Lee Lai is an Australian artist currently living in Quebec and Stone Fruit is her impressive debut graphic novel (although she’s been producing comics for a while obvs).
The book kicks off with an impressionistic forest dash redolent of Rousseau (you’re looking for a tiger with eyes burning bright behind every leaf) that gradually turns into a playdate – we meet Ray, Ray’s other half Bron and Ray’s niece Nessie who loves them both to pieces.
When Ray drops Nessie off with her sister it’s clear there are some tensions, both between Ray and her sister (who seems to be annoyed by how much fun Bron can be) and then Ray and Bron themselves (Bron seems to be dealing with a lifetime of shit up to this point, with family and religion and sexuality all thrown into the mix).
Which might sound like a fair old cooking pot of stuff going on, but Lai handles it all supremely well (Stone Fruit has the feel of a good American indie film). It’s also worth saying, from a graphic point of view, if you’re a fan of the likes of Jillian and Mariko Tamaki, you’ll get a big kick out of Lai’s work. Stone Fruit is worth a purchase for the sterling water colour work alone.
But it’s the deft handling of the narratives, the juggling of sympathies (there are no villains here, even among those people who would probably bring all of their judgiest selves to bear on the discussion of identity and gender) and the fashioning of interesting characters that makes Stone Fruit that rare jewel – a debut that promises great things to come.
Any Cop?: Feels like a book that could happily stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Ghost World.