We’ve all heard the cautionary advice “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” And sure, there’s a lot of truth to that. On the other hand—being judged is totally what book covers are for. My resistance to this old adage has been validated time and again by impulse check-outs that turn out to be awesome, the most recent example being Malachi Ward’s graphic novel From Now On.
When I dove in, I had no idea what to expect; I just knew things were going to get weird. From Now On does not disappoint, with stories dealing with bizarre alien worlds and the peculiarities of time travel. The thirteen vignettes stand alone as brief glimpses into future worlds, replete with imaginative technology and creatures like lime green aliens that appear to be half-mole, half-elephant
Despite the strangeness, though, Ward manages to evoke a deeply-human and reflective mood. Flipping through the stories of lonely, hopeful space colonists made me feel like I was reading the sparse, blue-collar oriented short stories of Raymond Carver, or the succinct and wistful comics of Adrian Tomine. The science fiction elements are posed skillfully against the emotions of the characters—Ward offers only minimal world-building to let the heart of each story shine.
“Top Five” follows the daily work of a lone explorer. While carrying out his labor—menial tasks that are never explained to the reader—he thinks about the five best Star Trek episodes that feature time travel. That’s it. Though it may seem insignificant or uneventful, “Top Five” is actually a well-crafted portrait of regret, desire, and small victories—in other words, life itself. The unearthly backdrop makes it all the more compelling, too, adding a layer of the weird that demonstrates how universal these feelings can be. It’s subtly funny, too.
Ward’s art style is similarly restrained. Simple illustration shows the wonder of alien landscapes, being suggestive rather than comprehensive. The result is a collection that showcases incredibly efficient and meaty story telling. Just because you don’t have time to read a doorstopper like Dune doesn’t mean you can’t go on an adventure to the stars. As much as I love the cover of From Now On, I have to admit the immersive and poignant stories within are even better.
-Eli Hoelscher is a Reader’s Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library