REVIEW: ABSENCE by ANDY LUKE and STEPHEN DOWNEY
ABSENCE by ANDY LUKE (writer) and STEPHEN DOWNEY (artist) – reviewed by Gar Shanley
Funded by the UnLtd Millenium Awards Scheme and produced (free of charge) by Oxicomics.com, Absence is intended for widespread distribution in libraries, health centres and other relevant civic outlets.
Absence explains the condition of epilepsy and living with it in a way that is neither sentimental nor over-wrought. The author’s voice is casual, endearing and to the point. This is not a comic that asks you to look upon suffering and take pity for personal catharsis/entertainment. Nor is it a comic that seeks to garner the author sympathy. No, Absence is concerned with explaining a condition, what it feels like to live with and how it can be dealt with. Absence is an educational comic but no less engaging for that. Having a bit of a preoccupation with neuroplasticity at the moment (pretentious, moi?), I was fascinated by a potentially difficult part of the comic dealing with misfiring neurons in the brain. Sharing my preoccupation is not a requirement when understanding this part of the comic. The comic will make you understand and make you interested. It’s like that the whole way through.
I liked Andy’s naïve style art on the original version of this comic. Often, for me, the untrained artist possesses an uncontrived genuineness and uniqueness that the trained hand often lacks. However, clarity and narratological nous can sometimes go astray in such hands and that would not serve Andy’s purpose here. So, we have the brilliant, simple, storytelling art of Stephen Downey. Stephen carries us through the piece with clarity. This artist can do staggering set pieces and wide-screen awesomeness but here, like the pro he is, Stephen serves the narrative. His art is unimpressed with itself and all the more impressive for that.
I’m a fan of David B’s similarly themed comic Epileptic but it’s a grim piece that is as much about a man’s life as it is his brother’s condition. Despite its comparative brevity and with its casual voice, Absence is a more informative comic than Epileptic as well as a far warmer one. I can imagine someone young, coming to terms with having the condition, reading Absence and finding the experience relevant, informative and life affirming. I recommend you read Absence too and maybe contact Andy and help him distribute it. This is a comic that will actually help people. Well done to Andy and Stephen for doing something worthwhile with our medium. I’ll be expecting a Green Lantern cross-over next time though.