Overview

Billy, Me & You

Review

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Billy, Me & You

Credits

  • Words: Nicola Streeten
  • Art: Nicola Streeten
  • Publisher: Myriad Editions
  • Price: £11.99
  • Release Date: Oct 27, 2011

Nicola Streeten’s memoir of grief and recovery is an incisively perceptive examination of social conventions in the face of bereavement.

When Nicola Streeten’s son Billy was just two years old he was diagnosed with heart problems that would lead to his death, following surgery, just ten days later. Thirteen years later, Streeten returned to diaries she had written at the time to create a graphic novel account of her life immediately following that traumatic event, written from what is described as a “healed” perspective. Originally serialised in her small press comic Liquorice Magazine, Myriad Editions have now collected Billy, Me & You as a complete graphic novel, with the initially surprising, but ultimately justified, tagline of “a dead baby story that is funny.”

The small press has always been an outlet that allows us to experience comics work that we might never get to see in a commercial arena. Fortunately, of late, more publishers are becoming aware of the potential, viable audience out there for self-published material that previously would have reached only a very limited readership. With Billy, Me & You, those small press origins are reflected both stylistically and in terms of presentation; embodying that raw frankness that is often such an intrinsic part of autobiographical self-published work.

In just the first few pages, set in the unimaginable hours directly after Billy’s death, Streeten establishes a rapport with the readership that is never lost throughout the entirety of this graphic diary. From the outset she employs an often brutal candour regarding the grieving process and the reactions of those around her and her partner John. Much like some of the real life “characters” in the book there will, no doubt, be those readers who find this openness either unbearably painful or even somewhat uncomfortable in its straightforwardness. They shouldn’t, because it’s through this refreshing honesty and integrity of approach that Streeten communicates so effectively with her audience.

As the book progresses through the weeks and months of grieving, daily struggles with acceptance and the realities of loss on this level, the reader begins to realise just what a unique comics reading experience Billy, Me & You is. You may find yourself moved to the point of tears at the heart-rending poignancy of one section, only to find yourself laughing out loud at another of Streeten’s acute assessments of human foibles a few scant pages later. Indeed Billy, Me & You is as much about our own reactions to death, and the clumsiness of our social conventions regarding that one great leveller, as it is about Nicola, John and Billy’s story. Streeten’s anecdotal accounts of the often awkward, and sometimes quite bizarre, reactions of friends and colleagues to events will surely make most readers look inwards and confront some uncomfortable truths about ourselves and our coping mechanisms in these circumstances.

Visually, Streeten’s illustrative style has a cartoony humanism that is equally at home conveying both the dark humour she employs so effectively and those moments of absorbing pathos that the book often swings between. The occasional insertion of photographic imagery is also jarringly efficient in reminding the reader that Billy, Me & You is not a work of fiction. I doubt I will be the only reviewer who refers to the photographs of Billy’s toys, left abandoned where he last played with them, as a haunting moment that will stay with the readers long after they have filed the book away on their bookshelves.

Every so often a graphic novel comes along that shakes you up from a jaded malaise and makes you remember that comics are a medium that has the power to share experience and express emotion like no other. Incisively perceptive, uncompromisingly observant and keenly insightful, Billy, Me & You is not just an astonishing piece of comics material in its own right but also an ambassador for the criminally overlooked work of the small press.

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Comments

  • Kstewart

    Kstewart Oct 25, 2011 at 3:22pm

    I read the amazing graphic novel 'SEEDS' by Ross Mackintosh earlier this year following your review and recommendation. Thank you for bringing to my attention what looks like another emotional and insightful story in the form of a graphic novel. Thanks for reviewing works such as these - I would not come across them without your reviews!

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Oct 29, 2011 at 2:49pm

    Thanks for the feedback. It's great to know we're introducing readers to fantastic comics work that lies outside of the normal mainstream fayre!

  • Kstewart

    Kstewart Jan 10, 2012 at 9:12am

    This was fantastic! Seeds and Bill, Me and You are two of my favourite reads this year... they have a long lasting impact. Thanks Andy!

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Jan 10, 2012 at 4:00pm

    You're very welcome. This was one of the best graphic novels I read last year and I'm really pleased to have done my small bit to promote it further.

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