The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott by Zoe Thorogood
There are a lot of comics out there, but not always the variety you might expect. I don’t blame creators for picking out the genres that they enjoy or indeed what they know is more likely to sell – autobiography, superheroes, horror. Many of these are great comics, occasionally fantastic comics, but it can make it hard for them to stand out in the crowd.
So when I heard of the theme of The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott by Zoe Thorogood I was intrigued. A young artist has her big breakthrough, only for a chance encounter to leave her facing blindness. With weeks until she is set to lose her sight she sets out on a journey to capture paintings of the people she meets along the way.
This book is about people. As the central character Billie Scott travels around, she meets a series of different characters – a hen-party girl facing a big decision, an obsessive musician living on the fringe of society, an ex-serviceman setting out to make a difference and many more.
The author focuses on character – in the personalities of each of those encountered. This is not a black and white world. There are those who make good choices and those who make bad choices. Those who look out for their community and those who look out for themselves. But there are a lot of shades of grey.
At one point Billie writes in her notebook about her interaction with ‘the bride’ Sarah who she meets in a group of loud hen-party girls. She describes her as “passionate and emotional” but also “the sort of person I would usually avoid at all costs”. The shy and introverted Billie is forced to open up to humanity, to interact with new types of people. In doing so she learns not just about them but also a great deal about herself.
The book conjures an optimistic spirit in the face of a grim reality – something we all need right now.
This ability to capture character is a wonderful element of the book. The artwork draws out the personality traits of those that Billie meets along the way. The way their clothes fall, the way they smile, their eyes. As Zoe acknowledges, there is a big manga influence in the book which can be seen in the screentone techniques used for shading and textures.
Although coloured digitally, the book was drawn traditionally and there is an impressive level of detail captured especially in the city streets and buildings. That can mean that some pages feel a little crowded and maybe more use of blank space should be considered. However it does serve to emphasise the chaotic element of life for Billie and many of those she meets.
This is no kitchen sink drama however, there are some arrestingly surreal scenes as Billie tries to come to terms with her situation. The treatment of disability is also notable. The initial reaction of both Billie and many of those around her is one of fear for her future. Working with others helps Billie to understand that traumas can be overcome and that neither her art not her disability should necessarily define her. The book conjures an optimistic spirit in the face of a grim reality – something we all need right now.
This is a very impressive debut which stays with you after reading and might even make you think about your own life. I’m still thinking through some of the issues raised by it. It deserves to be very successful and I am sense that Zoe Thorogood will continue to develop even further as a writer and artist. I sense that the best is yet to come.
The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott is set for release in October (8th October in the UK and 14th October in the USA) but you can pre-order it now from Avery Hill.