Alice Bloomfield might not be particularly interested in comics so much as she might just be generally interested in art forms directly related to drawing. There are many illustrations in her portfolio, as well as a good number of animations. Inside The Palace is nonetheless an interesting comic, even though there’s very little in the way of narrative present. There’s a heavy focus on texture in the linework, and this does a lot of work to establish mood and a sense of tension, and as nothing happens, it never resolves. The art style seems similar to Lala Albert, Heather Benjamin, or Maria Llovet, evincing a shojo manga influence, but producing something considerably grimier, like the sweat of each figure is causing the ink line to bead up. It’s a smeared mascara alternative to poised romances which depict tears frequently, but never embody them.
There’s no crying in this comic, only a certain libidinal energy, that has spread beyond the body and into its surroundings, all secreting the fluid of skittering ink. It feels rooted in a type of “fashion” comic where clothes are heavily emphasized, but here there’s no other person our lead interacts with.This sense of high-femme performance then crosses over from the nameless central character into the book’s own sense of glamour. In the absence of anyone else to interact with, the attention falls squarely on her and the surface of her body, and the sensual properties of the world she occupies. There are multiple page sequences of this one woman sinking into water, smoking a cigarette. The panels of uniform size, depicting an unchanging angle, could function as frames in an animation just as easily as they work as the slow-paced comic printed here. The only other living creature present in the book is a grasshopper, whose eyes we look into, and whose alien POV is briefly adopted, taking in this human woman and her louche posture. For while the content may resemble an advertisement, a photo spread, a swimsuit special, all these things are cast in a dark light, with a sense of the sinister to it. When her body becomes encumbered by vines, it’s bondage art.
For all the posing, the sense of playing to the camera, this isn’t a beautiful woman, but a strangely grotesque one. Her anatomy is misshapen, and her limbs frequently look weird. On the cover, for example, each thigh is swollen to the point where it’s wider than her hips or torso. There’s an odd sense of proportion throughout, but I am fairly certain there is not enough in common between the way the figure is drawn here and what natural human anatomy actually resembles for this to be attractive or aspirational. It goes beyond the distortions of the beauty industry, but the way the images work here still feels related to that language. The texture all clothes operate in contrast to is skin, and the flesh of the young is an unsustainable surface. By being about drawing, about style, the book becomes about such surfaces, and the way they can be endangered not by an external sharp object, but by the withering from within caused by unhealthy living, a diet of cigarettes and vodka tonics. There’s no hint of self-preservation here.
This carries along into the absence of plot. The telling of a story suggests a saving of something for oneself in a way that a flaunting exhibitionism does not. The ability to tell a story, reliant on details either being included or withheld, suggests an interior life. By trafficking primarily in images, Bloomfield is able to conjure an air of decadence that suits her subject matter. It is easy to see her style being adept at gothic horror, or some sort of exploitation narrative. She could adapt Stephanie Rothman’s The Velvet Vampire, but what’s here is maybe closer to J.K. Huysmans’ Against Nature.
My main criticism of this book is not so much that I wish it had more of a story, and more that I wish it was printed on different paper, or bound differently, so it could be read more luxuriantly, with the pages falling wide: For all the emphasis on fashion, it would be nice if you could read it like a magazine. The moments where I felt most confused visually are when there’s two-page spreads, with each page having two panels to it, but it’s meant to be read across the bleed, from left to right across the top tier, then back to the left page for the bottom tier. That the book is constantly trying to snap itself back shut contributes to how counter-intuitive this feels. On another hand, it fits the book that it should seem forever withdrawing back into its hermetic isolation.