Books

A Comics Artist’s Eerie, Relentlessly Stark Storytelling

I’m Not Here, written under a pseudonym, uneasily follows an immigrant family as they go about their everyday life.

Cover of I’m Not Here by GG, published by Koyama Press (courtesy Koyama Press)

In Canadian comics artist GG’s I’m Not Here, published by Koyama Press, the unnamed second-generation immigrant protagonist goes about her everyday life while living at her parents’ suburban house. As she occupies her day with seemingly mundane activities, such as wandering around a farmers’ market taking pictures, she notices details such as bunches of grapes or a girl wearing a Peter Pan-collared dress, which, as unremarkable as these things might seem at first glance, are lyrical and fairy-tale like. Meanwhile, she feels estranged at home. “[Your sister] is doing so well in everything. When will you be successful?” her mother asks her while she is clearing the table. In response, the girl tries, literally, to inhabit the life of the Peter Pan-collared girl she photographed, going as far as posing as her in order to be let into her house. While there, she rummages through the other girl’s objects, and wonders what her life might have been like.

GG, I’m Not Here (courtesy Koyama Press)

GG’s comics transcend a straightforward plot: in all her works, scenes of everyday life are quietly and abruptly disturbed by elements of physical or psychological horror. When a protagonist of A Mysterious Project (available on her website) decides to get a haircut, she is attacked, Black Swan-style, by her shadow self, and in Don’t Leave Me Alone, a father-daughter bonding moment is interrupted by a scene of unjustified police brutality.

GG tells me that by the time she was working on I’m Not Here, she felt like her shock-like denouements were getting too formulaic. Instead, she uses unsettling metaphors to portray the domestic life of an immigrant family struggling to adapt to a new country. When the mother’s mental state seems to be falling apart, we see her having to attach what looks like a prosthetic arm to her body (which then appears to be fully functional in the following panel). The father, who feels lost, keeps driving in a series of wrong turns.

GG, I’m Not Here (courtesy Koyama Press)

I didn’t want the reader to feel like they were witnessing an oddity because I think the feelings that I’m trying to convey in the story are common to everyone,” GG said. “So common that sometimes we totally forget about them. So, I think by slightly misplacing one piece of reality here and there might cause someone to take a closer look.” In that sense, GG’s narrative style can be reminiscent of Haruki Murakami’s plot devices, where seemingly normal situations gradually reveal paradoxical realities that feel like very vivid dreams.

GG’s drawing style is stark and impossibly clean: surfaces are colored in different shades of gray, none of which are textured, and the dialogue is superimposed at the bottom of each panel, like subtitles. The relative visual silence and quiet emphasize the sense of uneasiness that seeps from the pages.

GG chose to publish pseudonymously, as she does not want her work and her art to be overshadowed by her personality or backstory. In fact, when she started seriously writing comics, she initially only wanted to publish online and anonymously. “I agree with Elena Ferrante, who’s stayed totally anonymous, that books don’t need their authors once they’re written — if the work has something to say, it will find the right people to hear and understand it without the author having to speak for it,” she elaborated to me. And indeed, despite GG’s austere and allegorical modes of storytelling, the theme of alienation in I’m Not Here resonates loud and clear.

GG, I’m Not Here (courtesy Koyama Press)

I’m Not Here by GG is available through Koyama Press

comments (0)