Tuesday, December 27, 2022

It's Lonely at the Centre of the Earth (Graphic Novel Review)

A young girl, seen from behind, dancing to music in her kitchen
    I have been eagerly awaiting the release of Zoe Thorogood's auto-biographical graphic novel "It's Lonely at the Centre of the Earth" for quite a while, ever since I stumbled on her art on Instagram. While waiting for it, I read her prior release, "The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott," and reviewed that in my prior post. I'm happy to say that "It's Lonely" was everything I had hoped from the promise of her earlier work and the art she's been posting.
    As longtime readers of mine will know, whenever reviewing something auto-biographical, I will not judge the actual "plot" as that isn't fair to a real person who lead a real life. I think it is incredibly brave when someone releases something as personal as "It's Lonely at the Centre of the Earth." So this is not meant to be the type of critical review I might otherwise write. That being said, I really was glad to have purchased it and it is a very well done and moving work.
    "It's Lonely at the Centre of the Earth" traces approximately 6 months in Zoe Thorogood's life as she prepares for a comic convention and a trip to the United States from her native UK. More than anything, it is a chronical of her life with major depressive disorder. In that, much like Allie Brosh's "Hyperbole and a Half" and Kabi Nagata's "My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness" there isn't a tight narrative arc or a firm resolution. Major Depressive Disorder doesn't work that way. Instead, it's about little realization and little victories, and in that light, "It's Lonely at the Center of the Earth" holds its own against those phenomenal works I just mentioned.
    As someone who has suffered from chronic major depression my entire life, Zoe Thorogood's depiction of depression hit the mark. The relentlessness of it, coloring over every experience, reducing life to a bland gray mixed with suicidal ideation. This isn't a book for those looking to be uplifted. In fact, Thorogood even mentions the empty platitudes people will hurl about trying to be helpful, and how unhelpful they actually are. 
    And I want to take a moment to expand on that thought. Too many people still think that major depressive disorder is somehow situational, that some "fix" will make it all better, that if only a few things were different, of if you count your blessings, that everything would be okay. But that's not how it works (for the most part, there are exceptions to everything). It's biological, it's neurochemical. So here is a young woman, age 23/24, who is (objectively speaking and not intending to objectify) incredibly beautiful, with insane artistic talent (and actually working in that field). It would be easy for people to say "she's got everything, what does she have to be sad about?" And that is what misses the point in the judgment that often surrounds depression. I frankly think that someone who superficially seems to have it all being so nakedly honest about how bad her depression is is exactly the type of counter narrative we need to continue moving the discussion of depression and mental health challenges out of the shadows and ending the stigma. So for that, upon many other reasons, I highly recommend and am thankful for this book.
    But before I even knew what it was about, it was her art on Instagram that hooked me. Where "Billie Scott" showed promise, "It's Lonely at the Centre of the Earth" makes good on that promise. The line work, the anatomy, the compositions in "Billie Scott" were uneven. Sometimes well executed, sometimes a bit unintentionally loose. But in "It's Lonely," Thorogood shows that she is reaching mastery of her craft. There is so much intentionality to her line work. It's tight and precise when she needs it to be, and lose and free when that's what the narrative demands. She appears in full control of her skill here and it's wonderful. She shows a level of drafts-person-ship that feels truly artistic in a way that lots of traditional comics don't (in their blandness) and that simply isn't usually the focus of the indie scene. She brings truly strong drafting to the indie space and it results in incredible art. Additionally, her compositions are varied and occasionally even collage-like. She mixes black and white with spot color with full color in exciting narrative ways. I recommend this for her art alone. She is truly the future of comics as so many in her own auto-bio like to say. 
    I do also want to talk for a moment about her writing. "Billie Scott" showed gumption, trying to tackle a pretty complex set of themes and people and settings. But like the art, it was uneven. In "It's Lonely" the story is loser in that it's her life mixed with existential and internal dialogues. That looseness lends itself to her visual storytelling chops. But there is still enough narrative and prose, even within the auto-bio context, to show that she has something to say and the burgeoning skill to say it well. I think the two works combined show that she will be a force with storytelling and not just art as she continues to grow in her career. If I'm not mistaken, she's working on another fiction piece, so it'll be fun to see the growth in storytelling from these prior two works.
    Basically, if you like great comic art, buy this book. If you want to read a strong depiction of major depressive disorder, buy this book. If you like deeply personal memoirs, buy this book. I definitely recommend it.


Please legitimately purchase or borrow manga and anime. Never read scanlations or watch fansubs. Those rob the creators of the income they need to survive and reduce the chance of manga and anime being legitimately released in English.

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