The field of comics, also sometimes known as graphic novels, is dominated by male creators and readers. However, there's been increasing push in the last few decades by women to enter the field and make their mark. Though comics drawn by women are gaining popularity, most are classified as "indie," distributed by small publishers that may not be able to advertise or place volumes in prominent bookstores. Naomi Nowak's most recent graphic novel, Graylight, is designated indie, though it deserves to be appreciated by a wider audience.
Sasha is a German photographer on assignment somewhere in northern Europe, where the sun stays up all night in summer. She is a mysterious person, a foreigner. She attracts the attention of a journalist, and he invites her to join him on his quest to interview a famous recluse. The woman takes a disliking to both of them and refuses to grant him an interview. But Sasha leaves with her own prize—a book stolen from the house.
The woman's son follows her home to demand its return, and attraction sparks. But the reclusive old woman is no ordinary woman. She is a witch, with a grudge against women like Sasha, who play with men. When the witch's son takes an interest in Sasha, his mother takes action to destroy her. The witch's son is not Prince Charming, but he does save Sasha, changing his relationship with his mother. He asserts his independence, but in the end Sasha, true to form, leaves town to find some other hearts to break.
The plot summary is intriguing, yet its execution is not entirely clear. I found myself re-reading several times, trying to spot clues I may have missed. Plot is not Nowak's primary concern here—impressions of character and mood supersede coherency of plot.
Nowak is an artist who studied painting and illustration. She brings those skills to her comics, creating page after page of exquisite visuals. The colors are watercolor shades, ranging from pastel to flamingo and lime. The inking is both intricate and vague; symbolic or decorative flowers and crystals are detailed while faces and unimportant objects are only partially defined. Every knot in a sweater is drawn to give its precise texture but the shoes disappear into the background. Nowak focuses attention on what she wants the reader to notice. Pages where there's almost too much detail are deliberately overwhelming.
The style reminds me of the Japanese manga Paradise Kiss. Graylight is exquisitely rendered, and worth looking through for the art alone. Nowak's website contains examples from the book, a more compelling argument to pick it up than I could ever make.
Comics and graphic novels are not as easy to create and produce as some may think. Nowak has made something beautiful, if imperfect in its storytelling. I look forward to seeing her skills progress.