Lost at Sea is a wonderful book by Bryan Lee O’Malley that successfully captures the pain of a broken heart and the healing process that follows. Said like that it makes it sound like a squishy overly emotional comic but it’s more about the lessons we need to learn in order to grow up and become a stronger person.
The story revolved around Raleigh who on vacation to California meets up with an internet romance and her slow and meandering return home accompanied by students from her private school in British Columbia. What makes this story so great is the way O’Malley chooses to tell it. The book is narrated by Raleigh through the use of her journal entries and it’s raw and unfiltered much like a real teenager’s journal or blog or whatever. The narration works really well because it puts in right in Raleigh’s head. Because the narration comes from Raleigh herself, we get somewhat of an untrustworthy narrator. Not because she’s trying to hide the facts but because she’s trying to work through how she ended up in this emotionally fragile state. She eventually figures it out and we get to puzzle the pieces together along with her. It’s just complicated and difficult for her to wrap her mind around it.
The tone of the narration and the dialogue by the other teens clashes drastically. The tone is very different. The other teen’s dialogue is snappy and funny and strange and it’s kind of alien. Who talks like that? Teens. Bryan Lee O’Malley used a similar dialogue in his Scott Pilgrim series and it works. It’s something I probably wouldn’t like if someone spoke to me like that in real life but it works very well in comics.
I’m surprised by how well this emotional heavy comic works. I think it works because the emotion isn’t needy. Raleigh doesn’t try to burden anybody with her problems. Raleigh is trying to work through her problem, in part by writing it down and later on by interacting with people who accept her for who she is. It’s interesting how important friends are to the healing process. I think that’s part of what the title refers to. Raleigh is lost in a sea of emotion; she’s her own island of misery. She’s also lost in a sea of people and only once she starts to realize she’s with people who genuinely care about her does she realize she’s not lost at all.
There is a scene where Stephanie and Raleigh on in the bathroom talking while standing in front of the mirrors. Stephanie admits that she always wanted to be tall like Raleigh to which Raleigh admits she always hated it. Stephanie replies in her strange teen speak telling her how jealous she is all the while commenting Raleigh on her beauty and posture. She walks away seemingly content in the knowledge that she’ll never be tall and that she’ll have to settle with what she has. That’s kind of how the world works. You can’t always get what you want and you need to accept that. It helps when you have friends around.
I like O’Malley’s cats. They are playful little devils. They’re the teenagers of the animal kingdom. They wander around aimlessly, they freak out easily, they do weird things, they’re kind of jerks but they can be very loving too. It’s almost as if O’Malley is telling us if you don’t have friends cats are the next best thing. If so, I feel sorry for Raleigh because she hurt so badly she needed friends and cats, lots of cats, to help her figure things out.
I like that we know next to nothing of Stillman, the guy Raleigh loved other than the fact that he urged her to come visit him in California. It’s better that way. O’Malley might have been tempted to give us some backstory to this guy but he wisely chose not to. What would it add? This could have been the best guy in the world or one of the worse but all that matter is that Raleigh loved him and she’s clearly upset over it. That’s all we need to know and that’s about all we get.
I need to talk about the art but it’s difficult. I really like O’Malley’s art. It’s simple, yet expressive. He has a nice economy of line that lends itself well to black and white art. His characters are drawn short and a little blocky but they still keep a normal looking anatomy. He has knack for drawing clothes that suits the age of his characters. Overall it’s simple and effective. It’s very good and he only got better with the years. Bryan Lee O’Malley is a very good comics creator and it’s unfortunate that Lost at Sea isn’t as well-known as Scott Pilgrim, its big brother. I highly recommend reading Lost at Sea.