Sunburn graphic novel review
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: Image Comics - 978-1-5343-2233-2
  • Release date: 2022
  • UPC: 9781534322332
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no

Sunburn begins in drab and dreary early 1960s UK suburbia, beautifully recreated by Simon Gane down to the old cars parked outside terraced housing. Teenage Rachel has the opportunity to spend the summer with family friends who now live in Greece, which was an exotic travel destination at the time before cheap package holidays. When she meets Peter and Diane they seem impossibly glamorous and sophisticated when compared to her parents.

Andi Watson’s plotting is leisurely, to let readers soak in the exotic atmosphere along with Rachel as she appreciates the scenery and wanders the stone paths around the villa in which she’s staying. Gane brings this to life with same attention to detail that characterised the UK suburbs, delivering stunning postcard views across frequent spreads while brightening the blue colouring to indicate the change of light. It’s intended as the seductive background for a summer romance, and gloriously fulfils the purpose.

Despite both parties initially uncertain about the way they’re thrown together, Rachel and Ben find common ground as British teens circulating among the far older expat community. He’s been there long enough to know some secrets, has ambitions to head home with a job, and Rachel finds him entertaining company. Watson’s storytelling is wonderfully nuanced, ensuring readers pick up on what Diane just doesn’t see, although not everything is disclosed until the end.

The poignant charm of Sunburn survives all the way through to the bittersweet revelations. Rachel learns a few lessons about life as she begins her path into adulthood, and those are as rocky as the steps down to the Greek beach. Watson and Gane keep everything understated, yet the emotional tension remains high as Rachel’s predicament connects. Unless you’re constantly stopping to appreciate the scenery, this is a relatively rapid read for such a bulky paperback, but a very absorbing and richly satisfying experience from start to finish.