July 16, 2015

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The People Inside

The People Inside
Written and illustrated by Ray Fawkes
Published by Oni Press

The People Inside is Ray Fawkes second longform examination of the inner workings of a multiplicity of lives. Fawkes’ first effort, One Soul, followed parallel storylines from different decades, centuries and eons, speaking to some sense of universal shared experience unshaken by the passage of time. The People Inside, which takes place in a single time period but in vastly different lives, continues Fawkes’ work as a master of weaving parallel and powerful stories of universal human experience, The book begins as a series of 12 romantic stories starring 24 individual characters, some just beginning, some in the throes of passion or passionate rage, and some coming to an unhappy close. It seems that perhaps this will just be a collection of small romantic soap operas -- and there are some melodramatic turns -- an abusive marriage, drunken flings. lesbian rock stars. But there are also gay pastry chefs, parents adjusting to life with an infant, and a woman working to define herself as an individual when her relationship ends. Relationships end or change, blossom or wither, and some stories overlap -- for instance when one woman leaves a BDSM relationship with a man to return to her old girlfriend -- leaving him quietly and restlessly alone for the rest of his story, while she finds lasting happiness.

As the book moves on, time passes, and a combination of free will and outside influences affect each relationship and each individual in beautiful and tragic ways -- and when one character's story ends, their panel goes dark. Some lives end in senseless accidents, some in crimes of passion, some in cancer, and a few of the characters hold on into old age, some lonesome for years, some quietly bidding goodbye to a lover who dies in their sleep. Fawkes cultivates a sense of attachment to the population of these simple stories, and so you feel a palatable sense of grief each time a panel goes and stays black, and the grief builds along with a sense of dread as more and more lives flicker out, until the last few pages, which are almost entirely black and find a very few of the characters, alone, together, or alone together in their old age. As much as this book is about love stories and human interconnectedness, it's also inextricably about how uncertain and unpredictable life can be, how free will and fate intersect with consequences both petty and profound.

Fawkes has taken a great chance here - in doing a 24 panel parallel story, he could easily end up with a lot of weak threads or lesser stories that don’t come together and seem extraneous or unnecessary or overdramatic. His artwork is good (characters are easily distinguishable from one another! my most important rule!) but not phenomenal or groundbreaking, though of course that isn’t the point. Fawkes point is this experimental use of the sequential form for narrative emphasis, tying together seemingly unrelated stories to make a greater point about our shared human need for love and understanding.

Oh god, it all sounds so cheesy. But Fawkes’ earnestness and the intense focus of his storytelling wipes that sense away quickly and completely. The People Inside is a fascinating use of the graphic form and emotionally involving on the most effective level, tugging on our most basic, deepest need for love and self-realization, and our existential fear of the ultimate unknown of non-existence. I hope Fawkes continues his experiments in parallel storytelling - what other elements of the human condition might he explicate so effortlessly and plumb so powerfully?