The brainchild of British creator Sacha Mardou, Sky in Stereo follows college age Iris through the early 1990s as she experiments with religion, drugs, and low paying first jobs. What started as an intermittent webcomic has blossomed into a fully realized graphic novel filled to the brim with the experiences that come with growing up.
The book opens with Iris’s stepfather talking though a doorway with some proselytizing Jehovah’s Witnesses. Although taunting of the faith ensues, Iris’s mom enthusiastically joins the church and works hard to get Iris on board. The first chapter ends with an argument between Iris and her mother because mom is upset that Iris has dabbled with—and ultimately rejected—eternal salvation through the path of righteous Jehovah’s Witnesses.
That’s a lot for the first chapter, right?
The rest of the story unfolds as Iris has a seeing-the-light moment with John Paul Sartre and earns her first paycheque at a fast food joint (where the socializing is as important as the product). Midway through the narrative, Iris experiments with some drugs and has a really powerful acid trip. After she trips, comes down, and wanders the streets in search of “the blue line,” the reader leaves Iris as she’s on the cusp of a mental breakdown. Throughout it all, Iris has some profound insights that are juxtaposed against the more mundane, but still influential parts of late adolescence.
Mardou does a fantastic job of presenting the real life complexities of questioning one’s place in the world through moments big and small. My favorite thing about Sky in Stereo is the way the author explores the ideas how choices—presented as neither good nor bad—can compound upon each other, leading us to situations never before imagined. One of Mardou’s strongest talents is her ability to create realistic dialogue; both the internal dialogue that comes with existential crises and the banter between friends is sharp and interesting. Music abounds and the story has its own soundtrack filled with the Smiths, the Cure, and more.
The comic is wonderfully drawn with crisp black and white line art that gives depth and reality to the story; even when Iris is tripping and experiencing alternate realities, Mardou keeps the art realistic without delving into psychedelic trippy tropes. She gets kudos for keeping Iris at the center of the narrative and the art. Pages follow a fairly structured nine panel format. The layout, the line work, and the black/white balance combine to create a visual narrative that is easy and interesting to follow.
As coming of age stories go, Sky in Stereo is good. Iris’s story will resonate with seekers, finders, and anyone who has ever found themselves on the cusp of something terribly unexpected. Placement within a young adult collection could be tricky for this title; there is explicit drug use, curse words, and some sex. It may also have more nostalgic appeal for an audience who has lived through many of the challenges Iris faces.
My single complaint about Sky in Stereo is the abrupt ending. However, that’s explained by the “Volume one” in the title. Look forward to the sequel due out in late Spring of 2016.
Sky in Stereo, Vol. 1
by Sacha Mardou
Alternative Comics, 2015