"the portrait of an artist as a young woman."
The graphic novel Alison, by Lizzy Stewart, is literally and figuratively the portrait of an artist as a young woman. The work incorporates multiple art forms including narrative, dialogue, paintings, and the more traditional panels of a comic strip to construct the story of a young woman’s development into an artist and an independent creative, thinking person.
The first-person narrative is the tale of Alison Porter, born in 1958 in Bridport, Dorset. The narrator asserts, “We were ordinary, which made me assume we must be happy. Whether we felt it or not.”
Alison marries her first boyfriend Andrew shortly after she turns 18. Soon finding her “ordinary” life unfulfilling, Alison “takes up a hobby” at her husband’s suggestion. Befriended by an older, well-regarded artist named Patrick, Alison takes art classes and begins to sit for him. Encouraged by the seductive, manipulative Patrick, she moves to London, leaves behind her old provincial life and her husband. Alison explains: “I loved Patrick Kerr as a trapdoor out of my life long before I found I could love him as a man.”
Believing that she’s being freed from the constraints of her marriage and small-town life, Alison becomes a kept woman. Patrick becomes her mentor, teacher, social life, lover, and pays the rent for her flat. She also befriends other artists, develops her own skills, and becomes more independent. Her close friendship with a female sculptor named Tessa also helps her to evolve as a person and increase her self-confidence.
After four years of tolerating Patrick’s infidelities, narcissism, and dependence on him, Alison leaves him, finds a job, and sets out on her own in London. She writes, “Patrick Kerr wanted a woman who did not exist. . . . He wanted a woman who would never need anything from him, yet also who could be utterly reliant on him. . . . When finally, he didn’t want me at all, it was because I had found my own corner of the world and refused to let it assimilate into his.”
And so she does. Alison becomes a self-supporting artist whose works are exhibited in London galleries, develops a community of friends, and thrives.
The construction of Alison is a multifaceted work of art. It opens with a straightforward narrative about her early life accompanied by pictures that look like sepia-toned photographs. Some pages are simply full-page paintings—some like most of the art—appear like black-and-white ink wash paintings and a few in color. Other pages use more traditional comic book panels with word balloons. Stewart includes paintings of typed letters, handwritten notes, posters, and panels of her own art and pictures of other artists’ works. The colorful final double-page spread or crossover, portrays Alison sitting before her works in an at show. She is a mature, successful artist.
Visually, Alison is a beautifully crafted work. From the stunning, vibrantly colored cover that looks like an abstract painting of brush strokes and paint samples, to the formatting, collages of pictures, and panels. Her story is engaging, making readers cheer for her along her journey. Lizzy Stewart’s work is a testament to Alison’s or perhaps, if it’s autobiographical, the author’s own numerous talents and achievements.