The Blue Road by Wayde Compton and April dela Noche Milne is a graphic novel that takes inspiration from centuries of illustration. Subtitled 'a fable of migration' it tells a story of Lacuna is a girl without a family, a past, or a proper home.
She lives alone in a swamp made of ink. she is expelled from that world by Polaris, the will o' the wisp, who cannot abide anyone else living in her swamp and would kill her, save for the deal Lacuna makes to leave and tell of Polaris' strength, danger – and beauty.
So she heads for the Northern Kingdom, to find people like herself, but the journey makes its mark upon her, until finally reaching the city. But along the way, she makes the decision, repeatedly, to make the journey easier for the next traveller behind her, whoever it may be. Or at least that is the intent. And it is city life that makes up the rest of the book, learning the specific rules that those not born in the city but abide by, staring at a magical mirror given to them all through the day or suffering intense pain.
Some will seize on the 'migration' in the subtitle, but 'fable' is the more active word. Closer to The Wizard Of Oz, itself a fable – though the details of that interpretation are often ignored – The Blue Road is about the journey but also the destination. And it is the journey that gives Lacuna the tools she needs to succeed in the city and forge a new path.
The use of the mirror device is a way to separate population, to add a heavier burden to one, but not an unbearable one – just more hoops to deal with every day. And while that can be a parallel for immigration to a city, it also reflects, as it were, many people's experiences with added hoops to jump through in their lives, from class to race to gender to disability. It's a little bit of genius,
The illustration style and palette choice rejects blacks for blues and browns, creating a faded, classical look, as if this were a story told and retold down the centuries, even if it has narrative choices reflecting modern city living. This can sometimes make it harder to read in places. There's one particular speech balloon towards the end which has black ink on a dark blue background balloon. I still don't know what it says. Tried reading it backwards in a mirror and everything…
The Blue Road by Wayde Compton and April dela Noche Milne is published by Arsenal Pulp Press of Canada.