In a world where plants are the enemy, police-detective Priss must choose between her love for the illegal flower she owns, or the success of her murder investigation, in which her flower’s doppelgänger is the prime suspect. Where does her allegiance really lie?
Publisher: Mild Frenzy
Writer: Iqbal Ali
Artist: Priscilla Grippa, Ken Reynolds(Lettering)
Price: £8.99 from Amazon
Set in a futuristic, dystopian city, plants (or ‘creepers’) are deemed the enemy. To own or harbour a plant is a criminal offence. Detective Priss must often make the tough decision to incinerate (Plant Life’s version of the death sentence) creepers she’s arrested. However, unknown to the police, there exists a secret botanical garden outside of their metropolis, a place where plant-lovers can secretly grow their own plants, and chief detective Priss is hiding one heck of a secret there – her illegally grown flower, Ophreilda. As Priss struggles with her loyalty to the police force, and her love for Ophreilda, writer Iqbal Ali (x, y, z) creates a thin line between morality and immorality, and between healthy and toxic relationships.
As the rest of Plant Life is drawn in black and white, the colourful front cover gives the reader a more detailed glimpse into Priss’s world and does a great job at hinting at the ambiguity surrounding plants. Throughout Plant Life, plants are widely regarded as criminals; we are told that they kill and are slowly trying to take over the city. But in the botanical garden, humans seem totally at peace with plants, able to lie next to them, touch them, and rest in harmony. Grippa perfectly captures this ambiguity in the cover art: the flower manages to look both vibrant and sinister with its tentacle-like stigma, and the sleeping Priss manages to seem both peaceful and in danger lying next to it. We can subtly see a greying corner in the bottom-right of the cover, which is also suggestive of the plant’s ambiguity: is it giving life to Priss (represented by the illustration growing colourful), or is it sucking that life away (represented by the page slowly turning grey)? It is impossible to say either way, and Ali and Grippa do a great job of keeping this equivocal all the way through.
The art throughout the rest of the graphic novel is completely black and white but remains just as detailed. We open with a shot of people either passed out or sleeping on the ground, surrounded by plants who look like both predators and protectors. We really enjoyed the details Grippa put into her drawings of the plants: despite having no faces and therefore being expressionless, she manages to make them look incredibly sinister, almost as if they’re coiled back, ready to spring. Equally wonderful are her drawings of the dystopian metropolis outside of the botanical garden: the city is wasting away, quite literally decaying, as plants slowly slither and slide their way through cracks and crevices.
At less than one hundred pages, writer Ali manages to keep the pace quick and exciting throughout with his main plant vs human plot. Though this is much more of a futuristic, sci-fi-esque graphic novel than a murder mystery, it still manages to be gripping with its storyline and ambivalence. Because it’s so short, there is limited time to introduce many new characters, so the story is always focused on Priss and the people she briefly interacts with. Although it didn’t feel like the characters were glossed over (this is Priss’s narrative after all) it would be great to see another volume so that we could get some more background on the lady who owns the illegal botanical garden, or Priss’s snide colleague Eckhard.
It’s hard to ignore the way in which people talk about plants throughout Plant Life: derogatorily naming them ‘creepers’ and automatically assuming crimes are done by plants seems to be a comment by Ali on modern-day racism, and how certain people can become ostracised from society because those with privilege choose to condemn and expel them (reminiscent of Jordan Peele’s Us). Ali could be hinting that the plants only act out in response to the treatment they’ve received from others. On the other side of the coin, the plants could represent addiction, and being unable to give up something you know is bad for you (as Priss struggles to leave her plant Ophreilda, which makes her life much more complicated). Being able to take multiple interpretations away from this graphic novel only adds to its effectiveness and importance.
The gift that keeps on giving, Plant Life includes some exciting bonus content at the back, including a full-colour cover gallery, and a small extra comic by Ali and Grippa. This is such an interesting and unique graphic novel, and we commend Ali on developing a bad-ass heroine like Priss in less than one hundred pages. We hope that Ali and Grippa will collaborate more in the future!