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Cree (Sketched & Signed)

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Page 45 Review by Jonathan

"There was a time I felt completely alone... Now I'm among friends I wonder how I lived like that for so long.
"Joy cuts through every day like a sunbeam. I see beauty everywhere.
"When I finally turned to face the world with a sense of honesty and courage, I found it less fearsome than I'd imagined and much more ordinary."

Now, just in case you don't know, and I certainly didn't, I will let Una explain what a 'Cree' is, which she kindly does in her afterword, "...a Cree is a place you go to escape the world, make and fix things and find peace..." Now, for Una, that's her garden shed, but for the ladies portrayed here in the North East it's their group where they get together at the Just For Women Centre in Stanley, County Durham to do some crafting and just be themselves.

It's a real place, the Just For Women Centre in Stanley, County Durham. A social enterprise run by women, for women, offering all kinds of support and services, advice and education. As you might well imagine, it's a vital lifeline for women who have, and continue to, endure some tough times. The main character, here, Jolene, is just one such woman. We don't find out about her particular circumstances that bring her to catch the bus into Stanley from the countryside, attend the Cree, before making the return journey home again, but that's not what's important.

No, it's the transformational power of the Cree to change a person's state of mind for the better that is the key thing to take away from this work. Through shared experience and communication in a safe and stimulating environment. We see this profound effect for ourselves as evidenced by the uplift in Jolene's private thoughts on the return leg of her commute, empowered and reinvigorated by her crafting session and natter with her confidantes...

"Starting again... It's not easy, but it's possible.
"I don't where I'm headed next, but I'll not go round in circles again. Not now. Not ever."

What a wonderfully uplifting work! And brilliantly constructed, or should I say, crafted. Firstly, I found Una's use of words during Jolene's two bus-ride soliloquies immensely moving, which combined beautifully with the imagery, such as an overhead shot of a roundabout juxtaposed with the circles quote above. Comics perfection! On that poetic point, I would put this work up there with Tim Bird's award winning FROM THE CITY TO THE SEA.

The art style is a mix of vibrant foreground colours and little to no background throughout, which gives this work a very much handcrafted and therefore personal feel. As with her other works like BECOMING UNBECOMING and ON SANITY there are also several panel and page compositional devices that further draw you in. For example, there is a very clever use of perspective and vanishing points going on in several pages of Jolene's journey where she isn't visible to the reader. The sense of motion, of moving towards a destination, is tangible. Those sections are deliberately minimal in their content, with immense stretches of white background, but have an almost cubist feel in their layout and use of blocks of colour. There are also a couple of expansive foldout pages that welcome you into the Cree itself as Jolene arrives at the Centre and greets her friends. It's abundantly clear throughout just how much thought Una has put into this work, of the combination of words and images.

On that note, Una also leaves us with something to think about on the nature of thinking. It's not something that had ever occurred to me before but I reckon she's onto something, you know. It's also presented in a rather hilarious manner that actually makes you start to realise probably just how very true it is. I'm not going to spoil it for you by revealing it, I'll let you discover it for yourselves, but it just goes to show what an accomplished comics creator Una is.

As well as a wonderful human being whom it was a pleasure to play host to in Page 45's Georgian Room at the Lakes International Comics Art Festival 2018.