“Liminal State” is a compelling and nuanced journey through losing a loved one, creating a new life and the simultaneous grief and terror of both.
Creator: Maria Photinakis
Photinakis creates something special in “Liminal State.” The title hints at a promise that’s hard to live up to – what, how, where can a comic be liminal, and how can the reader experience this? Photinakis delivers in the use of negative space, narration and simplicity.
“Liminal State” tells the story of Photinakis losing her father and grieving into the birth of her child. Throughout, the grief grows and threatens to overwhelm, visually and thematically. Photinakis uses narration and shadow in equal measure to hem in the narrative, and the most compelling examples of this are when she sits by her father’s bed and struggles to process how he will be gone soon. After the touching and beautiful look at their similar feet, the page turn reveals Photinakis clasping her father’s hand. The panel’s POV is mildly voyeuristic by design, and features her father’s hospital bed blurred by partial erasure and scribbles where his blanket and body should be. The narration “No. I won’t draw you like that” is unboxed and follows the line of the bed, with the “No” breaking the blanket line. By limiting what the reader can see of her father, and tacitly acknowledging the reader’s presence, the fictional Photinakis tries to stave off inevitable loss and preserve a memory of her father that’s not bed-ridden and so physically different from the parent she knows.
Photinakis chooses simple layouts with two to four panels per page and sticks with black and white. The whole comic is done in regular pencil and marker, which speaks to the power of good sequential storytelling. That can sound pejorative at first – “Look at what this person did with just a pencil and paper! Aren’t comics quaint?” – but instead, we should dig into the idea that an excellent comic can be made without slick digital colors, sleek design and poppy dialogue. All a creator really needs is a clear understanding of how to use the flexibility and freedom of the comics page to tell a story. Photinakis reaches inside and dredges the viscera of loss, and the simple tools she uses to create “Liminal State” leave room for this grief to well up and affect us with its power. The grief is a very real element on the page. It peeks through in erasures, in scribbles and in neat little puffs of black next to the narration when Photinakis gets the call. Later, it blossoms into an oily, mesmerising liquid that overwhelms Photinakis on the page.
What to do when your body contains the mystery but the world is bent upon destroying it at every turn? Growth in the middle of grief is its own kind of horror, and Photinakis paints this pain across the page. As her fictionalized self struggles through the mire to the other end of the page, there’s still no neat ending. Grief is a wheel, a spiral, and motherhood its own chaos and dawning dread. Birth is a trauma and the pressure of keeping another being alive paints our own failings, fears and wounds in stark relief. The deep ink black of the mire amps up the emotional danger – for the fictional Photinakis, this is life or death. Her child appears in a halo of perfect, clean white in the midst of the soup but nearly obscures her own body. When she finally holds him and turns her back to the viewer, receding into an orderly strip of black, there’s not much relief. Only a kind of equilibrium, but that hard-won balance is a powerful ending.
Photinakis practices deep vulnerability on the page with comic storytelling chops to back it up. Any roughness here is largely by design, and the unpolished quality of “Liminal State” is not due to lack of skill. Instead, it’s due to the wisdom of a storyteller committed to showing the ragged edges of this moment in time, and how healing is an imperfect experience.
The Verdict: 9/10 – “Liminal State” dazzles with its honesty, sophistication and truth.