Monday, 23 January 2012

Review: Absence-Andy Luke

Absence is a short autobiographical comic about epilepsy written by Andy Luke and illustrated by Stephen Downey. Everything about its format, from its length to the style of the images, the way it's all arranged, and the various logos that adorn its pages suggest a medical information leaflet disguised as a comic. However whereas anything purporting to give information to a certain audience (especially if that audience consists of younger children and teenagers) that uses comic as a form of communication often suffer horrendously from a patronising voice and a painful attempt at 'being down with the kids' (usually through a skateboarding talking animal or something along those lines).

Thankfully this isn't the case with Absence. It skilfully weaves essential facts and courses of action for epileptics alongside more sparse and at times even whimsical reflections of Luke's childhood and beyond. Something tells me Luke would be a skilled writer of textbooks or educational DVD's for disinterested youth, because he would be able to make children learn without them knowing, this is how easily digestible the information in Absence is, even with all the jargon.

Although the visual style is for the most part fairly straightforward harking back to the angular age of superheroes mixed with the kind of visual approach that might have been adopted by the artists of spin off Grange Hill comics there are moments of McCloud-esque multi media abstraction and visual wit to bring a smile to your face. I also find the bookending of the comic both with the information on the comic and various important associations and charities, and with repetitions of the opening and closing page, a very effective advice to draw readers in.

Luke and Downey have done a great job of producing something clear and concise but at the same time enjoyable and with real emotional weight. The potential for comics to be used in this way has already been explored(*1) by the Wellcome Trust and Edward Ross with his short comic on parasitic disease (see my review here) but Luke and Downey go one better. It is the personal element that readers will really empathise with, just as Darryl Cunningham's admission to his own struggle with mental health at the end of Psychiatric Tales reaffirms the message of the book, the advice and guidance seems much more palatable coming from someone who actually knows. Absence would be a welcome addition to any library, hospital, or charitable organisation. You can order it online for free or read it online for free via the website here.

(*1) I believe it needs to be explored more so long as these comics/information leaflets are produced by people who make or have a passion for comics otherwise the patronisation or the appalling visuals tend to rule supreme.

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