Christmas eve saw the national launch of Cosmic Times’ What I.F., the story of what happens to your imaginary friend when you stop imagining. D.J. Strong and Jeramy Hobbs craft a comic focused on evoking feeling rather than telling a cohesive narrative. It’s an experiment in the form that works, but the result is not without its flaws.
What I.F. follows the life of Jackson Leviathan and his introduction to Penelope Xylophone, the real girl who teaches him he’s imaginary. There isn’t really much of a plot. We get flashes of Jackson’s life with Penelope, some happy and some sad. Jackson is coming to terms with the fact that he is the imaginary one and that Penelope is trying to unimagine him from her life. It strikes a chord of love and loss readers will easily relate to.
The writing in the book is almost entirely presented through Jackson’s narration as he writes a note to Penelope. He’s telling us the story of his life and his words carry a heavy sadness consistently through the book. It works well to evoke the feelings of emptiness and loss. His thoughts are presented on torn pieces of notebook paper, giving his thoughts a personal touch while alluding to some deeper significance of his departure. The ending is poetic and is sure to stick with the reader after the book is closed.
Unfortunately, Strong doesn’t always nail the tone with his narration. There are unnecessary transitions in the piece that take you out of the experience. Asking ‘Let’s recap, shall we?’ after a three page monologue about the past takes away any emotional impact of that monologue. It just feels out of place here.
The art in the book is beautiful in black and white. It was the perfect choice for this book and exemplifies the themes of loss in the story. I really admire the stark, messy style of the present moments that contrast the clean look of the flashbacks. It evokes the feeling of something lost in the present and these are the panels I kept returning to. Even if the words falter occasionally, the panels always carry an emotional punch.
Cosmic Times’ one-shot What I.F. is an interesting experiment. The emotions here are something we’ve all felt at one point or another and the vignettes are going to resonate with most everyone on some level. However, the lack of an overall plot might put some readers off. The artwork itself is fantastic and if you’re a fan of black and white artwork this is a book you’ve got to check out.