On Saturday, my mom came over and, as she often does, was there before I was ready to go. Before I jumped in the shower, I put Alone down in front of her and said, “Oh hey, check out this graphic novel I picked up!” figuring she’d give it a glance and go back to her e-reader with the book she was already working on. Now, I’ve read comic books and graphic novels my whole life, from every genre and style, and never, ever, has my mother expressed any interest in even picking one up, let alone reading it. So, imagine my shock when I came out of the shower to find her deep in the 300 page story, actually reading a graphic novel.
That’s how good it is.
We follow a pair of fishermen who frequent a lighthouse once a week to drop off supplies to a mysterious stranger who has only ever lived in the lighthouse and never set foot on land. The lighthouse keeper lives a solitary existence in his stone tower on a barren rock, but it’s rendered in exquisite, detailed imagery, and we learn the nuance of his objects and his home long before we ever meet him. Through touching drawings and striking panaramas, we learn how a person could stay sane in such a situation, and why they would choose to live that life. I can’t say anymore because that might ruin the anticipation of the rest of the narrative.
Chaboute has made a true graphic novel; by which I mean a story that needs pictures to be told, that fits the graphic novel medium better than any other medium. I read a quote from Alan Moore once, who was pissed off at all the adaptations of his comics, where he complained that if he wanted his stories to be consumed as movies he’d have written screenplays, not comics. I’ve always kind of agreed with that sentiment and applied it to a lot of the media I consume and made. When I’ve helped developed plays the strongest ones were the ones where we asked ourselves: why is this a play, and not something else? Chaboute gets why this story is a graphic novel, not a novel, not a film, or a play, or radio drama. It doesn’t need to be adapted and shouldn’t ever be adapted, because this media format is perfect for this story. He relies on images and words in perfect tandem to tell the story, and knows every object, person, and place in the world he has so carefully detailed in this gentle, heart breaking tale. He uses the imagery to draw suspense- like literally, the way he draws and cuts between narratives IS suspenseful. I’ve never read a graphic novel with this kind of grasp on pace and structure, that truly indulges in the length to it’s best ability but skips along so it can be read in under 2 hours (if you really just need to know what happens). I’ll be returning to it down the line to study it in greater detail, that’s for sure.
Alone has maybe 1000 words total. Chaboute is a minimalist when it comes to language, never giving us thought bubbles, or location text, just the occasional sound effect bubble and the conversations of the characters. It’s better that way, because we learn about their internal lives through image and imagination. Every detail is important. If you only read one graphic novel this year, read this one.