THOUGHT BUBBLE FORTNIGHT! The Wilds is one of those collaborative exercises that leave you wishing you could have been there in the planning stages to listen in on the discussions between writer and artist about the ways in which the visual storytelling devices of the comics format could be used to expand, complement and communicate already deeply affecting poetry. I also feel I have been hitting ‘like’ on social media posts of Aimee Lockwood’s art for far too many years without giving her the wider attention she has deserved here at Broken Frontier. But with The Wilds perhaps we can finally give due recognition to her sequential art skills as they so powerfully add extra layers to Russell Jones’s potent and heartfelt words.
Split into thirteen chapters/poems The Wilds is a reflection on loss and the grieving process, as a teenage girl attempts to come to terms with the death of a parent. Retreating into nature and the majesty of the Scottish countryside, she meets a phantom-like, ursine companion who helps her to process her feelings. The unbearableness of something forever missing in the familiar and the everyday; the inescapability of the echoes of the past; the comfort of nature; and gradual acceptance and understanding – all these themes are explored with nuance, thoughtfulness and subtlety through the book’s various sections.
Unsurprisingly there’s much use of visual metaphor here but it’s Lockwood’s astonishingly inventive – and I do not use those words lightly – use of the language of comics that continually impresses throughout The Wilds. Take the very first comics page. “I pass through rooms with my eyes closed/we’ve preserved them/like tombs” Jones writes, as Lockwood depicts our teenage protagonist moving through panel slivers of her home environment, navigating them as if trying at the same time not to interact with the monuments to grief they have become.
Similarly the past imposes itself with a steady one-word pulsing beat in another chapter as juxtaposed colour schemes impose the lively fragments of yesterday on the darkness of today. Colour has always been a vital part of the atmospheric qualities of Lockwood’s work but here its use to evoke extra emotional layers in Jones’s descriptive passages is exemplary. This is a tour de force of representational storytelling – standard page layouts morphing into and being encompassed by greater entities; lettering effects cropping up across landscapes with an Eisner-like quality; panels sitting on larger background images to signify both movement and the passage of time; and emotional states becoming constantly mirrored in the very fabric of the page.
The Wilds serves perhaps as both a reminder to those experiencing similar feelings that they are not alone and also as a meditative reflection on grief from a creative partnership is perfect empathetic synch. You can find Aimee Lockwood at Table 106B in the Redshirt Hall at Thought Bubble.
Russell Jones (W), Aimee Lockwood (A) • Tapsalteerie, £12.00
Review by Andy Oliver