This is such a mysterious book by London-based illustrator Claire Scully. In the back of the book is something unusual for comics — an artist’s statement of the tone you might find in an art gallery accompanying a show. In it, Desolation Wilderness is described as a “continued journal of a sequence of events occurring over a short period of time and in a more specific location in space.” It goes onto to say that there is a real place called “Desolation Wilderness” and that the work in the book was created more from the concept of place rather than the reality and the assumptions made about it based on the concept. What new place is created in the intersection of the actual location and the one recalled in a person’s mind?
This is a highly ethereal concept for a comic and it probably wouldn’t come to mind if you looked at the illustrations without reading the afterword. However, your own brain would be doing the work that statement is perhaps trying to guide you to do. That is, you would look over the succession of illustrations trying to decipher some form of narrative. After all, that is what images in succession typically signify, a narrative, especially when presented in a comics context.
Scully’s book questions the nature of what a narrative is, though. She shows us boulders and trees, scattered houses, changing terrain, night skies, bodies of water, and patterns within all of these. It feels like a journey, but without any specific means to measure distance or give the vistas perspective beyond the obvious fact that they change. Is it the movement of the illustrator outside the frame that creates the narrative? Or the scanning of the land itself, chopped into frames to create a sequence out of a straight path?
I don’t think there’s an answer, nor do I think there needs to be. What Scully places on the page creates more narrative in your mind. It’s the creation of narrative in its multiple forms that is the point here. It’s see where the narrative goes and just letting it unfold on its own terms.
Kingdom of the Blind Volume 1: The Invisibles
Written by Olivier Jouvray
Illustrated by Frederik Salsedo
Colored by Greg Salsedo
When we first meet Laurette, she’s a feisty teen with an oppositional approach to just about everything in her life, though particularly her father and brother. The particular point of contention between them is her new friends, who her family think are bad influences. Typical coming of age stuff, but in Kingdom of the Blind, Laurette’s new friends are a ragtag group of political activists who are planning to take down the government’s surveillance system in protest of the escalating lack of privacy. But plans don’t always pan out as you expect, and Laurette finds herself on a clandestine journey beyond her radical ranks and into a world that she didn’t even suspect existed.
One of the charms of Kingdom of the Blind is its insistence on refusing the affectations of modern suspense story-telling in the comics form, rejecting kinetic art styles, complicated layouts, snappy dialogue, and stylized characters in favor of something more low-key. The story unfolds in a precise and calm manner that reminds me of British comics of the 1970s, and in that way, it’s old fashioned.
Rather than focusing on fast-paced adventure with outrageous action scenes, Jouvray and Salsedo are more interested in the interaction of the characters that are coming together, preferring to explore the connections between the different sides being introduced. This furthers the concept of conspiracies and espionage as something that happens between people and includes factors such as cluelessness and awkwardness in what unfolds. If you prefer suspense that grabs you by the collar and drags you along at breakneck pace, this probably isn’t for you. But if you like stories that take a moment and survey the lay of the land before moving along, this might make a satisfying first chapter to check out.