Page 45 Review by Stephen
"There are no concave lines on the human body - only overlapping convex lines."
Yes, yes, yes!
And Noelle recreates an illustrative life-drawing sketch which she made at the time when this moment of satori first hit her!
Until I read this page I hadn't fathomed this either, but what a vital piece of observation to impart to anyone embarking on a career in art - whether it be comics, picture books, illustration, design or those well serious fully painted things - and to anyone who has suffered from body issues, as Stevenson has under the tyranny of ubiquitous wafer-thin media models. Its scope is much broader still, but one has to begin a review somewhere.
Stevenson is still only in her mid-20s, yet her astonishingly honest, hard-won wisdom moved and impressed itself upon me as fiercely as Tilly Walden's equally early autobiography SPINNING. And by "hard-won", you will swiftly realise why this graphic memoir has been included in Page 45's burgeoning and ever so vital Mental Health Section.
Noelle Stevenson is the creator of our Young Adult best-seller NIMONA, as well as the co-creator of Page 45's smash-hit LUMBERJANES series, and her early success in both - detailed here in what could very much be regarded as a galvanizing, inspirational "How To" guide for so many young individuals now embarking on their first tentative steps towards honouring us all with their brand-new voices - comes in stark contrast to what you might assume would be a self-satisfied, artistically vindicated "the world is now my oyster". Instead, even at the height of her triumphs (and with a tentatively discovered and supportive, newfound lover), Stevenson is plagued with the same crippling self-doubt which so many of us secretly harbour too.
"At night, you like awake and shake.
"You feel guilty all the time.
"It feels like a piece has been ripped out and left behind, but you can't tell which piece and you can't look back to check or you will surely fall apart."
The illustrations which accompany these retrospective confessions are so tender and so fragile.
"Your fear of doing wrong is keeping you from doing good.
"This is what you wanted, ain't you proud?
"You're not evil, you are a mundane, selfish kind of bad and that is what you've always feared, isn't it?"
There's a profound humility here which informs the candour and self-awareness.
"You do kind things for praise, or to feel better.
"You fear hurting people, but maybe because you fear being disliked.
"You're not strong or brave in the way you want to be."
It's a very rare kind of courage that can commit this to paper in order to help others who might be suffering the same serious self-assessment in silence, fearing that they are alone while the rest of the world waltzes on in oblivious abandon. Clue: most of the world isn't, in my experience, waltzing on in oblivious abandon, whatever it looks like from the outside. So much of this certainly resonated with me.
If I were to summarise the overwhelming, prevalent, rare but vital humane quality on display here, it would be compassion: compassion, in retrospect, towards yourself.
Told in annual snapshots from 2011 to 2019, each chapter is divided into immediate impressions as they happen, then a considered annual overview of what that year actually brought about. There are sequential art sections, then integrated, illustrated prose.
The art morphs in rendition from a fragile, febrile even at times angry sort of Hayao Miyazaki (cf NAUSICAA), to bold, emphatically concave Philippa Rice forms (like SISTER BFFS) to a front cover illustration below the dustjacket that struck me very much as akin to Jan Ormerod. But those are just my personal references, not at all necessarily Noelle's own.
There's also an enormous, connected tenderness on display, especially when it comes to coupling - to spooning - with her girlfriend now wife, and if you enjoy the occasional photographic portraits interspersed throughout, I promise you will air-punch with unbridled glee at the final, glorious, giggling, and celebratory photograph which rounds off this journey of at times painful self-discovery with a "Yeah, you can do it too!" moment of exquisite, unequivocal and unconditional love.
Artless, exceptional, and recommended to all, this would be perfect as a gift to anyone embarking on a career in art, the arts, or this thing called life.