You can buy What is Left as part of Don't Go Without Me here
Almost two years ago, just after I moved out to L.A., I had the random urge to grab a six-pack and write about one comic per beer on some random Friday night. I think I made it two beers in before I went down some YouTube rabbit hole about something or other, but the first beer coincided with me finally having the courage to write about What is Left.
Today, when I was picking a comic randomly out of my shoe box to review, What is Left made its way into my hands again. Each time I read it, something new sticks out. The only part of the story that maintains the same familiar feel for me is the part that grabbed me the most the very first time I read it back in New York riding on the LIRR: the quiet, yet feverish immersion into Kelo's memories, as Isla lays by her side, telling Kelo her name.
I'm getting choked up just typing about it!
I think that this might be, as a one-off story, as a visual narrative work, however I may want to qualify it, I don't know... I think that this is probably the best comic I have ever read.
I think about it all the time. Just like last time I wrote about it, reading it this time felt like a momentous occasion. I waited until everything else was done with my day, until I could put everything aside just to click the reading light on to read this book.
My fiancée (aw this is the first time I've gotten to write this on here!) was watching Friends and saw me reading and paused it saying, "oh! you're reading, is this distracting?" I assured her it wasn't as I held back tears, yet again staring in aw at this goddamn page.
On my last read, what grabbed me was the way the two-tone colors drove the story, graced by jabs of one-two pacing-punches like the bottom half of this page. Last time I said, "I can hear everything Isla says in the way she speaks: her cadence is palpable, ringing with a kind of timidity that I understand on a level that feels intimate."
But it's more than that. It's not just the pauses in her words: Isla's body language, her expressions – Isla's mannerisms come to us in small groups of two here, and three there, just like Kelo's memories. Valero-O'Connell isn't just doing cinematography: as a director, she's getting one hell of a performance out of her leading lady.
We see it just above with Isla's timidity rendered as she sits in the fetal position, peeking over at Kelo. Before this she was casually leaning back on one arm, sitting on Kelo's bookshelf, chatting with her. After a few turns and a few words, we see her in this position, and then we see her go further. "I really shouldn't be talking to you," she says, as she slips deeper into her own apparently misguided instinct to self-preserve by not getting too close to Kelo given the circumstances.
That set of gestures is the most emblematic of those which drive the tension that is built up and released during the final moments of the book. Isla lets her guard down as if all at once, following beat-after-beat of her timidly looking-on at Kelo's life or withdrawing into herself for security.
How exquisite (and earned) this sequence is. It's the one I read over and over again every time I pick up the book, only this time I realized how it works its magic on me. It's all about the way Isla moves through physical space with her body language, inching through scenes that are otherwise driven by psychedelic colors and temporal shifts.
Isla with her hand nervously on one arm, Isla as her head turns further, Isla's eyebrows perking up as she shares her name, Isla reaching out for Kelo's hand --
The first two times I read this story, I mostly got emotional about Kelo, I think. I thought about how real she seems. Isla for me was sort of a romantic vector through which I experienced the story vicariously.
But Isla is also just so, so real. The tension in the story, Kelo's calm – if not entirely conscious – sacrifice is contrasted ultimately with Isla finally breaking down a little bit and turning her vulnerability outward. All of that feels real to the reader because Isla makes these things known through the subtle kinds of movements we take for granted in the physical presences of the people around us.
Hate to leave you to your quarantine on that note but,