Writer / Artist
Alternative editions:
Alison graphic novel review
Alternative editions:
  • UK publisher / ISBN: Serpent's Tail - 978-1-788169-06-6
  • Release date: 2022
  • UPC: 9781788169066
  • Contains adult content?: yes
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: yes
  • Positive minority portrayal?: yes
  • CATEGORIES: Slice of Life

Alison is Lizzy Stewart’s autobiography of the fictional Alison Porter’s life, primarily her experiences of the art world in 1980s and 1990s London. Stewart takes the unusual approach of mixing her media, so blocks of text accompany illustrations, faux photographs, letters and noticeboard ephemera between sections of comics. It’s a method Stewart used for her first graphic novel Walking Distance, and an initial thought may be that a piecemeal approach in constructing a life won’t be the most effective. That’s an assumption proven wrong time and again as Stewart picks her processes immaculately in a beautifully nuanced unveiling.

Like many before and since, Alison lacks the experience to distinguish teenage infatuation from true love, but comes to realise the connections absent in her marriage. Her life changing moment is meeting Patrick. At first she’s unaware he’s an internationally renowned painter, as he’s running an art class while in Dorset, but realisation comes, both of his status and her own potential. Insightful observations accompany Alison’s growth as she discovers a world beyond rural Dorset and a developing personality to discard the shackles of compliance.

Stewart is especially good at delivering pauses, the periods where life seems to have stalled, in Alison’s case indicating isolation. The same technique of accumulating illustrations capturing moments is also applied to joyful moments of friendship, always illustratively poised. It’s only with a few watercolour paintings that Stewart’s art falls below emotionally strong. The grey wash used for most comic sequences accompanies delicate, evocative drawings.

The writing never dips below emotionally strong as Stewart skilfully guides readers from one theme to the next, encompassing the pretentious desperation of the fine art world, the gaps separating assumptions and reality, and how uncertainty is a constant accompaniment to some lives. While presented as faked autobiography, Alison is more properly a sequential collection of feelings, observations and impressions. It’s consistently insightful, subtle and engaging, yet surprisingly unsentimental. Stewart appropriates Thomas Hardy’s technique of a good kick to the bollocks in every novel, and the moment brings home how deeply she’s made you care. Even warned, you won’t see it coming.

It’s no surprise to see Posy Simmonds quoted on the paperback cover, as Stewart takes the tone and emotional depth of Simmonds and weaves her own magic to create a remarkable graphic novel. Magnificence beckons.