Ray Fawkes’ ‘One Line’ is a Visual Symphony

There’s something oracular about Ray Fawkes’ One Line — the whole One Soul series, frankly — but this book particularly stretches the boundaries of sequential art and meta-comics, and reading it gives me the sense that as I turn the pages, the book is also reading me. You don’t need to have read One Soul or The People Inside to enjoy One Line, though it helps in appreciating the journey of the series’ experimental, multilinear form.

Starting with a wordless prologue that serves as an origin point for the themes of family, isolation, violence, survival, and revenge, the book plunges into the storylines of eighteen families across four centuries and multiple continents. I found myself drawn to the storyline of the indigenous family in North America dealing with white invaders and destruction of their land, the aching tragedy of a couple telling each other (or perhaps thinking together), “you were proud once / now we hide in the tall grass.” At times, the different lineages intersect with each other, as represented by two panels containing the same scene, split only by gutters. One particularly poignant moment of these interacting families occurs between an Austrian man noticing a Jewish man knocked down in a crowd, and a plea for promises of past generations to be remembered.

The black and white art is simple and clean, integrated with the blocks of narrative captions across a classic nine-panel structure. That’s one of the intriguing parts of this book – each panel feels like a small poem, and when combined with a page, feels like a song, which then turns into a multilayered experience as you turn each page. Black panels — which become eerie when you realize when and how they occur — serve as silences, rest stops. The stories’ heavy subject matter — genocide, colonization, hatred — is given levity through the fragmented, poetic captions on panels. Repeated lines, such as “I teach him everything I know,” provide guideposts for the reader, echoing the similarities between and across generations. The final part of the book is an exquisite, wordless coda to all the tragedy preceding it. By the end, I felt like I had witnessed a visual symphony.

You can choose to read the book in multiple ways, and I highly suggest finding a hard copy instead of reading it digitally so that you can flip between pages or bookmark multiple sections at once with your hand. Here, the oracular part comes into play — what storyline are you drawn to, and why? What takes you from one family to another? Which path do you want to follow — the words? The panels? The characters?

Some folks might feel lost at first working their way through One Soul, but the journey is worth it. As one character expresses, “The richness of our history astounds me / but so much is not explained or explored / how could this have been forgotten?” Ray Fawkes’ work asks us to consider the multiple lines of history, how they are made and move, how we interpret them, and ultimately, how we decide to remember them.