It’s no secret that we are huge fans of Avery Hill Publishing here at Pipedream Comics. Their unique brand of thoughtful and esoteric comics has introduced us to the likes of Rachael Smith, Tille Walden and many more. And the latest to join this glorious roster of creators is Zoe Thorogood, with The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott.
Publisher: Avery Hill Publishing
Writer: Zoe Thorogood
Artist: Zoe Thorogood
Price: £12.99 from Avery Hill Publishing
The story follows struggling artist Billie, who is hit with a life altering double whammy – a commission from a gallery to produce 10 portraits, and the news that she is going to go blind in two weeks. It’s a powerful and emotive scenario that sets Billie off on a journey of discovery, looking for something unique to say in the limited time she has left. She heads off to London and begins wandering the streets, encountering a fascinating cross section of misfits, from drunk girls on a hen party to musician Rachel who becomes her new guiding light. And they all become her muses.
This is one of those books which has such a perfect concept that you cannot help but get swept along for the ride. The concept of having the clock ticking in the background gives Billie’s adventures a sense of impending tragedy, yet it is all done without a sense of desperate urgency (this isn’t some high octane action thriller after all!). It makes you think about what you would do if you only had two weeks to do the things you wanted to do before your life is changed for ever. It’s also a really interesting sideways look into the creative process and how imagination and creativity can be sharpened through a fixed point deadline and how that can produce more interesting and diverse results.
It also feels like it has even greater resonance in a post-Covid world, where so many of us have had our own life altering moments.
It really helps that Billie’s illness isn’t terminal as it means the story retains an element of optimism throughout and allows for an uplifting ending which sees her achieve triumph out of her tragedy.
As you would expect in a story about a struggling artist it looks beautiful, with Thorogood having a really distinctive, sketchy, hand-drawn style that is packed full of detail and personality. The limited use of colour compliments the line work well to give the whole thing a sketchbook infused, hand drawn style which emphasises the intimate nature of the story, yet it has the intricacy needed to make Billie’s artistic elements come to the fore. The style is quite different to what we might have expected for this kind of story though, and the almost stretched way that Zoe renders her characters gives it a real unique feel that separates it from other books and should stand her in good stead for having a unique voice long term. She also has a wonderful eye for composition, which is brilliant exemplified in the images of Billie’s final portraits or some of the more surreal dream like moments which accompany Billie’s more contemplative moments.
This is one of those stories, where you are left wondering how much of it is true and how much it is fiction. Like the best work in small press (and in particular those from Avery Hill) it blurs the line between reality and fiction to create this wonderful world which you enjoy inhabiting with character who are engaging and likeable. They have such a believability and realism to them, that they feel as if they have just walked onto the page from the streets, while Billie is a really compelling and very believable heroine, who could have been gloomy or disgruntled at her diagnosis but instead balances her conflicting emotions in a really interesting way, often being more upset about not delivering her artwork than the life altering moment she is about to undergo.
It’s an inspiring and positive story rather than a tragedy. As is sometimes the case with Avery Hill books this has the potential to be overshadowed by more high profile releases (especially with them having to adjust their releases schedule and overlap books as a result of Covid), however we hope it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle as it is a really interesting and potentiality underrated story that manages to perfectly balance readability with a concept which will really make you think about your own place in the world and how you can make the most of it.