Best Of British: ‘All The Places In Between’ Is A Masterpiece Of Quiet, Powerful, Emotional Storytelling

by Richard Bruton

Summary

Beautiful, drifting, emotional work from a great British comic maker. A stunning example of how powerful comics can be, even when they’re as quiet and restrained as this. All The Places In Between will take you on a journey that you won’t forget.
One of the books of my year for certain.

Overall
10/10
10/10

A quiet comic that explores our lives, our mental health, and our sense of who we are… John Cei DouglasAll The Places In Between is quite heartbreakingly wonderful.

All The Places In Between opens with this Tove Jansson quote…

There are empty spaces that must be respected, those often long periods when a person can’t see the pictures or find the words and needs to be left alone. – Tove Jansson – Fair Play

And it’s quite the perfect description of what awaits you here.

The idea of the blankness, the emptiness that too many of us are familiar with, the guilt of doing nothing, the feeling of sinking into a depression, something the pandemic of 2020 & 2021 has only made worse, fear, depression, anxiety, that sense of hopelessness – it’s all here in this book. But this is more than that, this is a book that gives us all hope, this confronts the very worst that can happen and moves through it, out into the light beyond.

Near completely wordless, presented in variations on a 2×2 grid per page and making incredible use of the full potential of the language of comics, All The Places In Between is a meditation on surviving, on seeing it out, of getting through. This is a stunning example of how powerful comics can be, even when they’re as quiet and restrained as this is.

Of course, that’s just my take on it. Some of the beauty of Douglas’ works is that there’s so much left to interpretation here and it’s perfectly reasonable that each reader could come away from this with subtly different understandings of what it’s all about. Douglas says as much in this Facebook post

“All The Places In Between is inspired by my experiences with mental health, through wanting to communicate how it really feels to struggle with anxiety and depression.
There are no words throughout in order to leave space for others, and hopefully offer a feeling of empathy and understanding. I find the best parts of things are always in the empty spaces, the parts that let your mind wander and make you feel part of them, and hope my book can offer even a little bit of that to someone.” – John Cei Douglas

It is everything he wanted it to be and so much more, it really is.

A character sits and imagines themselves as some other version, someone different (better?), someone who can do more than just sit here, someone who can get themselves together.

But instead, they just sit there until their boat is unhitched to make their way through a storm, a miserable time of dark clouds and rain – I think we’ve all been right there. Which is, of course, the whole point of All The Places In Between, it’s a book we can all see ourselves in.

Everything here builds and builds, the character going through the anxiety, the depression, the hopelessness, all of it leading to a moment of terrifying realisation, of seeing the very worst that could happen, the tragic end that could/did happen when there’s just no hope left.

But, having taken us all the way down, Douglas gives us hope, something to remind those of us who are down in the worst of it that all is not hopeless and that there is help available, often from those who’ve been down there before.

It’s such a beautiful piece of work, a delicate, thought-provoking, drifting thing. This is the very hardest form of storytelling to get right and Douglas has made something so perfect, so right. This is visual poetry. This is music on the page.

As I read it, I felt myself be caught up in the sweep of it all, feelings and emotions manipulated in the very best way, the way all great works do. The way Douglas shapes the imagery and guides your thoughts struck me as equivalent to the way that musicians and composers create something that ebbs and flows, with the music creating its own narrative, melodies that fill your imagination with imagery, with understanding… it’s a work of that sort of fabulous, inspirational beauty.

(No doubt you have your own pieces of music that do what I’m talking about with All The Places In Between, but mine include the majestic sweep of Vaughan Williams’ Lark Ascending, Kate Bush’s Aerial, and most of the albums of Kraftwerk. With all of those, I have the same sense of being taken on an emotional journey, a transformative work.)

All The Places In Between is up there not just with the best of comics but with the best of art. What it does is so special, so perfect.

This might be a book that initially seems a slight piece but, with each reading, you’ll find yourself drawn into its familiar world, the world of your imagination, the world of John Cei Douglas‘ imagination, for a story that takes a long, hard, look into the mind and soul of the artist and the reader.

 

All The Places In BetweenJohn Cei Douglas. Published by Liminal 11

%d bloggers like this: