Watching the growing confidence in storytelling craft of our Broken Frontier ‘Six to Watch’ creators as they become more conversant with the language of the medium is always a pleasure. Alxndra Cook’s manipulation of the form becomes noticeably more assured with every new offering, with her latest release Ghostly Thoughts (recently published alongside minicomic Moonlit) being a testament to her development as a sequential artist.
Ghostly Thoughts emerged from last October’s #Mintober, an alternative to the annual month-long drawing-prompt social media event #Inktober. The comic comprises three eerie tales told with Cook’s usual richly resonant and atmospheric visuals, and her ever effectively economical but precise use of text.
The first story ‘Necromancer’ (below) begins with a marvellous piece of single panel composition. Here we are introduced to a deeply unsettling image of a ghostly presence that has attached itself to a mortal life; all the more disturbing for the idea that the haunted individual has become so blasé to its presence. This tale of the otherworldly merging with the everyday begins with the line “It’s been 6 months… I’ve lost friends… they find it creepy”, and follows its protagonist’s quest to free bother herself and the spirit from their intertwined bond. Cook allows the reader to interpret events and the bittersweet ending either as a “straightforward” supernatural account or, alternatively, as a metaphor for something more psychological; her crisp visuals and delicate use of colour adding to the story’s quiet intensity.
The second entry ‘Haunted Memory’ is a more prosaic but no less affecting two-pager on love and loss. Here Cook works to one of her greatest strengths, her ability to evoke recognisable emotional responses from her reader through moodily atmospheric colouring and starkly provocative imagery. Here she uses a page turn, facilitated by an inserted blank page, to hammer home a feeling of grief and emptiness that is poignantly captured as much by what is missing in its second page as by what is tangibly depicted.
The final short is ‘Spooky Story – Yuki Onna’ (below) which brings the titular snow spirit of Japanese folklore to the comics page. This is a cautionary tale of love, promises and betrayal and, while slighter in plot, has a suitably ethereal ambience emphasising its mythological roots. Again, this is an element of Cook’s practice that has become one of her signifying communicative tools; her ability to use colour so subtly yet potently to convey emotion and theme in ways that narration, dialogue, page structure and even visual characterisation could not.
To date, Cook’s released comics have all been largely self-contained (even her graphic-novel-in-progress prelude Kiyomi’s Prequel) so all of them are stepping stones into her approach to the medium. Ghostly Thoughts, though, may be the most accessible for the widest audience and is a highly recommended introduction to the work of this rising star of the UK small press scene for those yet to encounter her style.
Alxndra Cook (W/A) • Self-published, £8.00
Review by Andy Oliver