Thursday, February 10, 2022

One Line by Ray Fawkes

The old editor in me should have expected a third: all art aspires to the condition of trilogy, we used to joke.

Maybe that's true. Ray Fawkes found a way to take one of the best graphic novels anyone has ever made and do it again, and then again one more time.

A decade ago, he made a great book, One Soul. On facing pages of nine-panel grids, he told the stories of eighteen lives simultaneously, from birth to death. (Spoiler: not everyone dies at the same time.) It was brilliant, it was simple in its brilliance, and it felt like the kind of tour de force that could only be done once.

But then a few years later Fawkes came back with The People Inside. That book took a similar structure - multiple stories, the same story in the same place throughout the book - and told stories of relationships. Not individuals, all by themselves, but people finding each other, falling in and out of love, living their lives together. And that panel structure let him have double-panels for couples, which could break and re-form in different directions as the relationships changed.

How could he follow that up?

It took another seven years, but One Line is the answer. This time, Fawkes is using that same structure to tell the stories of families through generations. Or maybe, to be expansive about it, nations. After a brief prelude set in prehistoric times, the first part introduces eighteen characters in their eighteen panels. Some are related - two sets of brothers, one set of sisters. There are other almost-pairs, as with a Chinese and Japanese family that will interact over time, or an Indian local and the Englishman ruling him.

Fawkes tells these stories in the same allusive, stream of consciousness style as the previous two books: the captions in each panel both serve as a continuous narrative and tell the story of that one family straight through the book.

The book has multiple sections, corresponding to generations - very clearly to begin with, a little more loosely towards the end.

And, as in One Soul, when a character dies, that panel goes dark for the rest of the section. This will be important, as it was important in One Soul. More important, actually: by the end of One Line, I came to believe it was the most important thing.

One Line takes place over the last two or three centuries, and is full of war and pogroms as those years were. These eighteen people start out all over the world: if you pay attention, you can figure out where each of them are, more or less. Some of these people will try to kill each other, and some will succeed.

And the generations roll on, with new generations not necessarily knowing the connections previous generations had. Or not caring. So the black panels pile up in each section.

Fawkes has a positive message in the end, as he did in the previous two books: he's showing here how bad humanity can be but also how good it can be. And this is just as strong, just as human, as the previous books: these are, again, some of the best graphic novels from anyone.

I'm pretty sure there's no room for another book in this sequence...but I've said that before.

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Dora William said...
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