A Glance Backward by Pierre Paquet and Tony Sandoval
A Glance Backward, written by Pierre Paquet and illustrated by Tony Sandoval is a graphic novel that on the face of it might seem aimed at a younger audience, but thanks to its artwork and some grisly scenes, if I were to recommend it to anyone it would be 14 and up. That “if” is because I didn’t really respond at all to either the writing or artistic style, so my own assessment is primarily negative.
The story opens in first person with Joseph (he prefers Joey) telling us, “They say that for an 11 year old, imagining stupid stuff is an art and without understanding why, we turn our imagination into action.” We watch him get off a bus, purchase some bottle rockets, and head home. After a moment’s dislocation at home where he thinks he saw a figure in a painting move, he steps through a portal and finds himself traveling through a series of wildly strange worlds, some quite frightening, a few less so. Though the worlds vary greatly, a few elements are consistent, including a creature that appears to be stalking him (it is heard but not seen through most of the text), a trench coat and hat, and typically a singular encounter with a resident in each world.
In one world, he meets a man crying over his solitude until Joey opens his eyes to the idea of communicating with the “pollen fairies” flying around. In another dimension, he finds himself at the bottom of a fountain dodging huge coins dropping from above, along with the “fountain spirits” who live there and grant wishes, though they do not understand why “for a long time now, these strange objects started falling from the sky, and sometimes we get crushed.” In my favorite, he meets a young woman whom he falls in love with and who gives him her own definition of love, before she heads out on the train she’s been waiting for to try and find the one she “lost sight of.” He returns to several of his worlds, though rarely to good effect, and generally, as his journeys continue, the encounters are more frightening, depressing, or violent, including several very violent and bloody scenes. At the end, the cause of this dark Alice In Wonderland-like journey is revealed, and while I won’t say what it is to avoid spoilers, I will say it isn’t all that unexpected.
So, as mentioned, I didn’t much care for A Glance Backward. The artwork for the most part was off-putting, though of course that’s a pretty subjective response. The wide-gaping mouths, skinny necks topped by giant heads, distorted lips, and so on is not my favorite style, to say the least. On the one hand, there’s a reason the artwork is meant to be disturbing or not particularly pleasing, and while I get that intellectually, I still like to, well, like the art I’m viewing in a graphic text. There are a few such moments in the book. Joey’s transition from home is depicted by him popping into a giant, tilted hourglass amidst a sea of such hourglasses set against a dark background with some lighter, cloudy areas, almost like a stretch of black space removed of individual stars but with a cloud of interstellar gas to the right. It’s a striking image. The train station world, where he meets the young woman in love, has a beautiful color palette, a more representationally human figure (the girl), and beautiful sweeping landscapes. But these scenes were too few for me.
The writing I found too clumsily expository through much of the text. And I thought the violence, and especially the graphic manner in which it was depicted, unnecessary, extreme, and somewhat out of context. I can see (I think) its purpose in connection to the reveal at the end, but it still doesn’t seem to fit; at the least, it’s wholly unsubtle.
Thanks to art and text I didn’t respond to, an unnecessarily violent and bloody aesthetic, episodes that were a bit too arbitrary and expository, and a somewhat unclear audience, I can’t recommend picking this one up.