The Great Beyond

Writer / Artist
The Great Beyond
The Great Beyond graphic novel review
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: Drawn and Quarterly - 978-1-77046-677-7
  • Release date: 2021
  • English language release date: 2023
  • UPC: 9781770466777
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: yes
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no

The first impression created by The Great Beyond is the vertigo-inducing front cover, with lead character Manel Naher poised on the precipice. It’s no wonder given the world of confused over-stimulation Léa Murawiec has her occupy, the buildings on every street extended infinitely upward and covered with signs and advertising, except on closer examination it’s names displayed.

Names are important in the world Manel occupies, and they’re intrinsically linked to health. The more people aware of your name, the healthier you are, and at the start Manel is employed just to look at lists of names. Her misfortune is to share a name with a celebrity known to millions who associate the name with the famous alternative, so impairing Manel’s health. The only possible solution is an extensive bout of socialising to increase people associating the name with her, but that’s anathema to Manel who’d rather haunt the local independent bookshop.

While satirising a world where some people consider their social media presence validates their lives and those desperate to star on ‘reality’ TV shows, Murawiec has a more sympathetic attitude to people who don’t buy into that and keep their online presence minimal as exemplified by Manel. Visually, she creates a fantastic nightmare, senses-assaulting city, which is incredibly work intensive, but reinforces the overwhelming nature of what Manel faces as variations are repeated. Away from that the drawing is flat and kept simple, prioritising figures, although inconsistently stylised, such as times when Manel strides on or off panel. It’s possible the use of colour is also allegorical, absent from the more mundane world of the isolated, but that could be incidental.

An element of hope is represented by the Great Beyond referred to in the title. Manel’s mother believes anything beyond the city limits must be a wasteland, but Manel and her friend Ali make vague plans to see for themselves, considering whatever’s there must be better than where they live.

The Great Beyond is a cleverly conceived satire, but extended too far. In both stages of her life Manel’s existence is hammered home when a more compact approach would hold the attention longer. Nor does an elusive ending pay off patience. Murawiec is definitely a talent to watch, but not letting ideas run out of steam needs attention.