With a title like All My Ghosts, you'd expect this graphic novel to be a creepy horror featuring some sketchy dude in a broken-down office building. What you get from Jeremy Massie's 106-page comic is a surprisingly engaging story involving some heartwarming elements and a strong, overarching theme.
The graphic novel is characterized as Slice of Life, a genre that I wasn't aware spanned beyond the generic Japanese manga adored by the otaku fanbase. All My Ghosts features a middle-aged man working as chief of his family's cherished newspaper company, a job that he has become less and less enamored with by the beginning of the novel. The novel explores various aspects of his life, including his personal relationships and the rumors of supernatural activity in the workplace.
As a Slice of Life comic, All My Ghosts has a fairly simple plot structure, having no need for any dramatic twists or turns. Instead, the comic focuses on the various problems of the main protagonist, Joe, as if they were the realistic problems people pile on themselves on a daily basis. In fact, the novel's central conflict isn't necessarily a huge battle but an issue that weighs down on the main character, lurking in the background as he tries to make his life functional again.
Despite the main character having a routine job, the elements of the story are visually interesting. When the reader follows him through his day to day activities, the comic never slows down, maintaining a comfortable pace so that the ride is still enjoyable. If I had any complaints with this novel, it'd be that the tone shifts can be quite jarring at some points as the setting shifts from one place to the next. However, this is consistent with the common perception of life, a chain of events that don't necessarily have to "fit" next to each other. (This may also have been because the comic was told in separate issues before it became a complete graphic novel).
The graphic novel's other strengths lie in the world that Massie creates, one that we explore from Joe's perspective. Each character and aspect of the small town is memorable, making the reader feel as if he's been living in this Appalachian town for as long as Joe.
At first glance, the story may seem to have a generic "Carpe Diem" message about freedom and the release from the boredom of daily life. However, one of my favorite aspects of All My Ghosts was the way the theme was manipulated. For example, when Joe begins pursuing escape from his routine lifestyle through a "fuck it all" attitude, he is slapped across the face with the consequences of freedom, an aspect that isn't usually brought up in motivational posters. The progression of the story is partly driven by this question of freedom, and it made All My Ghosts a thought-provoking read. The novel also incorporates the conflict between tradition and individual freedom, though it does so with an emphasis on reverence for the past, which I personally enjoyed seeing.
Finally, a couple words about the art style. Massie's style is not overly complex, but it definitely works as part of the novel and was visually engaging. Moreover, the comic has some fantastic moments where Massie somehow incorporates movement and feeling, evoking different senses through unique choices in the comic's art. These creative choices ultimately contribute to the wonderfully immersive experience of reading All My Ghosts.
If you are looking for the awe of action and adventure, this graphic novel may not be for you. However, the focused emotions and the portrayal of real life, as well as the incorporation of an intriguing theme, make All My Ghosts worthy of a pick up.
Speaking of which, All My Ghosts goes on sale August 19 on Comixology.
*Special thanks to Peter Simeti for the review copy, making this review possible!*