Monday, July 17, 2017

NoBrow: Lorena Alvarez' Nightlights

I'm constantly amazed by NoBrow's ability to find artists from across the globe who fit into their clean, cartoony and colorful aesthetic. Lorena Alvarez' book Nightlights is certainly no exception, as she does her own take on that aesthetic and adds a few twists of her own. The story is inspired by the Colombian's own childhood spent in Catholic school, as it follows Sandy, a girl who's more interested in the worlds she creates with her drawings than with school or fitting in with others. The book opens with a cartooning masterclass on how to use negative space: a two page spread where a couple of pages of drawings are on the left-hand-side page, and more pages are scattered on the right-hand-side page, with Sandy herself laying down at an angle on the page and drawing. There's a pot holding flowers in the upper-left-hand side of the page that counterbalances everything else and tugs against Sandy's gaze being taken up by her mother calling her. Throughout the book, Alvarez solves storytelling problems by creating some extreme angles and character points-of-view to yank the reader's eye around.

Alvarez ability to balance panel and page compositions give the book a pleasing feel, even as she creates tension in various ways. The book's first twist is that she sees little lights above her in bed that she catches and transforms into a huge host of of creations that come straight from her imagination. There's another two-page spread where she's in the lower-left hand side of the left-hand-side page, and ideas come rocketing out of her in an almost conical fashion, getting bigger and bigger as they fly off the far right side of the right-hand-side page--with her riding on a creature, carrying a huge banner. These opening pages are an expression of pure joy and creativity, as her creations literally take her on a ride until she falls asleep.

When she meets a new girl with purple eyes and purple hair the next day, she's delighted to make a friend who is genuinely interested in her talent as an artist, even going so far as to ask for one of the drawings. Alvarez quickly makes it clear that the new girl, Morfia, is a magical being, but she takes the plot in an unexpected direction. Instead of Morfia becoming her new best friend for real, she turns out to be a kind of spirit parasite that's out to isolate Sandy from her family and anything except drawing. With Morfia's dream influence, Sandy's ideas start to become ugly and frightening.

When Sandy meets Morfia again in real life, it's after a particularly unpleasant day at school, and Morfia finds her in detention. She's a perfect, rule-breaking playmate. as they create worlds together in the seriousness of their play. Sandy's ready to simply reject school life and expectations when she gets home, especially when her mother tells her that she knows about the trouble she's in and tries to lend a sympathetic ear. What Alvarez captures perfectly is Sandy's own confusion about herself and her own identity, especially as she's being slowly manipulated by Morfia. When her friend comes to her window and takes her deep into the forest, there's a horrifying sequences of images that show Morfia's deep and abiding hunger for Sandy's imagination and her willingness to keep her there forever. Sandy's quick thinking that showed she was actually paying attention to a key concept in school saves her life, and a return to school that introduces the concept of the atom proves to be just the catalyst she needs to merge her love of drawing with her love of learning.

There are certain superficial similarities between this book and Luke Pearson's Hilda series, especially a willingness to go deep in expressing danger and even terror. Both share a similar sense of whimsy. Both are about familial relationships. Pearson's had a chance to go a little deeper than Alvarez in exploring the character and her friends, but Alvarez' natural affinity for what in many ways is a stand-in means that I could see more adventures starring Sandy. The best part of each book is that despite the extensive and beautiful use of color, neither artist loses track of line. The characters have a solidity to them that grounds the fantasy aspects of the series and draws in the reader. There are times when I read a NoBrow book and can't remember much about it afterward, but Alvarez's storytelling choices and the verisimilitude of the Catholic girls' school lingered on long after reading it.

No comments:

Post a Comment