There are pages in Zoe Thorogood (The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott, Rain)’s It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth that take my breath away. And while the general reason — Thorogood’s a stupendous cartoonist and her work with comics-as-a-form is just so goddamn cool—remains constant, the specifics vary. In one case, it will be because of how she uses color to convey the sensation of listening to a song. In another, it’ will be’s because of the clarity she brings to writing about her experiences as a cartoonist and with mental health and suicidal ideation. In another, it will be the way that she shifts from style to style in her cartooning—sketchy, lifelike, caricatured, grotesque—and the way that she maintains continuity of feeling across those styles. In craft and content, It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth demands attention be paid.
Tracking six months in Thorogood’s life, It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth is, in her words:
“…obviously beyond personal, it‘s mostly an exploration of the chronic depression I started developing as a child, and how that along with an obsession to make art has in itself created a bit of a monster. The story follows the last 6 months of 2021, after I’d convinced myself I wasn’t going to live anymore, I manically decided to start this project and record myself in the hope I could figure myself out- like a storyteller would do with a character, right?“Zoe Thorogood, Instagram
Over the course of the book, Thorogood examines her past and documents her present—closing on a reflection on the project as a whole. To do so, she deploys comic modes ranging from the documentary (a flashback to a key moment in her life that would become her first webcomic) to the comedic (her cartoony life-could-be-like-a-comic self’s interactions with her fellow Thorogoods) to the surreal and terrifying.
Thorogood’s impeccable control of It’s Lonely‘s visual tone is matched by her control of its narrative. It’s an intimate, often heavy, self-portrait—the book opens with a content advisory for suicide and self-harm—and a successful one. It’s an active, probing study that traces the continuing effects of Thorogood’s past on her present and examines why and how she moves the way she does in that present. It’s consistently thorough and thoughtful on both fronts, particularly when it comes to the feel of things. By shifting her drawing style and placing those assorted styles in active conversation throughout the book, and by deploying color and monochrome in specific moments, Thorogood taps into sensation and the way that it is experienced (as seen in the image above) in a way that is unlike anything I’ve seen before. It’s astonishing.
Moreover, the specificity with which Thorogood crafts It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth renders it a humane work. She does not claim her experience as universal, and her awareness of her perspective’s edges allows the comic to thrive on the specifics of her life, rather than try for grand sweeping generalizations of the sort that can easily become banana peels leading to open manholes. And in that specificity, It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth offers its audience space for recognition. To use myself as an example, while Thorogood and I lead quite different lives, I can recognize the commonalities between my experiences with depression and navigating the grey and her own. And as someone in the process of rebuilding after a year whose first half was hell, the commonalities and the knowledge that I am not the only person to have navigated heavy places and heavy times is welcome.
This is a hell of a book from a hell of a cartoonist. Read it.
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