REVIEW: “One Soul” by Ray Fawkes
Every art form has stories that can only be told this way: novels that can’t be turned into movies, operas that must be seen in person, movies that could only be flickering pictures in the dark. Comics is still a new art, and only has a few examples so far.
But Ray Fawkes’s 2011 graphic novel One Soul is one of them: it’s a story that couldn’t be anything but comics, a multi-threaded examination of what it is to be alive…and not. Using the famous nine-panel grid, and sticking to it strictly, Fawkes tells eighteen life stories — one for each panel on the two facing pages, and tells one single story at the same time.
Eighteen babies are born, in all times and places, in splendor and in squalor, in wealth and in poverty. They grow up, they live their individual lives — long or short, as it happens — they make their ways in the world and think about what they want and need and feel. And the flow of their lives, of all of their lives, is the story of One Soul.
This is a book that will make the entire outside world disappear; it has at least a whole world inside it, and it will take all of your attention and all of your emotions. Fawkes never has to name any of his characters — we know them from their places and their faces, and come to care for them all, good and bad, kind and cruel, lovers and fighters, happy and sad. One Soul is one of those works of art that are huge in ambition and scope, that try to encompass the entire world, all of human experience, inside itself. And it succeeds: One Soul is magnificent and lovely and frightening and compelling and sorrowful and wonderful and, in the end, utterly, utterly transcendent.