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‘What I.F. #1:’ Comic Book Review

What I.F. reads like a poetic love letter rather than your typical comic, mourning the loss of a friendship and the death of a life one discovered was never really real. The subject matter is deep and is approached as such. Imaginary friends, suicide, and mental illness are usually dealt with in a comedic or dark and masturbatory manner. Not so in the comic What I.F..

The narrative is told through the perspective of the imaginary friend, Jack, as he discovers he isn’t real and the person he trusted, his sole friend who named him Jack, is real and trying to erase him from her life. From the images it is suggested she has, in fact, attempted suicide from an overdose. There is no plot but rather more of a journey through memories leading up to the present, all in an attempt to understand his existence and purpose, if there is one. Jack is in shock, at a loss for what to do next without his “imaginary life and friend.” We read as he concludes his own lack of relevance to the world, to Penelope’s life.

While some of the narrative is, at times, a little overly ethereal and foreboding, the authors do an excellent job of exploring a universal concept – the loss of innocence, of a dream. I loved that the artwork was in black and white rather than color, with the narrative blocks on ripped, lined paper (much like pieces of a letter.) Both added to the feeling of walking through a dream, a sketch of life between imagination and reality. While we the readers are all real, and not everyone has had an imaginary friend, everyone can identify with the concept of loss, of growing from a child to an adult and leaving certain naïveté behind. We all, at some point in our lives, have felt betrayal and shock, even if the shock is over something as simple and arbitrary as dreaming you got dressed and went to work only to wake up and discover you’re still drooping in your jammies and it is only 3 a.m.

This comic could not come at a more pertinent time in my own life story. Watching Jack grieve and come to terms with the fact that he is not real and his life with Penelope is over and was not real touched me. The authors also left it open to the possibility of a world where imaginary friends live and are “discovered” by their human. Without a human, they wander nameless. It’s one of those reads that leaves you thinking and questioning long after you have finished it. Right now, I often feel like Jack, wandering lost and in shock, wondering about the future and confused about the past. I wanted to reach out and hug Jack when he reverts to “boy” and shouts, “Name yourself!” Are they making a point that we put too much emphasis on other people’s perception of us rather than defining our own sense of self? Maybe it’s saying there is nothing wrong with having an imaginary world you escape to or seeking comfort in friends, asking for help. And, then again, maybe it is just telling a story. Who knows? I just like that it made me stop and think . . . what if?




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