An elegy. A lament for the dearly departed. How often, after someone’s passing, do we wish we had said or done more? That we ask for just a few more moments with our loved one to say our final goodbyes. And worst of all, what if you were the one that people needed to say goodbye to. Well, what if someone could do it for you? That’s the basic premise of Archaia’s An Elegy for Amelia Johnson, and is the story I’m going to tell everyone to read this year.
Written by newcomer Andrew Rostan and illustrated by Dave Valeza and Kate Kasenow, An Elegy for Amelia Johnson is not a flashy action or sci-f story. It’s the revelatory tale of one woman and the effect she’s had on the world around her. Thirty-year-old Amelia Johnson hasn’t had a spectacular life, but she certainly has led a full one — until a year ago when she was diagnosed with cancer. She put up a good fight, but sometimes, as we all know, that’s not enough. With weeks left of her life, she calls upon her two closest friends to help her fulfill her final wish — saying her goodbyes.
Henry Barrons, a documentary filmmaker who’s still grasping onto that one Oscar he won and Jillian Webb, a magazine writer who’s a bit of a commitment-phobe, are those friends. Oddly enough, though Jillian has known them both for many years, they hadn’t met each other until she brought them together for her appointed task. They’ll travel across the country talking with and filming people Jililan felt a special connection to in life and in turn, deliver video messages Jillian herself has made for them. Both individuals are having trouble at work and both have a best friend who is about to die. Of course, it’s Jillian who’s taking it best while the two of them struggle to come to terms with the inevitable.I won’t disguise the fact that An Elegy for Amelia Johnson is a very heartbreaking book. As a person living with a degenerative disease, it hit very close to home and I cried several times while reading it. Obviously it will make anyone consider their own mortality. It makes you reflect on what people would say about you if you were close to death. Would they say nice things? Bad things? Would they have anything to say at all? But it also manages to put a positive spin on the ending of one life by showing what that could mean for the future of everyone else.
Although it’s not an autobiographical story, An Elegy for Amelia Johnson reads like one. The sheer effortlessness of Rostan’s words are clear almost immediately. In a way, it reads a bit like Craig Thompson’s Blankets in that from one moment to the next, you’re living the story right along with the main characters. You’re learning about these people the most innocent way possible — through the eyes of others. Because although we may not always see ourselves with clarity, our closest companions will always see the best and worst in us. Valeza and Kasenow’s illustrations are unfussy and delightful and the black and white format seem to fit with the truth displayed in its pages. They show that the characters’ every emotion is worn on their sleeve. Even if the other characters don’t get it, we do.
An Elegy for Amelia Johnson is in previews now and will be in stores this March. It’s still early in the year but don’t miss out on this one. Trust me when I say it will be named one of the best graphic novels of 2011.Click here for more Hey, That's My Cape! Columns