Review by Frank Plowright
Eleanor lives in a large house with her brother Robert and his ailing wife Cora, sometime in the late 19th century. Their interactions are furtive and manipulative, each sexually frustrated and dependent on someone, and often resenting that. Eleanor is extremely short-sighted, but refuses cataract surgery, while Cora rarely strays from bed and self-harms.
Julia Gfrörer’s third graphic novel is as glum and engaging as her previous works, the cast trapped and unfulfilled, and horror built around that. There’s some playful allegory, particularly a scene where a doctor treats Eleanor’s eye bringing to mind Luis Buñuel’s famous eye cutting sequence from Un Chien Andalou. Gfrörer drags that out for just nine seat-squirming panels, then provides eighteen panels of complete darkness to consider it. The use of multiple black panels over more than a single page indicates different events, and refers to the possible double meaning of the title.
The eye sequence is far from the only unsettling event. Cora’s self-harm is very matter of fact, almost formalised, and Eleanor converses with someone through her mirror, confessing her desires and depression. What in the present day are taken for manifestations of ghostly activity occur, and Gfrörer sustains a constant tension via the unknown. We’re never quite sure how much of what Eleanor experiences is actually happening. Is the ghostly presence in the mirror just a manifestation of her suppressed desires, for instance, or something more chilling? For all the strangeness of that relationship it’s one of the few aspects of life offering Eleanor moments of happiness. It’s weirdly contradictory.
Contradictions extend to the art, which is sketchy in style, yet precise in detail, in that respect similar to Eddie Campbell’s work. The relentless use of nine panels per page, be they illustrations or darkness, reinforces how Eleanor is confined within her world, with no obvious release on the horizon. Anyone familiar with Gfrörer’s earlier work knows not to expect a cheery way out for Eleanor, and although that presents itself, she instead chooses to ensure she’s master of her own fate.
No comfort is on offer from start to finish, yet Vision is a fascinating read appealing to an inner attraction to darkness, an individual vision if you will, prioritising a mood, yet a compelling glimpse into a fate foretold.