There are many reasons to appreciate Jules Scheele’s approach to the form, from the expressive clarity of their cartooning to the raw and insightful honesty of their autobio work. But there’s one element of their practice that has stood out to me again and again across the many years we have been following Scheele here at Broken Frontier – their powerful use of visual metaphor, something that speaks so eloquently to the reader on a purely instinctual level.
Fans of the indie publishing scene may be well aware of Scheele from their collaboration with Ricky Miller on Avery Hill Publishing’s music/time-travel/contemporary fantasy series Metroland or as artist on Queer: A Graphic History and Gender: A Graphic Guide with Meg-John Barker. Sleepless is a collection of 2019 diary comics that echo those latter two books but from Scheele’s own personal experience, allowing us an insight into the subject that provides a more intimate link between reader and page.
While there are a number of strips of varying length in Sleepless they flow in and out of each other in a way that creates almost a single narrative. That aforementioned use of visual metaphor is apparent from the outset with an opening piece ‘You Are Here’ that equates processing an abusive situation with untangling a thread. It’s a simple but highly effective analogy that translates recovery into something empathetically immediate in presentation and it’s an indicator of how Scheele will use the visual language of the form to connect with readers throughout the pages of Sleepless.
There are moments of universal understanding here – ‘When’ is a reminder that fulfilment and release can be elusive things to hope for while ‘Me Party’ ponders on themes of self-care and work-life balance that will be recognisable to most of us. Unsurprisingly, though, it’s the work that is the more intense in delivery or specifically personal that will stay with the reader the longest. ‘Obliterate Me’ juxtaposes an abusive relationship with self-loathing using a deep, sweeping, cloud-like black that encroaches on events and threatens to overwhelm each single illustration.
In ‘Coming Out’ Scheele employs a style similar to their work on Gender: A Graphic Guide, often using multiple images that swim around the canvas of the page with a sequentiality that is not necessarily linear but instead serves to embody a swirling sense of emotion, exploration and realisation in relation to their coming out as non-binary and transmasculine. ‘Dysmorphia-Dysphoria’ continues this account with reflections on the road to self-acceptance that emphasise the conflicting pull of external influences and individual identity. This is a particularly personal piece that, at points, is deeply affecting in its candour and resonance.
Scattered throughout are shorter comics, some only a page or so in length that expand on different aspects of their experiences. I’ve long wanted to see something long-form from Scheele and have said so on a number of occasions here at Broken Frontier. Pick up Sleepless for a powerful reminder of just how assured their command of the comics form is and for an inkling of just why I so eagerly look forward to a potentially full-length Jules Scheele solo offering.
Review by Andy Oliver