Meredith awakens one morning to discover she has been Ind-xed, marked by the powers that be as a non-person that will never again be spoken to, touched, allowed to work, or even acknowledged by here loved ones. Lucy must now make her way in a world that that by law will treat her as a ghost, unable to offer help, food or shelter to her as she strives to make sense of why she has been chosen. Trying to figure out what seemingly damning infraction of the rules she could possibly have performed, and in her heart knowing the answer, whether she can ever redeem herself.
In the press release for this book, Campbell and Sullivan cover pretty much every influence I can think of, so apologies for me straight-up quoting the press release here, “It’s a lo-fi sci-fi story influenced by the likes of The Grapes of Wrath, Children of Men, Fahrenheit 451, Alphaville, The Road, 1984, Sweet Tooth and Y: The Last Man.” Personally I was also reminded of the heart-breaking loneliness of Flowers For Algernon and Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep.
Make no mistake, this story is heart-breaking. Not necessarily in the way you would expect, but the final scene, and particularly the last page, is so beautifully done that even as cynical and hardened an old curmudgeon as I am, I genuinely welled up. The last time a comic book made me cry was reading Saga, but this was something different. It was so completely unexpected and I’m finding it hard to rationalise what it was that hit me so hard and there is something of genius in that. I’m sure that this book will impact others in different ways but it has taken me completely by surprise.
Campbell’s writing has often moved me in the past, but usually by making me feel very uncomfortable and disturbed. He has a real skill in getting under the reader’s skin and thoroughly unnerving then. This then was a complete shock to the system, which I think goes some way to explaining why this story affected me so deeply. The obvious answer to how this happened is the influence of Lucy Sullivan in the narrative, who is well known for the emotional and psychological depth to her work that really catches you off guard and, for me at least, leads to more introspection than you may be comfortable with.
I found it disturbing and unnerving that there is such blind obedience to the creation of the Ind-xed, and the draconian, irrational rules around interaction with them. Even the Ind-xed themselves adhere to rules specifically designed to make them invisible for some unknown and incomprehensible “greater good”. I would like to think that would be an impossibility in our society, but it’s easy to see the standards and morality that we hope to uphold being eroded daily – a feeling which makes this whole narrative much more believable, however much we’d like to deny it.
What really made the story stand out for me though is that the fact that not once did it go in the direction I was expecting. While I never felt taken out of the story (quite the contrary), by the way the plot and narrative developed, it consistently darted down forks in the road that I just didn’t know how to anticipate, and was delighted to discover those forks didn’t even come close to delivering us to the conclusion I was expecting. For me, this makes Meredith’s journey that much more affecting and the final denouement that much more satisfying and impacting.
Of course, we have to discuss Lucy Sullivan’s artwork in this book. Hand on heart I wasn’t aware of her work until she did a piece for the recent Kickstarter Hell In Stalingrad. That being said, I was so taken with that single pin-up piece that when it was announced it would be an option to buy it as part of the campaign, I camped out on Kickstarter waiting for it to go up. Sadly I just wasn’t quick enough and missed out, but it’s really rare that I will buy original art, especially from an artist I’ve never heard of, so it’s a big thing for me that I was that instantly taken with her style. I have since gone on to read her book “Barking” which is a superb story about mental health and grief.
The artwork Sullivan has produced for IND-XED can only be described as Haunting (yes, it really deserves the capital H). There is something akin to the the style of Ben Templesmith in the tone of these pages, and a little Silent Hill in a landscape which gives you a feeling that Meredith is already dead and merely a ghost haunting those she passes. There’s also one particular panel that really reminded me of one of Death’s more playful moments in Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. This overall effect when used to bring the narrative to life on the page, delivers some truly breathtaking moments in the story. While I’m straining every mental muscle I have to not give any major spoilers away in this review, I keep going back to the end of the book, the final images which are delivered so delicately to provide a beautiful way to end the story.
I would also be remiss not to mention Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou’s work on this book. It seems I can’t pick up a book at the moment without seeing his name on it, and I love the range of styles he brings to whatever he works on. In this, the sketchy approach that he uses for Meredith really highlights her despair and madness, with the only clear and crisp lettering being given to the Auditors, giving their fanatical obedience a much harsher and more sinister air.
IND-XED is a haunting and disturbing tale. It’s thought provoking and it’s beautifully illustrated. This is a book that will be coming to Kickstarter on 25th September and it’s one that gets nothing less than a 100% five-star recommendation from me.
The writer of this piece was: Mark Scott
Mark Tweets from @macoy_comicgeek