I haven’t written a lot of reviews recently, and I haven’t read a lot of comics recently (a sad admission!), but a year or so ago writer/artist Richard Fairgray asked me if I’d like to read a graphic novel he had put together – a memoir that he wrote over lock down. Without hesitation, I said, “Absolutely!” It was literally the first time we met in person. It turned out to be Octopus. I told him he had to publish it. I can only imagine anyone else who had read it probably told him the same thing. I am thrilled that he’s moving forward with a Kickstarter campaign (which is launching this week) for the project.
Memoirs are weird birds, to me anyway. Is the person writing this willing to really let us see who they are and not just hide behind a bunch of anecdotes and important dates? Being vulnerable is an art, and often creating art and vulnerability go hand in hand. That vulnerability matters, because you want to be able to – on one level – connect with the protagonist of the story, to see how their life is like yours. At the exact same time, you also want to see how their life is completely different. To relate and also live vicariously.
You absolutely cannot, at any point, feel like you are being lied to. At the same time, you also don’t want just honesty, you want a point of view, you want Stephen King to tell you how scary his life was, you want Steve Martin to make you laugh, you want Carrie Fisher to give you all the juicy details! Truth unto itself is boring, so we need some flexing of the creative muscles. We need to see their personality shine in how it’s approached.
Richard has filled in this crazy bingo card.
Through seven chapters of Richard’s life, like puzzle pieces, we see Richard reveal pieces of himself, pieces of maybe who he was, maybe pieces of who he still is, maybe pieces he’s still wrestling with—it doesn’t matter. Those pieces are laid bare, and a thread is created. A thread that Richard starts to pull at, unraveling it from himself, through a pretty apt, hilarious, and absolutely heartbreaking metaphor. The title of the book reveals the metaphor. In doing all of this, I see pieces of who I am from another angle entirely, and I start to pull at that thread in me a little.
It is damn hard to let go of parts of yourself, to not hold onto them as you move into new situations, to not think those pieces that you can’t let go of will make the new thing just another thing you hold onto that you’ve had to leave behind. An octopus has eight tentacles, but, as a metaphor, sometimes, it feels like I’m holding onto a million things that are hard to let go of. And it’s even a hell of a lot harder to reveal that to a reader, especially with such skill. Richard has crafted something genuine and genuinely remarkable and yet so freaking simple. He’s done it with ample amounts of heart, humor, and hope, but also with a healthy dose of the bittersweet that comes with simply living.
I haven’t even talked about how masterfully Richard lays out his panels and how visually appealing everything is to look at. He makes very specific and meaningful decisions to help tell his story. He is in full control of his craft. I’m in awe of his artistic abilities. Every page is worth spending time with. Looking at a page right now, there are three panels next to a tire swing that break me. A few pages prior, I felt the whimsy of friendship on a late night walk.
I haven’t read a lot of comics recently, but I’m glad I made the time to read Octopus a second time.
Creative Team: Richard Fairgray (writer/artist)
Click here to support the Kickstarter campaign.