Russell Jones and Aimee Lockwood
(Tapsalteerie, 2021); pbk £12
Based on a thirteen-poem series, The Wilds is a powerful poetry comic – written by Russell Jones and illustrated by Aimee Lockwood – connects the themes of grief, the natural world, and survival. It explores the experience of a teenage girl coming to terms with the death of her mother, understanding that loss is never easy but can be survived. Written in a variety of forms but tending towards free verse or an alternating rhyme scheme, ’13. In Flight’ suggests that
A note is not loved because it is long,
but because it raises the
pitch of our songs[.]
The Wilds draws on Jones’s and Lockwood’s combined knowledge of the publishing world and mutual desire to address loss, grief, and recovery through connection with the natural world. The story begins with the ritual burial of the mother’s body where the girl remarks that ‘Her vacancy/ is something I cannot bear’, and so runs away. The colours used in the illustrations at this stage are cold, reflecting the seeming emptiness of the world around her. Yet by the end of the book, the colours – although still muted – are brightened to demonstrate that there is the possibility of light after the darkness.
A sequence of panels in ‘3. Runaway’, effectively parallels those in the later section ‘12. Ways Back’,
representing the path she takes past all the places and things she shared with her mother:
the swings where we used to play
the chippie, our hideaway
the pinecones and through the trees
the coos, through the breeze[.]
Linear repetition of ‘past’ highlights the relentless nature of grief. Here, the word ‘past’ is a reminder
of all that is gone, but it can also be seen to reassure us that the joy in these memories will remain
even if the person in them is gone.
Jones emphasises that birth, life, and death are natural processes. Reassuringly perhaps, he suggests
Watch the sea
soft stone thins
some fall in time…
a new universe blooms[.]
Here are distinct images of water shaping the land, changing what was there so that something new takes its place even while something is lost. Accompanying the description of new shoots is an illustration of bones under the earth which serves as a reminder that the remains of creatures who have died help new plants to grow. At the end of life there is hope for renewal.
In ‘9. Climb’, Jones articulates the progression through various stages of grief eloquently, conveying how – regardless of the different timeframes and journeys individuals may go on – it is possible to work through the grief and reach the start of a new phase. One beautiful feature of the story is the bear who accompanies the girl on her journey. The bear mentors her and the last panel in ’12. Ways Back’, where the girl’s reunion with her father is represented by two bears embracing, suggests that it is the girl’s mother watching over her in the early stages of grief. In a metaphor about the challenge of climbing trees, this mentor figure reminds her
We bears make slow steps.
Take a breath, a firm grip…
over time, we learn to listen…
to know which branches hold
and which will fall.
The lexical choice is gentle and encouraging, signifying the care that is required to help a young person navigate loss. The Wilds is as much about learning how to survive in life after a death as it is about surviving the grief itself.
Lockwood and Jones demonstrate that comics can support young people’s reading comprehension and enhance their understanding of the world. This full-colour poetry comic will strike a chord with anyone who has experienced a bereavement or supported someone else through one. The Wilds is an insightful and beautiful book which impresses on us that ‘[t]here are many ways/to live, to love and die’.