Author: Carol Swain
Publisher: Fantographic Books
Publication Date: July 2014
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Helen is an amateur bird watcher and naturalist who lives in a rural community in Wales. When a local farmer Bill tells Helen that a rare bird named Emrys killed himself at Cuddig farm, she decides to investigate. One of the dogs at the farm tells her, by way of explanation, that Emrys had no feathers and couldn’t fly. She plucks an old cosmetic kit from a dumpster and discovers it belonged to Emrys. Inventorying the kit s contents, she finds a spent .12 gauge shotgun shell. Her attempt to learn more about Emrys turns into a journey of self-discovery and ultimately a hard-fought reconciliation with the world as it is. Carol Swain’s Gast is the rare kind of contemporary graphic novel critics are conjuring when they exult over the promise of the art form a philosophically mature vision, uniquely executed by an artist wholly in control of her craft. In Gast, Helen s inner life is slowly revealed through a mixture of naturalistic detail and phantasmagoric occurrences.
Gast tells the story of a pre-teen girl, new to a neighbourhood, who discovers the farm of a neighbour who recently committed suicide. An amateur birdwatcher, curious about her surroundings, Helen, is curious to get to understand the man, Emrys, who used to wear women’s makeup and had a strict daily routine. Helen learns about this man and his life through the animals on his farm. She forms friendships and attachments with Emrys dogs, his ram, and the birds on the farm.
The art of this story is so minimal, but so meaningful. There is very little dialogue, but a lot is said through the images and the silence. Helen discovers a lot not only her neighbour, but about the world and the society that surrounds her through her investigations. She begins to understand how people are connected, but that not everything in life is always wonderful and happy. She learns that there are people who struggle through life. She learns that things are not always perfect. But Helen also understands that everyone always has people who are there for them whether it be friends or family. Gast is a story wherein Helen first begins to understand the true complexities of adulthood.
The charcoal captures the essence of the story: quiet, subtle, grey, and full of contemplation. This story really couldn’t be told quite the same way with any other medium. There is no excess. Everything in this story has a purpose and a meaning. Gast is sad and raw, and a very beautiful story of coming of age and learning about the world.