly connect with the reader, to create graphic narratives that are quietly but profoundly empathetic in delivery.
Later Still collects a number of short strips and illustrated prose, some of which were originally published in various Swedish small press publications. An early image underlines the distinctive way in which the artist draws the reader in to interact with her imagery. Captioned “street beers whilst a Michael Douglas doppelgänger stares for hours and grins”, it depicts Wilson and friends enjoying a moment of impromptu outside socialising while a semi-cadaverous lookalike of the veteran actor leers in the background. A simple vignette but one that invites its audience to construct an entire narrative around it and indicative of how Wilson can say so much with such economy.
The book is full of such moments. A poignantly paced strip featuring two pensioners talking about declining marital intimacy ends on a pensive silent frame of reflection. A longer-form story chronicling the constant male interruptions Wilson deals with when trying to read her book in a pub needs no extra narrative commentary to point out the intrusive and inappropriate behaviour she encounters. And a one-page glimpse of a man rapturously displaying his fast food acquisitions as if in some kind of spiritual supplication as she walks home from the pub late at night employs a prose style that is rhythmically lyrical in cadence.
Throughout every episodic short Wilson’s busy panels and expressive visual characterisation bring to life characters we feel we instantly know, and situations we feel we have lived. The powerful contrast of meeting a desperate young soon-to-be-homeless woman while on the way to her own birthday celebration; humouring a drunken pensioner about her age; and the numb pain many of us felt the day after the disastrous Brexit vote. All depicted with a brevity that nonetheless distils the pure essence of respective guilt, awkwardness and disappointment into their fleeting page counts.
Later Still’s longest story follows Wilson on a country walk that sees the urban impinge on the rural. Again, there’s a layer of pertinent social commentary lurking just beneath the surface level portrayal of self-deprecating slice-of-life humour. While the artist has an acclaimed graphic novel from a respected publisher as part of her comics resumé it seems long overdue that someone picked up her short work for a major retrospective collection. Grace Wilson is one of the UK’s finest and most underrated slice-of-life comics practitioners and her output deserves that further recognition and celebration.
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