One Soul by Ray Fawkes

One Soul
by Ray Fawkes
Oni Press, 2011

An ambitious and original work, a rare experiment in structure. Over 168 pages, the life stories of 18 people from throughout history are told in a double-page spread of 18 panels. Each character keeps their assigned panel from birth until death, when it goes black, and eventually merges into the neighbouring panels. Therefore, it’s possible to flick through the book and read only the centre panel on the right-hand pages, which tells the story of a gold prospector, or the centre-right panel on the left-hand pages, which tells the story of a gay shepherd. Or you can read the whole thing from panel to panel, like William S. Burrough’s cut-up technique, and note the similarities and disparities between the different lives, like 18 variations on a movement played simultaneously with rare instances of concurrence (everyone has a life-changing close-up on p52-53, everyone is largely freed from temporal bonds on p156-157).

Fawkes is a fine, poetic writer, and this is an extremely impressive book, even if you just count the sheer effort it takes to turn the pages 1,596 times to read through each story and then read the whole thing once again. The artwork is limited but expressive, with occasional Watchmen-like image symmetry to look out for, and although it doesn’t “pioneer a new storytelling device” like some of the enthusiastic reviewers who have never studied literary techniques claim, it’s certainly unusually experimental coming from a mainstream comics publisher, and demonstrate how rarely the unique possibilities of the graphic novel format are explored.

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