Luca’s role has always been that of caretaker. Her father is dead and her mother institutionalized, so it falls to Luca to take care of her unstable older sister, Gae. They’ve cobbled together a life, but their fragile peace begins to shatter when Gae’s grip on reality seems to worsen. Is she really mentally ill or does her talk about the past and their parents’ former profession have something to do with the bizarre dreams Luca has been having and the sudden visits from the sinister nurse at their mother’s hospital?

Readers’ will first be caught by Nowak’s stunning illustrations, but she does not allow their power to overshadow her story. Luca is a fascinating main character. Caught between her desire to help her sister and her longing for the more normal life of a college student, her struggles will be recognizable to anyone who has ever been forced into a caretaker role. Even if you haven’t had to play that part, Nowak clearly illustrates her problems in such a way as to engender sympathy and understanding, rather than pity. Gae’s troubles are equally well illuminated, as she tries to make people see the truth, but finds it overshadowed by the rumor of madness. Other characters are not quite as fleshed out in this first volume—the well-meaning best friend, the blind date who is totally the wrong fit for Luca, the menacing hospital staff. Nowak seems to leave clues that they will become important later on in the story, but that doesn’t happen in this volume.

Visual details abound and readers will want to spend time staring at the beauty of each page. Nowak’s illustrations literally gleam. She highlights lips, cheeks, noses, hair with delicate light spots which give the impression that her characters are glowing from within, even in the darkest of moments. The fantasy elements gradually spread throughout the reality of the story, softly taking over Luca’s world, but never pushing hard at her. Her text boxes are small, but not crowded, which keeps them from overshadowing the luminous illustrations. In her use of panels, Nowak shows herself a master of her craft. Overlapping each other, the panels offer a variety of views: some show other aspects of the action happening on that page, others show related elements or actions which are taking place at other locations. Instead of limiting herself to straight edged panels, Nowak plays around with ovals, circles, and even moon shapes. Sometimes the main story is in smaller panels overlapped on top of a panel providing the background, all filled with beautifully shaded and colored illustrations. This beautiful art style, combined with a slightly suspenseful story, makes this a highly recommended read for comics fans looking for new, unique talent.

Unholy Kinship
Naomi Nowak
ISBN: 978-1-56163-482-8
NBM/Comics Lit, 2006

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