Review: Follow Me In (Avery Hill Publishing)

Katriona Chapman’s Katzine has been a fixture of the UK small press scene for the last few years, but for her debut graphic novel Follow Me In, she has expanded her short but sweet travelogues into something much more epic. It’s like the difference between a short mini break and a full on gap year!

Publisher: Avery Hill Publishing
Writer: Katriona Chapman
Artist: Katriona Chapman
Price: £18.99 from the Avery Hill Big Cartel Store

Follow Me In chronicles Katriona’s travels around Mexico and with it her crumbling relationship with her boyfriend whose drinking keeps on getting him into trouble. The story is book ended with her confronting him abut this and her inclusion of it in this book, which adds a very poignant and personal element to what is a truly wonderful read.

Even without this personal dimension, Follow Me In would have been a  thing of real beauty. Chapman’s artwork has a pencil sketch quality to it that is just sublime. But where usually we would use this description for something which is a bit rough around the edges, Chapman’s pencil sketch style sees her beautifully render her subjects and the landscape around them. The graduation of tone is just exquisite and makes her mix of close up talking heads and beautiful vistas feel equally significant. As does the use of colour for the first time in this book, which gives the book a lush richness, like a vintage postcard. She also includes some sketches from her travels and you can see how much her work has developed which also helps to give the book yet more intimacy as you take a look inside her actual travel sketchbook.

It’s this sense of intimacy which makes Kat’s work so compelling. She seems to revel in the quiet moments for her story-telling, rather than rely on full blown histrionics or spectacular moments to get her point across. Her subtle and relatively uncomplicated styles really makes the most of this and it makes for a very understated and thoughtful read as a result. It also adds an element of time to her story, as she’s tells things with quite tight panels giving the story a slow burning depth that elongates the journeys and makes you feel like you are there with her on these long bus rides or watching the sun set, soaking in every moment. As well as making the most of every happy moment, this of course also extenuates the sadder moments and there is a definite air of melancholy throughout the whole book which is hard to shake.

Alongside the central travelogue tale we are used to from Katzine are some full pages, and even the odd double page spread, which focus on the area she is travelling through. They feature everything from detailed maps to historical insights and info about flora and fauna. While this may sounds like it takes you out of the narrative and feel like they would better belong in a guide book, they are so beautiful that they work almost like gorgeous chapter or page breaks, and you can’t help but love them as they are are also packed full of really interesting information.

It is ultimately this merging of personal story, travelogue and infographic, that makes Follow Me In such a complete read. By not putting the emphasis too far on any one of the three, it prevents it from being too dry or too self indulgent or too boring for people who have never been to Mexico. Instead you get a highly personal account that you feel like you would want to take along with you when travelling. And as with this years Travels in New York by Elizabeth Querstret, Chapman has a very comforting voice as a narrator and it feels like you are being told a story from an old friend rather than reading a detailed travelogue and that is a difficult knack to master.

Ever since we saw the cover for Follow Me In it has been one of our most anticipated books of the year. As part of a line up for Avery Hill which also includes Tiilie Walden, Tim Bird and Luke Healy, that is quite an achievement and this more than eclipses our hopes for it. While it feels wrong at times to glorify a book which features the breakdown of a relationship the story ends as one of hope and the travel elements within it prevent it from being too bleak. Instead it is a truly wonderful read with a really poignant heart to it, that’s making us want to pack up our ruck sacks and get travelling.