Cartoonist: Cathy G. Johnson
Publisher: Adhouse Books
Teenage angst, romantic longing and unrequited love take an ominous turn in Cathy G. Johnson’s quiet but emotionally evocative webcomic-turned-graphic-novel, Jeremiah.
Jeremiah, an aloof and clumsy loner of few words, lives on a dying farm with an alcoholic father and his cousin Catie who harbors incestuous feelings for him. Jeremiah’s father hires a farmhand named Michael to tend the corn fields and take care of odds-and-ends around the farm. At first, Jeremiah dislikes the new worker, whose brutal honesty disarms him. But Jeremiah forges an uneasy bond with Michael, whose forthrightness awakens latent feelings of longing, leading to disastrous consequences.
Johnson’s watercolors give the narrative a sleepy, atmospheric and noirish cinematic quality. Her alternating blend of light and dark communicates the choking isolation and desperation that the limited surroundings have on its main characters. The story opens innocently enough—two teenagers seemingly in love, embracing in a cornfield, an idyllic setting in a sea of gold and green framing a white farmhouse. Jeremiah and Catie seem content in domestic tranquility. It is only as the story unfolds that the underlying contours of darkness reveal itself.
There is minimal dialogue; the panel-to-panel movement from one sparsely furnished room to the next conveys the oppression that Jeremiah feels. And Johnson uses shadow to highlight Jeremiah’s emotional unease, a condition that manifests itself in physical illness; in the pained expressions he casts with Catie’s overbearing and smothering expressions of love; and in the more colorful Michael, who is cloaked in the shadow even as he serves as the magnetic force that pulls Jeremiah’s suppressed emotions to the surface. Shadow disturbs the serenity of the farm, and it is in Michael’s shadowy sanctuary of the barn that Jeremiah is challenged to confront his own dim prospects.
Johnson’s Gorgeous was a spare and emotionally brutal masterpiece. Jeremiah operates in a similar vein; it is disturbing, a coming-of-age tale that explores identity and sexuality in isolation. It’s quiet power and lingering intensity will resonate long after the covers have been closed.