Ghost Stories: hauntingly familiar

Author & Artist: Whit Taylor
Publisher: Rosarium Publishing
Publish Date: 10 January 2018
Ghost Stories Cover, 2018, by Whit Taylor
Ghost Stories, 2018, by Whit Taylor

Ghost Stories is a collection of three tales, all connected by a sense of loss, be that of a loved one, a friendship, or yourself. Using a cartoon-style that belies the sometimes dark subjects, Taylor explores the ways we fall in and out of grief throughout our lives. It is a series tinged with a sense of pathos and humour, one that is (sometimes too) easily recognisable.

Taylor’s art is vivid and eye-catching. Throughout, she uses bright, lo-fidelity illustrations, which juxtapose well with the more melancholic themes covered here. It’s a vibrant reminder that, even within despair and loneliness, life continues.

The hand-coloured images often follow a hard bordered panel layout, but there is little use of this in Ghost, reflecting the dream-like plot. The first story begins as a fantastical journey where a female character (possibly Taylor herself, but never stated) is told she can meet with three of her deceased idols. There are, of course, rules: she gets one day, and the only thing she can’t discuss is their death.

Title Cover for Ghost, Whit Taylor, 2018
Title Cover for Ghost, first tale in the collection

The conversations between ghost and living being are at first light-hearted, but soon become a way of exploring philosophical ideas, and revealing more about the female character. This feels clunky as the conversation can sometimes awkwardly pivot to her, running the risk of portraying the ghostly idols as merely over-qualified sounding boards.

What prevents this from feeling like an exercise in self-indulgent navel-gazing is having the first two meetings interrupted by seemingly unrelated vignettes. This reinforces that there is surrealism at work, hinting at a hidden depth that helps the story flow to the final encounter. It is only when she meets the third person that the relevance of these interruptions, and the underlying cause of these ghostly apparitions, becomes clear. It is an intriguing narrative device, which invests a greater, more touching meaning in the previous pages.

Wallpaper is delivered in a different style, pairing up chunks of text with some truly unique examples of wallpaper design. It’s a deceptively simple story reflecting on the snapshots that make up a family’s life together. The large and the small moments are captured and filtered through decisions about DIY and mundane day-to-day details, lending a poignancy to the tale as the constant shifting, remodeling, re-papering of the home reflects the fragility and impermanence of life. It’s an effective and affecting story of childhood and change.

Makers also deals with change, this time looking at the reality of female friendship. Taylor lays bare her characters in a series of scenes spanning over a decade. This builds a firm understanding of who they are, what they want to be, and why they become what they become. In turn, this brings the characters to life, allowing the reader to recognise them in an uncomfortably relatable way.

However, there is a sense of judgement hovering over the plot due to the way this story is told from one character’s perspective. The story focuses upon how their friend changes, and the impact this has on the relationship. Regardless of how much context this other character has been given, the blame for what happens is laid only at their feet. It is a shame that, despite the initial hints that this would be a complex portrayal of a relationship, it falls back on depicting how one person’s change in personality and priorities lets another person down. It feels like an overly simplistic interpretation by the end, and one that readers will have read many times before.

Ghost Stories is ultimately not just about grief, but about life; they are all familiar tales, the issue being that they are sometimes too familiar. However, the way they are told, particularly in Ghost, allows the reader to explore these themes in ways they perhaps haven’t before. Each story leads to some kind of resolution of the loss, but none of them has a neat conclusion. If there is a power in these tales, then this is it.