There are books that ask us to find our own truths within their pages; to not simply solicit responses in their audience but to provoke them as well. Chris W. Kim’s Adherent, published by Canada’s Conundrum Press, makes little concession to the reader in terms of narrative elucidation but, instead, asks them to consider its themes by involving them in its protagonist’s journey on a quietly intimate level. Narration is non-existent, dialogue is direct and sparing, and long silent passages force us to observe through an instinctual perception of events. It’s a graphic novel that feels like we absorb it as much as we interpret it. A facet that remains one of its greatest storytelling strengths by tale’s end.
In an isolated village the local people are forced to look to the surrounding environment to forage for supplies to sustain them. When a stack of journals are discovered one of the residents, Em, becomes fixated on the identity of their author and decides she needs to discover the whereabouts of this mysterious writer for herself. As her travels commence Em will visit many locales along the way and see how the author’s presence has impacted them. But will their eventual meeting provide her with the answers she so desperately seeks?
Kim sets his story in a fractured world of splintered societies that seems to sit in the remnants of lone-gone, more advanced civilisations. But to call Adherent a post-apocalyptic story feels somehow irrelevant. There’s something almost timeless about the deliberately positioned environment we find ourselves a part of in this graphic novel; one that in some interconnected way reflects the quest that Em finds herself on by sitting outside of a rigidly defined sense of place or time.
Adherent is an allegorical offering that will resonate with individual readers in different ways. You may see it as a study of the relationship between authorial intent and reader interpretation. Others will look on it as a visual essay on the places literature can take its readers – in this case literally and figuratively. Or perhaps as an examination of both the theory and pursuit of knowledge, and its inescapable limitations for all of us. There’s something very appropriate in a richly meta way about all of these possibilities.
Kim’s detailed but clear artwork and the use of longer, silent sequences are an essential part of the quiet world-building of Adherent. Journey and environment combine in these segments with the minimalist approach to exposition or explanation paradoxically speaking to us all the more eloquently for its near absence. Adherent is a book that centres epistemological interrogation and, in the process, manages the unlikely feat of feeling both spiritual and entirely pragmatic. One of 2023’s most overlooked and key graphic novels for sure.
Chris W. Kim (W/A) • Conundrum Press, $20.00
Review by Andy Oliver