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Mel Tregonning’s wordless black and white graphic novel, completed and published after she took her own life, is extraordinarily beautiful and a powerful, moving representation of depression.
Its central character is a young boy and a series of comic strip frames show us the ordinary but agonising misery of his day at school; excluded from conversations and games by his classmates, he’s overwhelmed by loneliness and embarrassment. Lessons offer no respite, and while he’s struggling with maths we notice strange shapes in the shadows he casts. These small things increase in number, and become a pretty well permanent presence; strange and spiky, faceless but with sharp teeth, they trail after him in the day and surround his bed at night, threatening and sinister, literally eating him up as cracks and crevices appear in his skin.
The depth of the boy’s anxiety and despair are unmissable in the finely worked pencil illustrations, to the extent that it almost feels too much, too oppressive. Tregonning does allow him a way out however – his family and sister help him and it seems that he can drive the shapes back into the shadows at least. The final spread shows that he’s not alone and that the other children at school are also tormented by worries, the same shapes swooping after them too.
Readers will marvel both at Mel Tregonning’s skill – the drawings are masterly – and at the intensity of her vision. Many too will understand exactly how her character feels and one hopes they will take comfort and reassurance from the book.