THE PEOPLE INSIDE
By Ray Fawkes
It’s been an hour since I’ve finished this. I want to get something down. I’m not together enough to do a serious critical piece. I’m not even sure I can write a review.
So I’ll write a recommendation.
This killed me. I actually verbalised a “No” at a plot turn, in a direct and uncontrollable way. And then I did it again. I’m sitting there, saying NO at the book, in a mute protestation of this is not how I want life to be. I simultaneously recognise its truth. Truths. The plural matters.
THE PEOPLE INSIDE is Ray Fawkes’ spiritual sequel to his ONE SOUL. ONE SOUL followed 24 stories, simultaneously, each set across all human history, each story getting a single panel in the double-page spread grid. That’s pretty fancy.
THE PEOPLE INSIDE takes a lot of the formal brilliance of ONE SOUL and adds more heart, pain and more things to say about humanity, specifically the parts related to love, sex and death. Oh – and more formal brilliance. For a moment, you think he’s repeating the structure of ONE SOUL, but you rapidly realise he’s actually building on it. I finished ONE SOUL enormously impressed at the virtuosity of it and amazed that Ray had pulled it off. I finished THE PEOPLE INSIDE genuinely wondering “How!?!?”
Once again, this follows twenty-four characters, but they’re all working in the same time period. We see them fall in love, fall out of love, fall apart, fall together. With a cast so large, we juxtapose these stories and people to create the complex ironies that speaking about life in any meaningful way demands. Yes, this is true, but this is also true and this is also true and all this is true and we’re all stuck in the grid – and grids always look like cages to me – and WTF is it all about anyway?
It’s about love, sex and death.
The enormous cast allows that multiplicity. There is no normality here, but life in its many ways of being, all – thanks to the democracy of the grid – being treated with equal prominence. Gay or straight, sadists or saints, a myriad ways of loving (and failing to love) are explored. Each double-page spread implicitly says all these are the same, a fractured prism of life being lived (or not).
For being a more complicated book than ONE SOUL, it’s also a more accessible one. It breaks you in gently, starting the cast all in couples, all these kisses (or not) lined up. You get to know them, and see how they link together. When we’re familiar, the complexity grows, and the whole cast marches off together towards oblivion.
It does a lot of things. It unpicks the concept of happy endings, while not falling into straight nihilism. It shows joy with nuclear intensity, and undercuts it with loss. It shows life as complex, recognises its fundamental, final sadness, and then still basically gives it a positive review on amazon. Characters destroy one another without realising. Characters destroy each other with realising. All love is transformative here, and all loss of love equally an event of self-annihilation (“Hell is other people”). Characters become someone else, even when they seem exactly the same to the world around them. We touch each other even when we don’t mean to. We’re not alone even when are.
It’s a masterpiece of the form and form. You would want it for that alone, but I think with this one Ray has nailed something much bigger than that. I want to spend the whole day pulling out individual panels and posting them, knowing that doing so would be utterly deceptive. Yes, it’s a book of chosen moments, but it’s a book of juxtaposition between all those moments, a book of limitations and a book of change. You owe it to yourself to read it. If you’ve read a better comic this year, I want your reading list. For me, I can’t think of a comic that has me in the gut as hard since… I KILL GIANTS, maybe? It feels a strange comparison, because for all THE PEOPLE’S INSIDE’s emotional content, it’s not that big sad pop song of a book. This is post-punk, arty, complicated. It’s great. I’m bitterly jealous. I’m impossibly excited. The world is an amazing place. The world is doomed. It’s amazing. I love you all.
This was so good that I’ve only just realised I’ve forgotten to feed my cat.
You can get THE PEOPLE INSIDE from your local comic shop, or an online bookseller (here’s one) or an online retailer (Here’s one). There’s a preview here. Yes.