A truly joyous graphic novel from one of the UK’s fastest rising indie comics stars.
There’s a little backstory to this review so bear with me…
Back in 2014 I had the honour of being asked to be a part of the judging process for the 2014 Myriad First Graphic Novel Competition – Myriad’s contest for aspiring creators who have not previously had a full-length graphic work published. Over the course of many meetings, much deliberation and a small mountain of reading my fellow judges (Myriad Creative Director Corinne Pearlman, novelist Meg Rosoff and graphic novelists Nicola Streeten and Woodrow Phoenix) finally whittled the many entries down to an incredibly strong final shortlist of six.
Sarson’s comics, of course, have been championed here for many years at Broken Frontier. From her contribution to the londonprintstudio anthology Parallel Lives in 2012 to her self-published comics like Cafe Suada, we knew from the very beginning what a phenomenal prospect she was. Had we been running our ‘Six to Watch‘ programmes back then she would have been the first name on the list for 2013.
But with For the Love of God, Marie! Sarson far exceeds all the expectations that even that early promise had generated. Debut graphic novels just don’t come more confident and assured in structure, composition and understanding of the form than this.
The book follows the non-conformist free spirit Marie, from her Catholic sixth form college days in the 1960s through to the 1990s, and explores her very individual approach to life, love and making people happy. Marie’s answer to helping those in need around her is to comfort them through sexual relationships – using love as the ultimate healing tool. If someone has fallen foul of the politics of the school social structure they find an intimately supportive friend in Marie: from the shunned Colin whose physical disability has made him the object of derision to the unconfident Agnes who is being abused at home.
But for some, Marie’s tender interactions with the people she cares about are interpreted in a radically different fashion – from her homophobic and racist father to the school that constantly suspends her. Sarson follows Marie’s story across the decades through her passionate but frowned upon love at teacher training college with tutor Prannath Dubashi to motherhood and her sometimes difficult relationship with daughter Annie. Throughout it all her friend (and very occasional lover) Will remains an anchor point.
For all her foibles and failings – and Sarson is never afraid to remind us that the often naive or oblivious Marie is not without her flaws – there’s one underlying constant that is re-enforced time and again. No matter how much “society” may disapprove of her behaviour, Marie’s kindness and love is limitless, genuine and life-changing for those whose existences are fortunate enough to interweave with hers.
There are many strengths to Jade Sarson’s storytelling – and I will discuss some of them in more depth below – but the one element that has always stood out about her work and the large sprawling casts she works with is that she gives us reason to care about each and every character she places on the page. It’s not just that we empathise with them – even that word, as much of a fallback as it is for the reviewer, seems desperately inadequate here – it’s that we almost inhabit them. We are not just sympathetic to her protagonist’s worldviews, struggles and triumphs. Somewhere along the line they become our own as well.
Part of that connection, of course, is in her sublimely expressive visual characterisation that projects the cast’s varying emotional states out at the reader with such resonance and eloquence. Indeed, Sarson’s command of the page is simply remarkable in that regard. Her use of lettering to emphasise the mood of those speaking, the intuitive fluency of panels to reflect the persona of her subjects, and that ever intelligent playfulness with colour – so evident in all her work – utilised here to give a vital sense of the passage of time.
In Marie, then, Sarson has created the perfect fictional construct for challenging those established social structures that entrap us. Her innocence and kindness radiating throughout as Sarson tackles themes of sexism, identity, gender, religion, and racism with sensitivity and nuance. Make no mistake, though, for all the serious issues it confronts Marie is also often a very funny graphic novel – bawdy romp and social commentary going hand in unlikely hand.
A beautiful meta flourish or two at the end will no doubt bring not just a lump to the throat of many readers but also a feeling of celebration. And that’s only right. For the Love of God, Marie! simply oozes positivity, love and compassion after all. A truly joyous graphic novel from one of the UK’s fastest rising indie comics stars.
Jade Sarson (W/A) • Myriad Editions, £16.99
You can order a copy of For the Love of God, Marie! online here.