The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott
Writer/Artist/Letterer: Zoe Thorogood
Publisher: Avery Hill Publishing
Up-and-coming talent Zoe Thorogood wows with her debut graphic novel The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott. Already, Thorogood is gaining some well-deserved recognition in the industry, being named Tripwire’s Best New Creator along with the reception of a triad of titles in last year’s Broken Frontier Awards.
With male creators dominating the industry, roughly only *32.5% of mainstream cartoonists are female and non-binary (*based on the average number of female and non-binary creators working on Marvel and DC titles in October 2020). We need more strong female (and non binary) cartoonists, and Thorogood has proven that she is most definitely one of them.
So, what’s all the fuss about?
Billie Scott, a socially anxious recluse, wins the New Artist of the Year Awards and along with it...the exhibition she’s always dreamed of. She takes to the streets of Middlesbrough for inspiration, where she accidentally witnesses a homeless man being assaulted by some all around dodgy blokes. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Billie is punched in the face, causing irreversible trauma to her retinas. With her eyesight quickly deteriorating, just two weeks remain until Billie goes completely blind. Time is not on Billie Scott’s side.
Determined to leave a lasting impression on the art industry, she sets off on a journey across England in hopes of finding subjects to paint.
The representation of a variety of British towns, spanning both the North and South of England, were highly convincing. Thorogood doesn’t shy away from drawing detailed backgrounds, which really enhances the reader’s experience of the UK from Billie’s perspective. As a “reet proper” Yorkshire dweller, I found myself being drawn in to the scenery that felt true to the England I experience every day. It takes a talented artist to be able to capture that with such accuracy.
These urban landscapes are further enhanced by a rich range of halftone textures and the selective use of color. Thorogood's manga-influenced inking style conveys a raw aesthetic that lends to the authenticity of the artwork. The panel composition is effective throughout, including some atypical layouts, which results in an enhanced reader experience.
Metaphoric repeated eye imagery manifests in a series of surreal dream sequences, portraying Billie’s health anxiety as her eyesight deteriorates. Dramatic black backgrounds and experimental color play amplify the unsettling visuals. These illustrations are Thorogood’s strongest – striking, captivating and unusual.
There were a few instances of anatomical issues, but in a book of this length – and a debut, no less – that is an achievement in itself.
The cast is diverse and interesting, including groups of people from a variety of UK cities, all with completely different lifestyles. Thorogood’s work has strong links to the idea of community bridging the gap between long-standing regional divides. In the end, art is community; art is a necessity in society.
Thorogood’s writing ability is undeniable. Snappy dialogue makes for an addictive sense of voice, with each character being clearly distinguishable – a talent which many well established writers still struggle with. Unfortunately, due to the minute size of the text, I too began fearing for my own impending blindness. However, Thorogood recently announced that she intends to enlarge the lettering in preparation for the second printing of her book.
Most prominently, Thorogood explores the idea of what it means to be disabled: “My point is, disability isn’t the end”. Aside from Oracle and Professor X, positive portrayals of disabled protagonists seems rare in comics, if not almost exclusively negative (David Beauchard’s Epileptic comes to mind). Billie Scott doesn’t let her disability define her. Instead, using it as an incentive, she realizes her full artistic potential. In The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott, disability signifies the start of a deeply moving, personal journey.
Being an artist myself, this book hit me hard. Billie’s fear was a fear that resonated with me – the idea of never being able to draw again, to create... I can’t even imagine it; I don’t want to imagine it. Every creative is acquainted with the all-too-familiar notion that the work we produce defines our self-worth. Most of us spend countless hours falling into the bottomless pit that is art envy, scrolling through Instagram longing to produce work as dynamic as artists that have spent years perfecting their craft. The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott dismisses this redundant habit and replaces it with a powerful message: we are not defined by how or what we create, only by our willingness to choose to carry on trying.
Zoe Thorogood’s debut is sure to become an indie cult classic, launching what I imagine will be a long and prosperous career. Like countless others I sit, gripping the edge of my seat, dying to feast my eyes on this rising star’s next work. Whatever that may be, count me in.