Written by: Ike Beal
The ghost story is one that’s been stagnant over the past decade or so: either the spook or specter is in a place or it’s in a person. After that, the story runs through the motions and generally meets a dim conclusion. While the conventions can be used to great effect in works such as Shirley Jackson’s Haunting of Hill House, it takes an understanding of atmosphere and plotting to pull it off and make it effective. Subversion of the standard haunt is where, in my opinion, the real stand-outs are- stand outs like Anya’s Ghost; a graphic novel that pulls off almost everything it sets out to do with grace and class.
Anya’s ghost is a-typical and fun; coming-of-age sprinkled with paranormal isn’t earth-shattering, but the way it’s done here is special. This is because Brosgol has a deep understanding of her characters, all of which have a level of personality and wit about them; Anya’s depth and character arc is half of why the story works so well. While the arc is typical of an identity politics-laden high school story, Anya herself is natural and her realizations about life well-handled. It’s a shame that she’s one of the few characters that is handled with such care, Emily- the titular ghost- being the only other character in this duet that receives the same kind of depth. Other characters seem only to act as emotional pivots to tell Anya how much she’s changed.
Interplay between Anya and Emily is tit-for-tat the best thing about Anya’s Ghost. Interactions are natural; it really feels like two teenagers are conversing- although Emily could use a more ye-olde colloquial twang to her dialogue. Realism aside, their burgeoning and curdling friendship works wonders and drives the story’s emotional beats effectively.
The other half of the appeal is the wonderful art on display. Brosgol’s cinematic angles, conveyance of motion, emotion, and depth, and a lovely use of balanced, symmetrical shots make Anya’s ghost a joy to look at. Dialogue heavy scenes are endlessly engaging, as the dialogue and panels work off of each other without detracting from each other. It’s tough to make dialogue as engaging as the art, but Brosgol does this effortlessly. Couple that with a mastery of light and shadow within the confines of a simple aesthetic, and a color pallet that accentuates the mood, making it reminiscent of an old Hammer flick, and you’ve got something special on your hands.
While being a more-than-worthy read, my biggest grievance with the story is a small piece of lost potential; Anya’s Russian heritage. Issues such as body-image, relationship issues, and teenage rebellion are done with an air of subtlety and tact that I’d have loved to see carried over to the topic of her foreign heritage. Though it was touched on, it’s given little depth beyond a mention in the opening pages. It’s a personal gripe, but the rest of the story is so well-done, it’s a shame it wasn’t better developed.
Anya’s Ghost works wonders as an emotionally packed mellow-drama, and the horror elements let it stand out from formula conventions from both genres it represents. Line art so clean, one could eat off of it is icing on the cake.