Look Straight Ahead
Creator: Elaine M. Will
Publisher: Renegade Arts Entertainment
A review by Josh Rose
Recommended by the Canadian Mental Health Association, Look Straight Ahead is a story about Jeremy and his struggles with mental heath, high school, and art. It’s a story that helped me understand more about how some people struggle with mental health issues, and, not surprisingly, this book is going to its second printing. It was originally self-published in 2013 and nominated in 2014 for a Saskatchewan Book Award. The author Elaine M. Will was also nominated for a Joe Shuster Award in 2011.
Look Straight Ahead sees Jeremy in his final year of high school, with just a few more months until he can graduate and leave home. Jeremy is one of the outsiders in his school and an aspiring artist. Because he is an outsider, he is also the victim of some bullying which leads to a mental break. There were no signs, and he wasn’t given the help he needed immediately, nor was it effective right away. But he has the doctors, some friends and his parents there for him, trying to help him along the way as he uses art to heal.
Everything about Look Straight Ahead is wonderful. Will really invites us into Jeremy’s head, not only with the conversations he has with friends, family, and the voices, but also with the art as well. We feel what Jeremy feels: an impending doom if he doesn’t do what God wants him to do; a sense of invincibility when he gets rid of his meds; and, helplessness and anger when his family leaves him at the hospital.
If Will’s only job was to make us empathetic with Jeremy, she nailed that as a writer. But she is also the artist in this book. Everything about Will’s art is thoughtful and deliberate. I like how there are random puzzle pieces strewn throughout as a nice piece of meaningful imagery that you don’t really understand until the end. And the sword she arms Jeremy with looks an awful lot like a pencil. The majority of the book is done in black and white, but there are moments of colour that penetrate the bleakness. Will uses colour to cause us to feel as Jeremy does, and it’s fantastic and wonderful. If something is off in the colouring, it reflects that something is off with Jeremy.
Elaine’s lettering is fantastic, particularly in the way that she scratches and blackens out Jeremy’s thoughts when he’s having some dark moments. Her panel layout is fun too, as it’s quite easy to follow, and during Jeremy’s more artistic moments you can see the flow between them.
The Verdict: Buy it!
Seriously, you need to read Look Straight Ahead. It’s an incredibly thoughtful book about how people with mental illnesses see the world. And it is presented in a way that doesn’t pathologize or negatively depict mental health. The art is fantastic too!
Look Straight Ahead will be available to order with Diamond Code #OCT171765, and it will be in stores December 6th, 2017.