By Ray Fawkes
Publisher: Oni Press
Format: Hardcover, black and white, $24.99
Reviewed by: Diamond BookShelf
One Soul uses a simple nine-panel grid to tell distinct yet interconnected stories of the lives and deaths of eighteen individuals across the globe and throughout history. Their lives begin similarly and branch outward from each other; some are struck down in their youth, while others lead long lives with varying degrees of success, pain, satisfaction and sorrow. But what do all of their collective and individual experiences add up to? What is the "reason and the meaning" behind a single life story, and what changes about this story when it is read as a small, interchangeable part of a much larger story? Is there only one story, and what is the meaning behind that? The characters seek answers even as they lose their individual identities and fade into an all-encompassing darkness, and One Soul examines these difficult questions in a way that is both artful and accessible.
The black and white artwork is simple yet evocative; using just enough detail to convey both individuality and sameness. Text and image are essentially interlocked in a structure that requires and rewards multiple readings. Each two-page spread tells the story of eighteen characters, devoting one panel to each. Readers can follow the individual stories of each character by following those panels, while reading through and looking at the overall design of each two-page spread reveals different meanings. Reading through the text found in black panels after characters have died tells yet another story. Beyond those readings, there are visual and textual echoes across the book. One Soul could serve as an excellent introduction to poetry and abstract art; as the different elements—the panels, pages and stories—can be continually reordered to reveal new meanings. Even the placement of words within panels and pages has significance.
Fawkes is careful to include a wide spectrum of lives; there is a mixture of joy and despair in each, and some enjoy old age and success while others live in torment or find their endeavors to be meaningless at the very end. There is also a fair amount of adult content, including violence, sexuality and drug abuse, although these are treated seriously and depicted in a way that is not overtly graphic. While this content makes the book a better fit for adults, the playful structure and earnest exploration of One Soul will also appeal to mature teenage readers, and provides a great example of how inventive and creative a graphic novel can be.