by Jayden Leggett, Assistant Editor
Vowels, written and illustrated by Skye Ogden and published by the Australian comic powerhouse Gestalt Publishing, is a graphic novel that only contains graphics. Not a single word is printed within any of its panels. So exactly how does one read such a book? With great enjoyment is how.
Split over five chapters simply labelled as “A”, “E”, “I”, “O” and “U” (vowels, get it?), the content of each story is somewhat open to interpretation in regards to what the actual narrative events are. However due to the incredibly gorgeous and detailed black and white cartoon illustrations, what is easily conveyed to the reader is the range of emotions and moods that various characters are experiencing.
Feelings of love, lust, fear, jealousy, mistrust, sorrow, loneliness and more are prevalent throughout, and while the exact reasons for these different emotions may be interpreted differently between various readers, I found it very refreshing to read a comic in which word balloons and interior monologues were not necessary for discovering what is running through a characters mind, thanks to Ogden’s skill as an illustrator.
For those of you wanting to know what some of the narrative themes are that exist within this book, I will do my best to relay my interpretations of the various stories, while also avoiding spoilers (because I actually want people to buy this book and experience it for themselves). “A” seems to be a story about mankind at their most primitive form, as a caveman meets and falls in love with a very naked cavewoman. Her sexual appeal and female form attracts him, while his animalistic strength and muscles have a similar affect on her feelings towards him.
“E” seems to be about death and the afterlife, with exceptionally interesting visual depictions of heaven and hell. “I”, set in a village occupied by humanoid alien lizard people, tells a story of a man who is very over-protective of his partner and jealous of all who lay eyes on her, and the resulting consequences of his behavior. “O” stars another alien guy, this time appearing to be very melancholic and lonely, and dealing with the apparent loss of his loved ones.
The fifth and final story, “U”, is by far my favorite and features arguably the most hard-hitting storyline and thematic content. Set in a dilapidated and war ravaged city filled with slaughtered civilians, a remaining family desperately tries to evade being captured by an invading war party of soldiers, which even though presented in a cartoonish visual style, was still incredibly brutal and left me pondering about the various places in our world where this is the sad reality.
Each story seems to be set in a different time period, ranging from a prehistoric style setting through to modern times. And while the characters in each book aren’t necessarily the same each time (or even human for that matter), the most compelling thing about Vowels is how each story is an insight into the human condition and the ways in which humanity can behave, both good and bad. The inhumanity of war, our capacity to simultaneously love people and hate others, melancholic feelings of loneliness and isolation, this book was captivating from start to finish.
At the risk of repeating myself, I really must mention the art in this book again. Apart from the brilliant use of facial expressions to convey emotions, Ogden’s skills also enable him to communicate other information in clever ways. Instead of a caption box saying “20 years later”, a character suddenly being drawn with a long beard depicts the passing of time. Sentimental items are also used to create meaning, like a broken heart necklace depicting a lost love, or a stuffed toy symbolizing childhood, frailty and innocence. I loved being able to actively engage with the art on each page, and take my time to soak it all in and form my own meanings.
While the lack of any text or dialogue may be off-putting to some, if you enjoy comic books on any level then I implore you to grab Vowels immediately, as I struggle to think of any reasons as to why a person wouldn’t enjoy this book. Beautiful artwork combined with thought provoking storytelling and a completely honest portrayal of human emotion make Vowels a book I will definitely be re-reading again and again.
ComicsOnline strongly recommends purchasing your copy of Vowels directly from the Madman Entertainment website by following this link. And while you’re at it, check out the range of other amazing books on offer at Gestalt Publishing (also available for purchase from Madman Entertainment).
ComicsOnline gives Vowels 4 out of 5 naked cave women.
Spanning five imaginary eras, VOWELS examines the human condition through eyes that aren't human at all and serves as a gentle reminder to look at ourselves and all that we are capable of. Simple forms, detailed worlds, real characters. VOWELS marks the graphic novel debut of Skye Ogden, following on from the inclusion of his critically acclaimed short story in Gestalt Publishing's CHARACTER SKETCHES 2007 anthology "Awesome art direction and narrative. Truly an inspiring and reflective piece of brutality and beauty that deserves to be read by all." - Justin Randall