Review by Megan Sinclair
Marjorie is a lonely young girl, struggling to keep her family afloat after the death of her mother. Amidst going to school she runs her late mother’s laundry shop, which is failing under the intrusive eye of local yoga master and wannabe business entrepreneur Mr Saubertuck, who wants to convert the property into a fiver-star spa resort.
Trapped in an endless cycle of soaps and suds and unable to come to terms with her grief, the things that used to fulfil her no longer make her happy. Marjorie is unaware, however, that a certain ghost also feels lost and alone. Wendell is relatively new to the Ghost World and cannot seem to fit in or obey the many rules of the ghostly realm, so instead he seeks the companionship of a human. Can the odd combination of a laundromat and ghosts really help them both?
Sheets is Brenna Thummler’s first original graphic novel and shows her creative depth and range. The artwork is beautiful, lightly toned for Marjorie’s narrative and washed in pale blue for Wendell’s. A particularly memorable moment, however, is shown in only a few pages where the comic shifts to stark black and white as Wendell’s inability to discuss his death results in a wild and wonderful childlike interpretation of his demise. Indeed, with themes of death and acceptance, Sheets is a story of two children that need each other in order to heal.
Despite its serious themes, Sheets is a heartwarming and often funny graphic novel. The ghosts offer a humorous insight to the world of the dead, as instead of depicting them as ghoulish representations of their human identity, Thummler draws the ghosts as Halloween costumes; simply a white sheet with black dots for eyes. The simplicity makes the little details added to their characters all the more amusing, from the police ghosts, to the backwards caps and floral head-banded youth ghosts. Similarly, despite his meddling and villainy, the over the top Mr Saubertuck also provides much of the comedy, making the story a wonderful combination of loss, life and laughter.
Sheets is important as an all-ages adventure that tackles the difficult topic of bereavement, unexpectedly powerful, offering both characters a personal journey through life and death. The cast may be colourful, or in some cases crisp and white, but the story is as simple and satisfying as freshly pressed linen, as a story of friendship, of a bond that stretches far beyond the afterlife, and the book itself. Marjorie’s life wrapped up in dirty laundry may seem ghoulishly mundane but the experience of reading Thummler’s work was not, it is hauntingly mesmerising and well worth a read.