Review by Woodrow Phoenix
Follow Me In is a combination of travelogue, diary, and graphic memoir. Katriona Chapman, a young woman unsure about how she wants to direct her life, decides with Richard, her boyfriend to leave their jobs and embark on a major journey around Mexico. Overshadowing this momentous plan is the fact that Richard is an alcoholic, something neither of them has acknowledged. Kat is an artist who hasn’t drawn for five years, and part of her mission with this trip is finding her way back to art by drawing every day, documenting their arrival in Mexico, the places they visit and the people, artefacts and situations they encounter along the way.
The travel reporter’s assignment to faithfully observe and report as much minutia as possible, detailing bus rides, hotels and rooms, meals and hikes, is admirably handled with careful, informative images made with precision and skill. We do absolutely feel as if we are silent observers on this trip criss-crossing the country.
For both Kat and the reader, the reward for hours, days, of slogging through hot, dusty, confusing, dense and frequently intimidating landscapes is to arrive at the truly astonishing vistas that are depicted in full-page and sometimes two-page spreads. A dazzlingly vertiginous waterfall, a massively imposing pyramid, a complex assembly of ruins. At these points everything stops and the book swells with the sense of achievement. Lushly textured, warm drawings convey the feeling of reaching a goal, soaking it in, resting and luxuriating in sights few people are privileged to see. There are many places in the narrative where we could experience more of these kinds of vistas, but the book has so much ground to cover that the narrative proceeds ever onwards from one eight hour bus journey or five hour walk to the next, missing chances to let the reader see and share in what the itinerary is all for. A terrifying mountain bus journey around hairpin bends and along crumbling cliff-edges with sheer drops to nothingness deserves a double-page spread, but is passed over in two panels to get to the next hotel room description. These storytelling choices pack this book with information and yet leave it mute at some potentially key moments.
Follow Me In is given a structure by anchoring the hot, textured travel narrative between a cooler, flatter prologue and epilogue. Kat and Richard meet up by Kings Cross station in London. They awkwardly yet affectionately reflect on their trip and how Richard’s drinking derailed their relationship. In the main narrative, we are shown these moments when Kat begins to feel suffocated by the pressure of dealing with his alcoholism: the symbol of her pain and the growing problem is a green snake which wraps itself around her in ever tightening coils. It’s a brilliant, scary visual metaphor, opening up the narrative into an intriguing psychological landscape, but is again left unexplored, thwarted by the concentration on recording daily distances travelled, routes taken and rooms rented.
The 200 pages of Follow Me In include a few of these glimpses of an alternate, internal story that loses out to the demands of travel reportage. The lush surfaces of Kat’s storytelling and the relentless forward motion occasionally function to keep the reader at a distance rather than allow us to feel what she feels. But she succeeds in her mission to convey the look and feel of her journey around Mexico with densely-pencilled pages of beautifully woven observation. On closing this book, you’ll feel like you took that trip too.