Once in a great while, a piece of art comes along, destroys you, and puts you back together. FUTURE ECHOES is one of those pieces. As an able-bodied woman, I was hesitant to review this book because it's not my place to speak on the quality of disability representation. But, as Editor Alisa Kwitney writes in the introduction:
There's a reason this book came into being at this particular moment in time. As I write this, the President of the United States is a man who openly mocked a journalist with disabilities - and then lied about it, despite video proof of his words and actions... We all have a vested interest in disability rights... the experience made me realize how deceptive it is to see people with disabilities as "other." It's all too easy to conflate the person and the wheelchair - especially when we don't encounter many wheelchair users in stories. And stories are how we encounter the other with real intimacy... This is especially true in stories of romance, because romance stories emphasize the importance of emotional arc, transformation, and connection.
The book is written and illustrated by a man who uses a wheelchair, Al Davison, with additional illustrations from Yen Quach. In the back-matter of the book, Al talks a bit about how the idea for this story came about, through his own direct experience - not with ghosts, but with his body and a bout of temporary blindness that left him feeling as trapped as the characters in this story. With this perspective in mind, I read the book not as a treatise on disability, but for what it is: a paranormal romance with a disabled man of color at the center.
The protagonist, Harlan, is a black man who owns a paranormal investigations company. He is a man of science who gets sucked into an eerie world of art, ghosts, and a time warp. There is a definite mystery at the core of the story, with a beautiful romance. Through the relationship he builds with the ghost of a similarly disabled woman (they have roughly the same degree of lower-body paralysis), Harlan is able to relate to his body in a way his contemporaries don't consider. He is incredibly independent and intelligent, something his employees are aware of, but is subjected to microaggressions from even those he works with closely. None of it feels forced, however. It is, as I said, not a treatise on disability.
A quick note on the price. You can buy each issue for $3.99, or the omnibus (all three issues plus a wealth of process and background pages) for $21.95. This is a price that many will balk at, and I completely understand the reasoning. The story itself is only 53 out of the 79 pages in the omnibus. But... I read the book three times. Yes, three. Each time I read it, I pulled a different story from the pages, all equally beautiful.
The story is great, but it's the art that entranced me. The style is like nothing I've read before. Al Davison and Yen Quach used different mediums for their characters, blending them together on the page to form a finished work that feels like two realities overlapping, just like the story. Check out the floor in panels 2-4 here.
In this next page, you see the first time Harlan and the mystery woman encounter each other, with some of that spectral beauty I mentioned earlier.
Art is a huge part of the story, both because comics are a visual medium, and because Harlan is investigating the estate of a deceased painter. The paintings are all in a different style from the narrative panels, which results in some truly striking pages. In the process pages in the omnibus, you see Yen Quach's works on their own, before they're incorporated into the comic and they're stunning. If you want to look at this as a romance, it works. If you want the story of a disabled man of color who runs his own business, it works. If you want a spooky ghost story, it works. If you want an innovative yet classic art book, it works.
This is the first finished work from Liminal Comics, an imprint of Brain Mill Press, a relatively new publisher working to share the voices of underrepresented groups via love stories. It's work worth supporting, if you have the funds to do so. If you don't... Liminal Comics is giving away a print copy of the omnibus to one of our readers! Check it out below.
The giveaway begins today (January 16, 2018) and will run through the weekend, ending at midnight on Sunday, January 21. (You don't need Facebook or Twitter to enter, just enter your email and follow the steps to leave a blog post.)a Rafflecopter giveaway