The People Inside tells the story of twenty-four individuals and their changing relationships throughout the course of their lives. It’s a meditation on love and the metamorphic capacity of relationships by Toronto-based artist Ray Fawkes, told in beautiful black and white. The stories told within the book range from wonderfully inspiring tales of love to tragic, heart-wrenching stories of loss. I won’t spoil any of the stories, but I want to say that the book covers a wide range of diverse relationships.
The thing that sets this book apart is its structure. On the opening two pages there are twelve panels, each with two characters in a relationship. To follow their stories, you must read the corresponding panels on each consecutive page. So, for example, if you want to follow the story of an ending relationship in the top left panel, you would only read the top left panel of every page.
At first confusing, the structure soon evolves into an easily comprehensible and unique method of graphic storytelling. Characters don’t remain static in their panels. True to life, relationships sometimes fail and the corresponding panels split into two smaller panels. As relationships evolve, characters may end up a part of an adjoining panel or in a new panel entirely.
The book works so well not only due to brilliant design, but also because of the captivating stories within. Each story feels like it could stand alone as its own comic. Though the time with each character is relatively short, the characters are well-defined in terms of motivations and agency. Their experiences are instantly relatable and the book takes great care to be inclusive of different lifestyles.
The artwork is beautiful and deceptively simple. Each panel is purely black and white with no shading, giving the book a cartoonish look. However, the style also gives Fawkes the freedom to make the characters more expressive. It’s crucial to the characterization as so much of each character is defined by their unspoken actions. Body language and unconscious communication are masterfully captured in the panels.
The People Inside is an important book. It’s a great example of new directions graphic storytelling can explore as well as a deep look at the basis of human relationships. The stories told in its pages will make you laugh, grimace and cry, but most of all they will leave you contemplating the relationships in your own life.