Lost at Sea

By Bryan Lee O’Malley
160 pages, black and white
Published by Oni Press

If you went strictly by the title, you’d probably think Lost at Sea was about people riding the ocean waves, wondering if and when they’d ever find land again. That, needless to say, is not strictly what Lost at Sea is about. But if you strip away the boats and the salt air and the crashing sound and focus on the sensation of helplessly drifting away from the rest of the world, with no return in sight… well, you’re getting much, much warmer.

Raleigh’s not entirely sure why she’s in the car. Three of her classmates are driving from Northern California to their homes in Canada, and Raleigh ended up hitching a ride with them. She barely knows them, certainly was never friends with them, and feels like an outsider in their company. This is hardly a new sensation for Raleigh, though. Haunted by cats wherever they go, they’re a perpetual reminder that her mother sold away Raleigh’s soul. That, after all, is Raleigh’s problem; she has no soul.

Lost at Sea quietly defies easy categorization, in the best possible way. What do you call it? Road trip? Coming of age? Comedy? Drama? Romance? One could certainly make a case for all and none of these at the same time, as Bryan Lee O’Malley focuses less on genre and more on characters. Amidst all the banter and endless driving, there’s a lot more lurking between the panels for those who look deeper. You get to know the four main characters as Lost at Sea progresses thanks to Raleigh’s experiences. As some of her defenses break down, you see just who she’s really travelling with, and begin to understand that it’s all about the spiritual journey that Raleigh is taking with them. This is a book about alienation, and avoidance of emotional attachment. It’s about not letting yourself love, and about people’s safety zones. It may sound cliché to see that Lost at Sea is about the human condition, but this really is a book about being human in every sense of the word.

O’Malley’s art is incredibly cute in Lost at Sea, with the button-eyed characters wiggling and cavorting across the page. So many artists these days are trying to draw this style of art, but it’s refreshing to see someone who really understands how to make it work. The secret is that O’Malley never does anything halfway here. When Steph is jumping on the bed like a trampoline, her body shimmies and shakes in the air with such force that it’s like this is the most amazing jump ever, that her entire body and soul is dependent on her jumping up and down as joyfully as possible. And likewise, as we start to see how Raleigh has withdrawn from the rest of the world and set her barriers up, O’Malley is careful to separate Raleigh from her surroundings in the art, through shading, and panel borders, and sheer distance. Each drawing tells a story in its own right in Lost at Sea.

Oni Press’s slate of original graphic novels has included a lot of hits in recent months, with Last Exit Before Toll, Maria’s Wedding, and Union Station being just a few of the successes. Lost at Sea is not only another easy entry into that category, but it’s also elevated creator O’Malley (who was probably best known as just the artist on Hopeless Savages: Ground Zero) into the realm of those whose next work is going to be joyfully anticipated by many. Once you read Lost at Sea, I think you’ll agree with that assessment.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

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