THOUGHT BUBBLE 2023! Our Thought Bubble coverage this year has seen a notable resurgence of the diary comic as a specific focus of autobiographical comics. Rowan Frewin’s Gyula Diary adopts that format but within the confines of a very narrow band of time. This is the story of their 2023 return to the Romanian spa town of Gyula where they had taken part in an impactful queer feminist art residency two years before.
Broken up into episodic vignettes, the first thing to strike the reader is the sense of joy and appreciation about much of Gyula Diary. Rather than being a story about revisiting a location and being haunted by the ghosts of the past Frewin’s account is one of fond recollection and slipping into the comfort of familiar surroundings. As such it has a sedate pacing, allowing us to observe the environment Frewin reacquaints themself with – a tour of the countryside, small town customs, multiple statues and a 15th century castle – that, for the main part, ensures this is a soothing, almost cathartic read.
In these 40 pages Frewin juxtaposes the minutiae of a travel diary with meditative reflections on self; specifically getting used to what they describe in their own words as their “new body” after gender-affirming surgery earlier that year. In that regard Frewin’s perspective as a trans non-binary person allows them to communicate the experience of making a reconnection with their body during this period with a nuanced eloquence. One that feels all the more powerful in its delivery for its quiet and thoughtful consideration.
Visually there’s a clarity to Frewin’s cartooning that plays a vital role in conveying some of the themes of Gyula Diary, particularly those of burn-out, mental health awareness, and wellbeing that are so central to the narrative. They rarely shift out of the six-panel grid which gives the comic a rhythmic uniformity that feels appropriate for a diary offering. When they do break this pattern – as they do in one key scene involving an encounter with a toxic individual towards the end of the story – it ensures a raised emotional reaction in the reader such is its unexpected quality.
One of the great pleasures of our annual Thought Bubble event coverage is that it gives me the opportunity to look at work from creators we may not have covered before. Rowan Frewin is one of a number of voices new to BF’s digital pages this year. Don’t forget you can find your own from our two weeks of festival coverage here.
Rowan Frewin (W/A) • Self-published, £10.00
Rowan Frewin will be at Table D39 in the Redshirt Hall at Thought Bubble 2023
Review by Andy Oliver