Last week at Broken Frontier we looked at Lizzy Stewart’s Hannah and Alys at the End of the World, a quietly powerful coming-of-age story that showed the strengths of Stewart’s comics character studies in terms of both relatability and our empathy with her protagonists. Two Stories, another of her recent short comics, also underlines another notable part of her storytelling repertoire – her ability to grasp hold of the particular tools of the form and use them to shape the page to the needs and themes of her narratives.
The first tale ‘Nice Man’ depicts a doomed relationship where one partner’s toxic behaviour slowly reveals itself over time, despite his apparent affability. It’s an account of incremental uneasiness and revelation as the unnamed woman begins to realise his foibles are something far more concerning. A dual green and orange colour scheme is used to represent each character, merging and interweaving where appropriate. Told through observational narration rather than dialogue it’s replete with visual metaphor and symbolism that speaks as eloquently about the situation as Stewart’s words do.
The second story ‘Quiet’ follows an internet artist who slowly builds up an online following for her collections of comforting and calming sounds. In an ever pressurised world they become something of a sensation, and demand begins to grow for soothing noises like the sound of someone caring for you. Forced to find ever more serene sounds her quest takes on an almost bizarre quality and ironically starts to have its own debilitating effects.
What’s quite brilliant here is the synaesthetic ways in which Stewart recreates the sensation of sound on the comics page. In a largely black and white story that can take the form of colours suddenly sweeping around her central character or abstract shapes and movement lines floating around the page and encapsulating her within panels. It’s an incredibly intuitive way of capuring a non-visual experience in a visual way. And there’s also more than a hint of social commentary here about self-care and creative burn-out.
Two Stories is perhaps a perfect starting point for readers unfamiliar with Stewart’s work and another must-buy if you’re visiting ELCAF this weekend.
Review by Andy Oliver