By Naomi Nowak (NBM)
ISBN13: 978-1-56163-567-2 (PB)

There are a number of uncomfortable if not altogether unpleasant truisms that still dominate the narrative arts, particularly in terms of gender appeasement: most prevalent and dominant of those – after “chuck in some sex scenes” – are “guys need to see mindless action as often as possible” and “women require moments of pretty, contemplative stillness in their stories.”

Mercifully, these hoary Tinseltown-spawned dictums are being constantly challenged and disproved these days (just take a look at the frighteningly charged stillness of the “quiet bits” in many European and particularly Scandi-crime screen gems such as the original Professor T), especially in the burgeoning yet still largely experimental graphic novel market, where the rules of narration are still being laid down…

In her third book, Graylight, painter and illustrator Naomi Nowak (House of Clay; Unholy Kinship) composes another dreamy, symbol-drenched inquiry into the complexities of love in a surreal, quasi-mystical tale of a troubled young woman whose complacency and bad habits suck her into an unimaginable amount of difficulty.

Sasha is beautiful, affable, friendly, utterly self-absorbed and an unrepentant thief. If she sees something see likes, she simply knows it will be better off with her. Sadly, that applies to people as much as objects…

Years ago, a man killed himself, and his widow swore to their infant son Edmund that she would always protect her baby boy from bad things – such as women who drive husbands to their deaths…

As usual, Sasha is the centre of attention in the bar when journalist Erik spots her. She is holding court, shocking friends with her honesty about how wicked she is. She can feel no remorse for taking the things she wants. Erik is in town to interview reclusive author Aurora, and – now besotted with Sasha – brings her with him as his “photographer.”

The interview goes badly. Aurora is hostile, rearing a son nobody knew of: a sheltered young man called Edmund, who is protective of his mother but drawn to the moodily effervescent Sasha. Flirting with the reclusive boy as a matter of habit, Sasha is most attracted to an antique book, so she takes it.

Initially setting out to retrieve the book, Edmund is increasingly ensnared in Sasha’s charismatic spell. Aurora, seeing Sasha to be just the kind of woman she swore to protect her son from, knows a few spells of her own, and is quite prepared to use any and every means to keep her ancient promise…

Colourful in misty pastels and shockingly bold lines, this oneiric, supernaturally-tinged drama blends the sensibilities of shōjo manga (romantic stories for young girls) with the bleak, moody naturalism of Scandinavian landscape painting and the rich, sexually-charged texture of teen soap operas to produce a compellingly sinister love story of desire and consequence that is lyrical, often reflective and occasionally pretentious, but always eminently readable and utterly beautiful to look upon.

And here’s my point: this quiet, contemplative breed of graphic narrative has a great deal to offer readers seeking something a little different. This decrepit heterosexual male felt no need for a fistfight or car chase to keep my attention from wandering, and those dreamy, floaty moments greatly added to my appreciation of atmosphere and mood. If the action is starting to pall, why not try a little classic mood magic…?
© 2007 Naomi Nowak. All rights reserved.