The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott is Zoe Thorogood’s debut graphic novel and it’s simply wonderful. A confident, accomplished thing, a multi-layered look at a young artist on the cusp of greatness, suddenly faced with losing everything she believes defines her.
One of the strongest comic debuts for many, many years and essential reading.
You want great young talent? Well, here’s Zoe Thorogood‘s The Blindness of Billie Scott; a stunning debut of a major British graphic novelist.
Okay, so I’m way late on this one, it was published in 2020 and I’ve had it in the to-read list for a long time (hey, it’s a long, long list). But seriously, this is one you’re going to want to pick up.
A couple of years out of university Thorogood has made a stunning debut graphic novel, something that’s on a Tillie Walden level of fully-formed artist. Yes, it’s that damn good. It really is.
Here,Thorogood tells her tale of Billie Scott, that’s her above, an artist with a debut gallery exhibition opening in a few months, something that she believes will change her life, take her art and her exposure and her success to the next level, an exhibition demanding ten new works from her, ten original pieces.
Except Billie’s going blind, and soon. She’s got maybe two weeks before she loses her sight completely.
The how and why is explained in the first few pages, just one chance encounter, a simple mistake, a wrong turn in her life, but that’s really not the point of it all, not the point at all.
No, the whole thing about The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott is that this is happening, happening to an artist, a girl, a woman, whose life is defined, or so she thinks, by what she sees and how she commits it onto canvas.
Suddenly, her sight is going, shown so well by Thorogood, with a simple flourish of showing us the world through Billie’s eyes, black spots already beginning to fill her vision.
But it’s how Thorogood shows Billie responding to her impending blindness that drives this incredible example of how damn good British comic creators can really be.
The diagnosis of her impending blindness is just the trigger, just the start of her journey, a journey from the North of England, Middlesborough, down the M1, all the way to London, where she’s dropped into the world of modern Britain, poverty, austerity Britain.
And that’s where her adventure really begins, looking for ten people to paint for her exhibition, ten people to make her life complete before she loses her sight, before she loses herself. After all, what’s an artist without her way to view the world?
And that’s the whole point of The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott, the idea of what makes us real, what it is that gives us a purpose, and just how that can define us, in our own heads, gives us worth, gives us life. For Billie, it’s her art, but for the reader, for me, for you, what would that mean to have such a life-changing moment, well, that’s the question we’re made to ask ourselves thanks to the brilliance of Thorogood.
We journey with Billie to London, we follow her in making her portraits, the things she believes that define her. And as she collects the portraits, we have the major beats in Thorogood’s amazing debut.
But in between those major beats, the key moments in The Impending Blindness, there are so many minor beats, the little moments that actually holds it all together, the small things that actually define her, define us, the tiny, easily overlooked, things that make us who and what we are.
Billie’s journey may be about getting those ten portraits on the macroscopic level but, in truth, it’s really about a person coming to terms with who they really are through the minutiae of their day-to-day existence.
It’s about the friendships, the family that she discovers on her travels, and her realisation that perhaps, just perhaps, there are things more important than the singular ten-portrait mission she’s set herself.
Through it all, Thorogood gives us wholly believable characters, thanks to her eye for characterisation and her ear for realistic dialogue, one of everyday wit, commonplace moments, the to-and-fro of real people talking about their real lives.
And then there’s the art, so accomplished and so perfectly formed, not a moment out of place, not a panel that doesn’t contribute to the flow of the overall work. Such comic smarts are so rare, so good, that this is something that’s so wonderful, a graphic novelist, a comic creator who understands, implicitly, what it means to tell a story in pictures, her art and story setting the pace of the impending blindness that Billie is always fighting against, her pacing so good, her storytelling so strong. Yep, a debut that deserves all the praise it’s been receiving.
In the end, The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott works on every level, a stunning piece of comics, a philosophical treatise about what is important to us, about art, about creativity, about what it is that drives us all.
A wonderful book, a stunning debut.
The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott – Zoe Thorogood – published by Avery Hill
Available from all great comic shops and the Avery Hill website.