Jorge didn’t come home the night before and this is the final straw for Elena. They both live with Jorge’s parents and while Elena and Jorge’s mom have a great relationship, the connection to Jorge seems to have been disintegrating before finally snapping. That’s the situation in Seven Places Without You, which addresses the emotional turmoil of a break-up with something unexpected — contemplation.
Following Elena, as she moves out from the parents’ home and finds her own way in the world without Jorge, Spanish cartoonist Juan Berrio captures the not the high emotions that leads to cacophonous confrontations, but the quiet moments that are provided by Elena’s quest for the space to heal and think. Jorge has left her in a curious position. She’s unclear what exactly has transpired, and her broken heart doesn’t seek to drown out the experience by acting out but to examine it, collate her findings, and move along.
For this process of healing, Elena embraces the normal things of life in a number of experiences — seven, to be exact — that do not involve Jorge, and each standing in for a moment where she reintroduces herself to the normality of oneness. Rather than approaching her new single life as an aberration, Elena begins the process of settling one soul into the space she inhabits and helping it feel normal and healthy, rather than a disruption.
In an unexpected way, Seven Places Without You reminds me of a Jim Jarmusch film, thanks to the space Berrio gives Elena, physical and mental, and the quiet that is given to the moments that celebrate the visual narrative strengths of comics, or as in Jarmusch’s case film, but in either the thought that not only the person at the center of that narrative but the space they inhabit and the objects in it can say as much about the situation as any vocal narration that can be offered.
Even the dialogue, when it does appear, doesn’t linger on the issue at hand. Elena addresses a long friendship and her brother’s new devotion to drawing and apartment hunting as a practical consideration. She’s navigating the relationships she still has in order to cement her place within her own life.
By the time Jorge has come back into the narrative picture and Elena deals with the fallout of the break-up, she’s far from a mess. The time she has taken to consider her situation and the care with which she gives her own contemplation has given her a centered mien that is far more than skin deep. It is, in fact, an understanding of herself and an example of how calm is a preferable path in these matters if you can muster it. Jorge has been put in his place, but not cast aside, and it’s a powerful path for Elena to take.
Berrio allows Elena to inhabit an intricate but playful world. His simple lines and muted colors capture the psychological path Elena follows, with the details of the world around her settling into the sequential language, where a sky window looking into the night or the isolated branch of a tree in the park takes on as much importance as Elena herself, a reminder that there is an entire universe at play around her, offering consolation and support in her embrace of herself.
John Seven is a journalist and children’s book writer living in North Adams, Massachusetts. His books include ‘A Rule Is To Break: A Child’s Guide To Anarchy,’ ‘Happy Punks 1-2-3,’ ‘Frankie Liked To Sing,’ and others. Find out about all his things at johnseven.me.