One Page from Freewheel, by Liz Baillie

I’ve been very much enjoying Liz Baillie’s Freewheel, a sort of Alice’s Adventures in Hobo-Wonderland, about a runaway foster child named Jamie on a quest to find her missing older brother, Jack.  At the moment, Jamie is lost in a series of tunnels, which can only be traversed by following a series of arcane rules that no one has taken the time to explain to her.  As a result, she is now at the mercy of Wrigley and Chewbie, a pair of odd, but seemingly well-meaning tunnel guides, who insist that Jamie must be blindfolded (more seemingly-arbitrary rules) if they are to help her find the next gate along her way.

Here’s a page from the blindfold sequence:

When dealing with protagonists who have been deprived of their sense of sight, there are generally two main approaches:

  1. Present the scene as normal, assuming an omniscient perspective—just because the protagonist can’t see what’s going on doesn’t mean the reader shouldn’t.
  2. Present a series of completely black panels, showing only sounds and dialogue, much like an old Looney Toon cartoon.  This is often played for comedy, but doesn’t have to be.

Baillie has split the difference here—most visual signifiers are gone, some in complete silhouette, others showing full detail of the figures, but leaving out all background elements.

What I like about this effect is that it gives us a sense not just of what Jamie can piece together by sound, but of her complete mental image of what’s going on around her.  She may not be able to see herself or her guides, but she still knows what everybody looks like, so those details are filled in.  Also note how in the first panel, we have a small window of background detail—the last place Jamie actually saw before putting the blindfold on, but which she still has a clear memory of.  Once the sled starts moving, though, there is no visual memory for her to draw on, so the background dissappears.

All told, it's a fun stylistic effect that’s satisfying because it doesn’t just add visual flair, but also cleverly mirrors the experience that our protagonist is undergoing.


Alexander Danner