The Wayside, by Julie Morstad, is gorgeous. Morstad paints ethereal and intriguing paintings using pen and ink, watercolors, and even collage at times. Her works, collected here, always have a twist, a bit of oddity to them. They hang together in the loosest of fashions. The main problem for me is that there are no words or even a plot. You may not need words, but a plot is nice, even just a hint of one.
The book opens promisingly with an image of a giant eye looking through a door, like someone peeking into a dollhouse. Then you see a girl jumping from rock to rock. Then the girl sees a person covered by a shroud sitting in a chair. (So far these images seem to be related.) Then there are many people in shrouds (I’m assuming women based on the shoes peeking out from under). The girl peeks underneath. One woman hands the girl her shoes. And a bat. The girl puts them on/takes it and walks off. She finds a piñata: is it a beehive? Yup. Bees. She runs away. (The plot, such as it is, begins to disintegrate). There are a series of sketches of people doing everyday activities. There is a series of sketches of household objects. People dancing. Children in gym class.
The last two images are of a girl (the girl?) lighting matches with a giant pile of things behind her (stilts made of pencils, a blanket fort, chairs, cards, laundry on a line). Is she going to set them on fire? And then a woman wrapped in a shroud sitting on a bench surrounded by household items. Is it the girl? Is it a cutting and insightful commentary about today’s consumerist society? Is it just a picture list of everything Morstad owns? There is not enough plot to make even the wildest stab at the answer.
I tell you all these images to give you a sense of what it is like to “read” this book. That is, you don’t. You contemplate. You ponder. You consider. You let the images wash over you and simply absorb them. Trying to find connections is an exercise in futility. These drawings just are.
Morstad is an illustrator. She has worked on a couple of children’s picture books, and some book covers. Her art is well developed and worthy of notice. And this book is a wonderful showcase of her art. But I would go so far as to say that this is not a graphic novel at all, but simply an art book, and should be treated as such.