Monday, February 23, 2015

YALSA top ten GNs 2009: Pitch Black

Pitch Black 
Written and illustrated by Youme Landowne and Anthony Horton.
Published by Cinco Puntos Press (2008).

If most people were approached by a large, black, homeless man on the New York subway they'd probably attempt to avoid any sort of conversation and possible even just get off the train entirely. But for whatever reason Youme Landowne didn't. Instead she met Anthony Horton, and spent a lot of time talking to him about art, life, and homelessness.

Vancouver (where I live) is like many cities in that it has a large homeless population. And while the Downtown Eastside might seem pretty terrible, it really can't compare to some of the places around the world. However, even when I see and am aware of homeless people in the city, it can be really easy to ignore them, or forget that they are humans with feelings, emotions, and pasts. (Though to be fair, I can forget about that for pretty much any human, homeless or not.)

Compared to many Horton seems to have had a pretty terrible life in a lot of ways, and the cards were clearly stacked against him from the start. He bounced around foster homes after his parents gave him up, and never learned to read or write or any other real skills.  He spent some time living in shelters, but found them worse than living outside. Eventually he found his way down to the subway tunnels, where he encountered other people, and made various homes for himself over the years.

In Pitch Black he shows Landowne where he lived, talks about his rules for survival ("Remember, anything you need can be found in the garbage"), and tells her about his friends who had helped him survive. In it's attempt to humanize Horton it manages to be sad, terrifying, and touching in equal parts.

The art by Landowne is not something that would work with a lot of stories. It seems to be lacking a lot of the detail and consistency that I associate with "good" comic book art. But somehow the thick, wavy panel borders and lines, the grey smudgy colour, and the art that sometimes feels as though it were cut off by the edge of the page does a good job of capturing what the underground tunnel system is like: grimy, claustrophobic, and dangerous. It doesn't look clean and it doesn't look safe, and thankfully due to this Landowne manages to avoid making living in subway tunnels seem appealing. (I mean, doesn't everyone want to do that?)

At about 60 pages this book is not that long, and the art is not the best by most standards, but as a whole the comic does manage to capture some of what it feels like to be homeless. Reading Pitch Black can help you understand how difficult life can be for some people, but also that no matter who they are people are still people and still have wants, needs, and rights.

After reading this comic I'd hoped that Horton had managed to improve his life to some extent, but  it seems as though up until his death in a fire in 2012 he continued to be homeless. Not exactly the uplifting note you want a story like this to end on, but sadly, real life doesn't work that way.

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