From rising comics talent Zoe Thorogood (The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott, Rain) comes her deeply personal and impossibly creative autobiographical graphic novel creation in It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth. Running the gamut of human emotion with her narrative and reflecting upon Thorogood’s life via hyper-imaginative visuals, Center of the Earth feels like something we shouldn’t be allowed to read – but will come away thankful that we can.
“Cartoonist ZOE THOROGOOD records six months of her own life as it falls apart in a desperate attempt to put it back together again in the only way she knows how. IT’S LONELY AT THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH is an intimate metanarrative that looks into the life of a selfish artist who must create for her own survival.”
The Thorogood Method
So, normally I structure reviews by discussing the writing and visual elements of a comic separately and on their own merits, and how they interact with one another. That approach doesn’t work with It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth. Thorogood’s writing is so intertwined with her visual approach that the two are completely inseparable.
It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth is a tough book to talk about in terms of its storytelling approach because it doesn’t really have a structure. Thorogood covers this six-month span of her life while spinning into hyper-imaginative asides and flashbacks that give context to her thought process. This graphic novel’s intimate account of very personal experiences is another thing that makes the story tough to critique because it’s so, well, personal. Thorogood allows readers a first-hand look at her depression, past traumas, and intimate life interactions. There’s an inescapable feeling while reading Centre of the Earth that we shouldn’t be seeing this – like we’re opening Thorogood’s sock drawer and reading her diary. Similar to Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, Thorogood illustrates her lowest moments alongside her greatest feats with seemingly no fear. This work’s greatest strength is how it balances levity and absurdity alongside the doldrums of normalcy – and the trenches of crippling depression. Thorogood’s choice to anthropomorphize the people she encounters in her life is very clever, and adds whimsy to some of the comic’s more delightful scenes. The humor – which always hits – feels that much better coming out of the bird-version of Thorogood’s best friend. One of my favorite scenes involves a convention and a little frog guy cackling like a goblin after Zoe draws him a picture. Most surprising though is just how much emotion she is able to wring out of these anthropomorphized figures. In true Bojack Horseman fashion, a boy with a cat’s head breaking off any possibility of romance somehow manages to be emotionally difficult to watch.
All of this is really just scratching the surface of what this graphic novel accomplishes – and just how deeply it delves into Thorogood’s personal life. Centre of the Earth is not a light read. As funny as this book often is, it’s matched by a very real bleakness due to Thorogood’s exploration of her own depression. For every belly laugh, there’s a heartbreak. While this is a warning about what readers will be getting into, it’s also an enthusiastic endorsement of how she discusses these complex issues. Her dialogue sensibilities and timing are stellar, feeling naturalistic while fitting into her dreamlike visualizations. Thorogood interweaves interaction and thought with her page structure to craft a reading experience that is both smooth and enrapturing. Her weakest moments are presented with a feeling of cold isolation, with dull grey colors and typically a plainer sequential style that slows down the reading pace. When Zoe dives deep into her own head is where the book – and her visual style – get immensely more creative. Any sort of panel and sequential structure is eschewed in favor of sheer imaginative depth. Thorogood blends so many artistic styles together – from her typical style to hyperrealism to simplified pencil sketches – to create something that is so uniquely hers. There are a couple moments where she actually incorporates photos into the book. This could easily be seen as overkill bordering on pretentiousness from other creators, but with this graphic novel’s tone and thematic feel, it’s a move that really works. Thorogood’s work here is the best example of a creation of something that is so wholly comics this year.
Zoe Thorogood’s It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth is a wondrous achievement as both an autobiographical discussion and as a piece of the comics medium. The skill and ingenuity of her visual storytelling approach is staggering and awe-inspiring. Thorogood’s courageous honesty is supported by her hilarious deadpan humor and then tied all together by her absolutely insane artistic vision. Centre of the Earth is an important work as a discussion of trauma, depression, and the hope that can keep one moving forward. This is an absolute must-read, and without a doubt one of the best comic creations of recent years.