Georgia Holland’s Before They Lay You Down is ostensibly a short story in the Western comics tradition. In reality, though, Holland’s minicomic is far more universal in its themes, exploring our definitions of family, redemption, and how our lives can sometimes veer off in unexpected directions.
Before They Lay You Down is the story of two young men Walt and Davy who, after the deaths of their fathers, go on the run from their criminal colleagues of the Thomas Gang to begin anew away from that violent lifestyle. Davy seeks to spare the more innocent Walt from the brutality of his own upbringing. Taking on new identities the pair look to forge a new path while ever aware that the shadows of the past loom ever larger over them.
In the 16 story pages of Before They Lay You Down Holland has a lot of thematic ground to cover. That she does so with very little exposition, and with 25% of the comic featuring wordless pages, is a testament to how effective she is in that regard. It’s a delicately realised study of found family, the bonds that unite us, and whether our identities are shaped by our own decisions or the values that are imposed on us. It’s also a short that is just begging for either fleshing out or a follow-up story, given how captivating the relationship between these two “brothers” is.
Although there is an occasional moment where the narration perhaps slips into the more clichéd standards of the genre, Holland lets her visual storytelling do much of the talking here. Visual characterisation is vital and its subtle understatement communicates so much more about the link between the two leads than more overt displays would. Holland’s understanding of how to play with the passage of time to varying degrees on the page is also vitally applied here in a story that needs to focus on both the intricacies of the moment and the movement of months.
Where her art really shines, though, is in its use of colour which captures both the tone of key dramatic moments and the majesty of the natural world the characters move through. Work from a new voice on the UK small press scene that promises much for the future.
Georgia Holland (W/A) • Self-published, £8.00
Review by Andy Oliver