The toughest life events perhaps never change us, though what changes is our ability to adapt and develop new, healthy, and stronger perspectives. Tommie Kelly plays with this idea in THEM, a beautiful and mature graphic novel that peeks behind the veils of an artist and what drives them to create.
From the back of the book:
“Roman, a struggling but dedicated painter is trying to find his place in the world. He never quite fit in and feels that somehow he is different than most people. He believes the Universe is in some way, out to get him, and that chance, luck and opportunity are passing him by. However, a new idea has come into the world which has his future in mind. Roman soon finds the world is quite a different place than he thought and that his destiny is much more in his hands than it seems.”
Starting off with a wonderful visual analogy, Roman is seen running through darkness, chased by his past and elusive figures (‘Them’). From this chase inevitably comes the sensation of defeat. A re-birth (of sorts) then takes place and we find him standing upon a stage where an adoring ‘audience’ screams and claps, for he has “[…]become like a God”.
This is how Them starts, and also ends. It is within the innards and guts of this story which tell the of the triumph of the soul in its striving for expression. Though first Roman must lead himself through his despair, and his programmed beliefs imprinted by those of his past. The haunting presence of his father, his teachers, and other authoritative figures have hindered his development and cast their negativity rather than spending their energy fostering the blooming flower of his artistic ability. He must overcome the phantasms which prevent self-acceptance and must find contentedness with the methods of his expression.
The art in Them is striking, and each panel accurately displays to the viewer the impressions Kelly had placed therein. In viewing Kelly’s work, his talent has to be commended in fully synchronizing words with images, and his ability to bring fluid motion to his finely crafted worlds, all of which tell great stories containing depth, emotion, and most importantly – a purpose in their appearance.
The relation one can find in Roman’s struggle to be the author of his life, and his conquest to find himself is a tale that would be rewarding for many in a desperate search of their muse, or those trying to overcome their battles with depression. The journey of Roman, despite appearing as a young-adult in this novel is not so much a ‘coming-of-age’ tale, but rather a ‘coming-into-self’ tale; one that should be read not only by young adults, but also enjoyed as an expansive piece of literature that has the ability to empower and uplift the reader from their own pasts, and contains a hint of wisdom to set them upon the path which will see the accomplishment of their goals and the fulfillment of their own self-expression.
This is a story about changes of perspective, growth, acceptance, and perseverance. Despite carrying the title of “Them”, this tale turns the figurative finger that points outwards in blame and defensiveness, and turns the hand towards oneself.
This is a ‘Pay What You Want’ project, so I would highly recommend you purchase and give the appropriate support. (Also check out his current Patreon Campaign)
Download THEM here.
Be sure to also visit Tommie Kelly’s Official Site for more of his wonderful work.
*Illustrations within this article are from Them, and Copyright to Tommie Kelly*