Canadian artist gg might have the most consistent and unified aesthetic of any comics artist working today. Her clean, snowy drawings and lonely stories bleed out into all aspects of her online presence – from an impeccably curated instagram profile to a perfectly sparse website. If the only thing a viewer had to go on was gg’s sense of design and web presence, they would begin to understand the meticulousness and power of her art.
I’m Not Here, published by Koyama Press, is the latest of gg’s otherworldly stories. Like all of her work, it seems heavily inspired by film, especially French New Wave cinema. And, like all of her work, it deserves and requires multiple, attentive reads. (I should note: if you’re the kind of person who cares about spoilers, I would advise you to buy the book and stop reading the review right here.)
I’m Not Here tells the story of an unnamed protagonist, a twenty-something beautiful woman of the type that seems ever present in gg’s work. She is dedicated and responsible, even at the expense of her personal life. Much of her time is spent caring for her difficult and ailing parents. At the same time, her photography hobby hints at a lot of longing and inner conflict. She seems especially fixated on a woman who appears to be identical to her, the primary difference between them being that the protagonist wears her hair up, and the other woman wears her hair down (a distinction that is highlighted on the cover, to excellent effect). Eventually, the protagonist decides to investigate the other woman’s apartment, which she finds to be identical to her own, but filled with evidence of travel, excitement, and irresponsibility. On the woman’s answering machine is a plaintive message from her mother, asking to see her.
I was particularly impressed by the gentle touch gg used in exploring the concepts of guilt, and parallel lives. gg doesn’t allow the reader into her characters’ thoughts, making the experience of reading I’m Not Here feel similar to watching an expertly shot short film. gg’s purposefully understated and quiet approach to big subjects lends the book a lot of weight. It’s not just the story about the guilt a daughter feels – it becomes the story of the nuanced kinds of guilt she might feel in an unlimited number of circumstances.
Compositionally, I’m Not Here is a masterpiece. Every panel is a stunning image in its own right, and gg’s expert knowledge of the human figure gives every character weight and life. Students of storytelling would do well to study this book, and the careful choices gg’s made on every page. gg is a standout artist in her generation, and I cannot wait to see what she does next.