AVAILABLE AT THOUGHT BUBBLE!
There is nothing we are more passionate about here at Broken Frontier than being able to point to practice that that makes use of those properties of comics that are totally unique to the form to communicate its message. Joe Stone’s deeply personal Thought Bubble-debuting book Stutter is one such project; a comic that conveys the realities of his experiences living with a speech impediment with an affecting and brittle, yet uncompromising, honesty.
Occasionally jumping timeframes, Stone’s autobiographical story builds up a picture of his life in patchwork increments. We witness his often lonely schooldays – including a traumatic childhood incident that may have been the catalyst for his stutter – when bullying and fear of ridicule could lead to whole days mute. As the years pass he begins to compensate, affecting an overtly confident but largely performative persona at university that occasionally veers into arrogance.
It’s in his depictions of the way his stammer affects what, for many readers, would be the minutiae of life that most effectively brings home Stone’s own personal daily struggles. Phone calls become a particular challenge, small things like ordering food in restaurants involves foregoing preferred options for easier to pronounce ones, and strangers asking for directions becomes an awkward ordeal.
The pacing throughout is quite astonishing in its effect and power. One sequence where schoolboy Joe teases another boy simply to fit in and deflect from himself suddenly fades out to white in a moment of abject self-realisation before shifting to a black page featuring nothing but a tiny visual vignette of him in the bottom corner. It speaks of the shame of the moment more eloquently than the most poetic language ever could.
Stutter also looks beyond the social aspects of Stone’s life to explore the neurological reasons for the condition, giving us a wider understanding of how it manifests. The linguistic concessions and work-arounds to make his life easier are also touched upon, ensuring that the topic is examined from a multitude of perspectives.
What makes Stutter such an impressive piece of graphic medicine, though, lies as much in how Stone presents his story as the raw candour he injects into its pages. Stone plays with lettering tricks throughout to emphasise the problems he faces and the emotional fallout it has. An early sequence shows a disastrous phone call to the bank as his stutter comes into full effect, speech balloons slowly fracturing and then falling apart, pieces dropping off them down the page.
At his worst moments those cracks expand beyond the boundaries of his speech balloons, fragmenting the very panels of the page with an overwhelming sense of despair. Other points depict Stone moving through a mass of people talking with empty speech balloons, signifying his own exclusion from their world of easy communication. And on occasion words swirl hauntingly around him, tormenting and belittling him. Even the book’s sense of design ties into this motif with the broken title so effectively describing its themes visually on the cover.
While we’ve already given you our debut ‘Graphic Novel of the Festival’ for Thought Bubble (Katriona Chapman’s Follow Me In) Stutter is undoubtedly our debut ‘Comic of the Festival’ recommendation for you all. Stone’s work here is an absolute revelation. Publishers doing the tabling rounds in Leeds are respectfully directed to Table 51A in the ComiXology Marquee to discover that for themselves.
For more on the work of Joe Stone visit his site here and pre-order Stutter from his online store here. You can also follow him on Twitter here. Joe is at Table 51A in the ComiXology Marquee at Thought Bubble.
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