The most impressive moment in Katriona Chapman’s excellent sophomore Mexico-travelogue-memoir-relationship drama-coming of age graphic novel Follow Me In, is a small moment when Katriona and her then-boyfriend Richard arrive in Bonampak after a harrowing and difficult trip, she says “I think I almost get those pilgrims now. In Real de Catorce. Putting yourself through something as an expression of passion. I kinda get it”. Katriona Chapman’s book focus on her extended visit of Mexico in her early twenties. Illustrating this trip is the expression of her passion for Mexico. Through the good and the bad, she recounts her trip, her discovery of art, history, life and culture. It’s her passion that shines through every page and she manages to share that passion with the reader.
Follow Me In begins as Katriona sits with her ex-boyfirend Richard. She hasn’t seen him for years and there’s a bad history between them. She is about to begin a book, the one we’re about to read, about her formative trip to Mexico. As her travelling partner and boyfriend, there’s no way she can talk about the trip without including him. She wants to make sure he’s ok with being a part of her story and he agrees to it, no matter how bad it makes him look. And so jump back to the beginning as Katriona and Richard arrive in Mexico. We learn early on that Richard is an alcoholic, going through good and bad phases of addiction, which in turns affect their relationship and trip. Never staying put in one town for too long, they spend months travelling around visiting different location, improving their Spanish language skills, learning about the culture, the people and the places in Mexico. Katriona uses this opportunity to take up illustrations again, we see her early work and the first few moments when she, in essence, becomes a cartoonist by illustrating elements of her trip. The process of discovery is shared between the artist and the reader.
This aspect of discovery reoccurs throughout the book. As Katriona discovers more about the country, she also become more confident as an artist, as a person and as a woman. We see her sketch locations she’s visited and these sketches are shown in the book. It’s a clever way to show her evolution as an artist going from a black & white, location sketch to a similar illustration of the same location in the same style as the book. As a person, there’s this growth, this understanding that being able to do what she did, travelling for months is a privilege, this realization that people live their life differently from you. It’s very sweet and engaging how she manage to connect with so may people and learn from them with an open heart. Katriona also become more confident as a woman as, over time, she realizes Richard needs to take care of himself and that she cannot be fully responsible for him. She realizes that she’s in a different place than him in many ways thanks to their travel. The reader also learn more about Mexico. Chapman fills her books with vignettes about several aspects of Mexico’s culture, life, or simply to focus on specific towns. I left feeling like I knew more about Mexico and Katriona herself.
There is a drastic colour palette change between present and past suggesting a rosier look at the memories than what likely transpired. It’s a very clever an interesting way to show that dichotomy between the past, and what we make of it over time as opposed to what we thought of it in the moment. The trip is clouded by her then-boyfriend, who is struggling with alcohol abuse. Having to deal with someone with substance abuse around you is difficult and being isolated in a different country must have been much harder than what is described or shown in the book. When you’re supporting someone with substance abuse problems, you’re on a constant emotional roller coaster. I hate to bring attention to this as the book is not about Richard, but about Katriona, but he’s an elephant in the room that’s too big to avoid or ignore. It colours the way we learn about Katriona and the way she learns about herself. It’s made all the more apparent as the break between present time colours are muted and grey, whereas her time in Mexico has a very warm, lively quality to them that comes from her excellent use of coloured pencils. Through this experience, she became the artist who made this book possible.
Follow Me In is an excellent graphic novel. It reminded me of some of the great graphic memoir such as Meags Fitzgerald’s Photobooth and Lucy Knisley’s French Milk, who takes an in-depth look at a particular topic and uses it as a way to explore themselves. Much like these books, Chapman capture the push between inward and outward looking perfectly. It’s a wonderful graphic novel about personal growth and learning that I couldn’t recommend more.
Philippe Leblanc is a Canadian comics journalist. In his regular life, he improves Canadian medical education, and is the co-host of the Ottawa Comic Book Club. He reads alternative, indie and art comics at night and write about them for the Comics Beat.