Other People by Joff Winterhart
Sunday, January 6, 2019 at 7:40AM
TChris in Graphic Novel, Joff Winterhart

Published by Simon & Schuster/Gallery 13 on September 4, 2018

Other People is a graphic novel that Joff Winterhart wrote as two separate but related stories. The stories take place in England. The first chronicles a summer in the life of a middle-aged woman named Sue and her teenage son Daniel, whose father has gone to live in America. Sue and Daniel argue quite a bit, to the family dog’s dismay. Daniel spends his time listening to heavy metal. Sue spends her time crying.

The first story is told from a third person perspective in snippets, a few panels per page encapsulating a slice of a day. The second story is told from Daniel’s perspective. The format is similar, although the story is longer and the panels that relate each snippet generally cover two pages.

The second story follows the first by about ten years. Daniel has cut his hair, moved back home, and dedicated himself to the uncertain task of finding something to do at which he will not fail. Apart from spending sleepless nights plagued by dread and regret, he gets a job with Keith Nutt. He hopes to use the job to find himself, maybe to spark a career, but his primary duties consist of listening to Keith’s stories and walking Keith’s dog. Even at those duties, Daniel does not excel, at least in Keith's view.

The illustrations are simple drawings (black ink in the first story, blue and brown in the second). The drawings capture the essence of the characters, portraying none of them in a flattering light. The simplicity of the art enhances the honesty of the story. There are no frills here, no illusions. What you see is all there is.

Other People is a close, nuanced look at ordinary people living drab lives. Daniel at least knows his life is empty. Keith and most of the other characters cover their hollowness with a façade of meaning that Daniel comes to appreciate. Daniel even finds himself appreciating Keith as he realizes that their fundamental similarities outweigh their vast differences. His job gives him little to do, but it opens his eyes to a world full of other people, all the people he never noticed before. At the same time, nearly everyone he encounters knows that Daniel can make more of his life than he will ever manage with Keith.

The stories immerse the reader in Daniel’s ennui and anxiety. They are, at times, a painful reading experience, particularly when Daniel’s relationship with his mother (in the first story) and with Keith (in the second) is at its worst. At the same time, the poignant stories encourage the reader to root not just for the primary characters but for all individuals who are searching for a way to give their lives purpose.

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