Review: Look Straight Ahead By Elaine M. Will

Review:  Look Straight Ahead

Published by Renegade Arts Entertainment

Written and Art by Elaine M. Will

“When you think about it.  Death is really the only thing that unites us as human beings.” – Jeremy

The Plot

The story begins with a young man wandering down a cold road at night, he is both exhausted and troubled.  His name is Jeremy Knowles and we rewind to him being in school some time earlier.  He enjoys art, but has trouble fitting in.  He has a pretty bad day all around that he just can’t shake.  His problems become more obvious as the night wears on and eventually everything starts to slowly break down for him.  Jeremy begins to experience more visions in his mind and the real starts to become more surreal.  Jeremy’s parents grow more concerned and arrange for him to get help.  Things continue to spiral for Jeremy and even as he is getting help, there are things that occur that appear to be counterproductive to his journey.  His journey gets deeper and darker and unfortunately, some aspects of his life that were good before are beginning to unravel as well.  Others around him are either unable to understand or they lack compassion.  Jeremy struggles with his daily life as he begins to lose more of his grasp upon reality in addition to his illness beginning to manifest itself.  He leaves the facility that he’s in with his friend Ian and we’re back to where Jeremy was at the beginning of the book.  His crisis reaches a high point as he chooses which path he’s going to take.

The Breakdown

I picked up this title (along with another) while attending VANCAF.  This is what I really like about books that come from the independent scene…people aren’t creating just because they have a contract to fulfill.  They don’t have a paycheque to collect.  They create because they have a love for the medium and have a story that they really want to tell.  I enjoyed the approach that this book used in order to tell Jeremy’s story.  The reader gets to experience his ups and downs and see his tumultuous journey.  He appears to take a step forward only to take two steps back.  This approach made the content much more genuine as the beats of the story weren’t as predictable.  Jeremy getting help did not result in a quick or easy resolution for him, but rather things ended up getting more complicated.  There is a scene in the book where Jeremy just isn’t ready to go back to school.  It was an effective scene because it provided a sense of unease and it kind of seemed familiar to me at the same time.  Many of us has known someone dealing with mental health issues and in retrospect I can see how rushing someone when they aren’t ready can be the wrong call in some cases.  This part reminded me of an old acquaintance back in high school.  One thing that I really appreciated about this book was the ending.  It could have gone in an artsy direction or something similar to that, but Will took what I feel is a responsible approach to concluding the story.  It is possible to experience a great deal of darkness and still be capable of feeling hope at the end.  I also appreciated how some elements were left open-ended because in life, there are some things that are not worth fretting over and the approach that this book took reflects this.

The characters were well written throughout this book.  Jeremy’s father, Bill, could have easily been portrayed as someone who just didn’t get it or understand Jeremy’s struggles.  However, during the arguments you could see the point of view from both sides.  Although he doesn’t get a lot of screen time you are still able to see the character’s progression.  The conflict between Jeremy and his friend, Lee, was also well done.  This aspect of Jeremy’s life was written realistically as these two experience some highs and lows in their friendship.  The resolution that some of these characters come to seemed natural and did not feel forced at all.  The healing process in terms of mental health can be a long and complicated one and this book was very effective at showing how people can make breakthroughs while enduring snags and setbacks at the same time.  The process can be gritty and frustrating and Will does a good job of showing how this path is neither linear nor clear cut.  At no point did I assume everything was going to be wrapped up in a neat and tidy bow, but rather there were periods where I wondered what the outcome of the story would be.  All I knew was that wherever the story went, it was going to get there naturally.  The use of art with Jeremy in this book was nicely done.  It was cathartic and it provided him with a glimmer of hope earlier on in the story.

The way his art was utilized while he was fighting his demons provided some very strong scenes visually.  Jeremy using his strengths to his advantage was a very good choice for the story.  The images are very vivid as we see Jeremy lose his grip on reality as he falls deeper into his issues.  Look Straight Ahead takes an effective approach to mental illness and not only is it entertaining, it’s quite educational as well.  Halfway thru reading this book, I noticed how there weren’t any throwaway pages or panels as Will put a lot of thought and effort into the entire book.  The layouts were also effective as they changed up to suit the needs of how particular parts of the story needed to be told.  There’s a sense of calm in some pages while others are chaotic.  The book is in black and white, but there are some colour splashes added when the story dictates it and it provides a strong visual.  Will is definitely a good artist and you can see her progression throughout the book.  Overall I really enjoyed reading this book and it was very solid from cover to cover.

The Verdict

Buy It.  Or if I had to rate it I’d give it a solid 8.0 out of 10.  Will did a great job of approaching the issue of mental health.  The characterizations in the book were well done and she made Jeremy a relatable character.  He wasn’t created with all of the traits that make a sympathetic character in order to try and make the reader like him.  Rather she portrayed both the good and the bad of the character, which made him more well-rounded.  I recall seeing this book featured on the program, Innerspace, and I was interested in reading this work afterwards.  It’s no easy task to write, pencil, ink, letter, and colour a book and it made Will’s efforts even more impressive.  The pacing was good and the layouts were creative.  One page that I really enjoyed was an illustration of those old Hilroy notebooks and there were similar small elements (song references, etc.) in this book that made it all seem familiar.  This helps the work feel more grounded and that it could be happening anywhere.  The price tag for this book is $19.95 and with that comes 256 pages.  The Diamond order code for this title is OCT171765.  I enjoyed this book and I’m looking forward to reading more of this creator’s work in the future.

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