THE IMPENDING BLINDNESS OF BILLIE SCOTT
Cartoonist: Zoe Thorogood
Publisher: Avery Hill Publishing
WHAT IS IT?
A slice-of-life graphic novel exploring how an artist copes with losing her vision and her journey to leave behind a legacy once the blindness sets in.
Think Immortal Beloved (1994) meets Lost at Sea.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Billie Scott has foregone having a life to work on her art: no friends, no nights out, even her roommates don't know that she exists. It's all worth it though when she gets her big break, a ten-piece exhibit in a prestigious museum that's sure to kick-start her professional career as an artist. When she has difficulty coming up with inspiration for the pieces, she goes out for a walk only to end up getting sucker-punched in a curbside brawl.
When she finally goes to the doctor, the damage has been done and there's no medicine in the world that can stop her from going blind in the next two weeks. Content to drink herself into an early grave, Billie finally formally meets her flatmates and they encourage her to use what time she has left to make the ten paintings she needs for the exhibit and make her mark on the world of art while she still has the chance.
Filled with purpose, Billie journeys to southern England to find subjects for her paintings and make the most of the time she has left as a seeing artist. On the way she meets interesting people scrounging for whatever they can get, most of which support her journey. But will she be able to get all 10 paintings done in time? Will her burst of motivation be enough to get her through these next two weeks? And will life be worth living as a blind woman once it's all over?
Zoe Thorogood has a knack for writing convincing idiosyncratic dialogue. Her characters come from different walks of life (a more pretentious critic might say in the Chaucerian tradition) and that comes through in small details within the dialogue and interactions.
Thorogood's art is likewise highly stylized and easily recognizable. The long sparse faces of her characters stand out among a sea of quasi-anime inspired realism seen in most modern indie comics.
The coloring is highly monochromatic, only adding in multiple colors when thematically appropriate. It's a neat way to emphasize the line art, bolster the themes of the novel, and create a unique style simultaneously.
As a dialogue-heavy book, the lettering has to walk a fine line between being legible and not taking up half the page. While on the small side, Thorogood succeeds in striking that balance with her lettering while also allowing it to look hand-drawn and wobbly, keeping with the idiosyncratic style of the rest of her art.
It's genuinely impressive to see such a sharp, energized, fully-realized story (of over 200 pages) from a single young artist. There's a lot to be said about the merits of traditional collaboration in comics, but it's important to lift up new auteur voices that inevitably innovate and grow the entire industry.
There's a surprisingly nuanced and well-developed romantic subplot. In a lesser work, this type of thing might make the entire story feel more generic and less interesting, but Thorogood weaves it in the story in an emotionally resonant, subtle way that is supremely satisfying.
The book is divided not with traditional chapter breaks, but with progress updates on the portraits that include character notes and vision updates from the protagonist. It makes for an incredibly immersive reading experience and reinforces the plot in an interesting way.
The story manages to avoid being overtly ableist in suggesting that going blind is a life-ending inconvenience for the protagonist both by placing Billie's entire self-image on her ability as an artist and by having characters discuss, in depth, why a disabled life is still worth living. This is indicative of a larger attitude of nuance and thoughtfulness that is pervasive in Thorogood's writing.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK?
The art style, while being refreshingly distinctive, is less expressive than many more generic, contemporary forms. It still works, but in the most extreme moments, faces can feel alien and place a barrier between the reader and the intended emotion on the page.
There's a low level romanticizing of homelessness and poverty that, while not as problematic and outright wrong as something like Rent, still feels somewhat slimy. Not to say there isn't any nuance presented, but it's not as well developed as other issues discussed within the text.
The ending feels tacked on in a lot of ways, running through each minor character to let the audience know where they ended up in a way that feels patronizing, like a "where are they now" freeze-frame compilation at the end of an '80s comedy. It doesn't kill the story that came before it, but it's unnecessary and, in some points, unearned.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
It's been written before that Zoe Thorogood is an important new voice in comics and, after reading her debut, it's hard to disagree with that assessment. The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott thoughtfully explores relevant and complex topics through fully realized characters in a thoroughly enjoyable way. Whether it's the complicated nature of self-worth and how we see ourselves, the purpose of art, or the intricacies of highly specific British foods and culture, there's something anyone could take philosophically from reading this comic.
I imagine the only person that would have an issue enjoying this work is someone with a very short attention span that needs tons of action on every page to keep them motivated. Sadly, there's not a ton of robots fighting aliens or elaborate action set pieces in this comic, but if you're generally okay with slice-of-life, character-driven stories, there's a lot to love and gain from The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott.
WHAT SHOULD I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Seconds by Brian Lee O'Malley
Waves by Ingrid Chabbert & Carole Maurel
Finger Guns by Justin Richards & Val Halvorson
If you like the art:
Canopus by Dave Chisholm
Black Stars Above by Lonnie Nadler & Jenna Cha
A Letter to Jo by Joseph Sieracki & Kelly Williams
ABOUT THE CREATOR:
Zoe Thorogood (@zoethorogood) – Cartoonist
New Face: The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott is Zoe's writing and artistic debut and the comics industry is already taking note with major indie publishers enlisting her to work on a variety of variant covers and other freelance gigs.
Outlander: She hails from Middlesbrough in the UK, the cultural influence of which is pervasive in her work.
Socialite: Zoe runs an incredibly active and successful Twitter and Instagram page which often rewards followers with exclusive deals, behind the scenes insights, and sneak peeks for upcoming projects.
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