Up-and-coming graphic novelist Rebecca Fox’s work is defined by strong lines and piercing philosophical questions. A talented artist and storyteller, Fox, 32, is in the midst of prepping her first graphic novel for publication. Set to hit bookshelves next year, her book will be made up of twelve separate, but conceptually linked comics, each with a very specific philosophical line of inquiry at its core.
Fox’s work aims to challenge readers, not deliver answers. The stories are set all over the world and the rigorous philosophical questions that dominate each narrative are coupled with an emphasis on character and story. Yet, there’s a distinct connective thread going through all of Fox’s comics: Each and every story is about a secular epiphany, “that moment when you see things clearly,” Fox said when I interviewed her earlier this summer in London.
It’s all done in a striking pen and ink style, taking inspiration from her time working in a tattoo studio. Mirroring her approach to the questions the comics deal with, Fox structures the art with the starkness of lines and geometry, but lets things get messy with shading and patterns of light. She populates her work with individuals struggling with religion and atheism, philosophy and science, and trauma and release, drawing readers into each story’s philosophical question through her eye-popping visual language.
The short stories zero in on that sudden, revelatory moment in a person’s life when there’s a flash of perception and insight about the world or themselves. But for a while, Fox said, her own life was about anything except seeing things clearly. The book is not a direct personal narrative, but the twelve stories clearly spill from Fox’s experiences, travels, and philosophical questioning of the world.
“When I was a kid, I was a bit ‘woo-ish,’ as you might say,” Fox, who currently lives in Brighton, England. “I was into spirituality, I was Wiccan. I think a lot of it was like, wanting to have some kind of sense of control over the world. My childhood was really shitty. Well, it was disrupted and complicated by the relationships of my parents doing crazy things. So I got really deep in that and believed in a lot of things that are not technically true, like magic and stuff like that.”
And then at university, where she did English literature, Fox said things got progressively fuzzier. She studied postmodernism and deconstructionist thinking, and after getting her degree, went traveling around the world and then returned to school for an MA degree in post-colonial literature at the University of Sydney.
“After I came out of that I was kind of dizzy,” she said. “And obviously it wasn’t malicious or anything, but I felt like I had been taken apart as a person and didn’t really have a sense of self.”
So it was time to go back to basics. Instead of magic or postmodernist theory, Fox delved into science and philosophy, coming back to the surface with a more rationalist view of the world. Inspired by her own extensive travels and encounters with people across the globe, she found herself grappling with the concept of epiphanies—when “you see through whatever structures we’ve projected onto the world—either by religion or by crazy literary theory or by a Wiccan priestess you met once—and you actually see something clearly.”
Graphic novels seemed like the ideal medium to deal with the stories and concepts she wanted to explore. Fox came to the comics scene from painting and life drawing, and she turned to the format as a way to fuse together her two passions of art and literature.
“I love stories, I want to tell stories,” she said. “But when I first went to university, it was a toss-up between literature and art, and I chose literature because my dad taught me to draw and I didn’t want to have him breathing down my neck all the time. But I always continued drawing. But it felt to me like it wasn’t enough.”
With graphic novels, Fox found “a shorthand to communicate, and to communicate really complex ideas. It’s kind of hard to do it just with words or just with pictures. And especially for this project, I really wanted to stimulate people to challenge these ideas themselves.”
“I’m trying to do philosophy in a more classic, Socratic sense,” she added.
Her book, which will be released by the popular science and philosophy publisher Ockham Publishing, is aiming to stand out in the crowded field of graphic novels that frequently deal with personal narratives of psychology and psychosis. “I think what’s uncommon to find is philosophy,” Fox said about the current graphic novel landscape. “There’s a lot of stuff about people’s personal experiences and that’s certainly what I’m trying to do too—I want to show personal experiences—but I am putting forward a series of philosophical thought experiments. They have a kind of rigor and logic to them.”
It’s not surprising, then, that her style is one of both sharp lines and divergences, with artistic representations of the reality of the character as well as their interior life. We travel through the discordant memories of a young woman dealing with personal trauma and the problem of evil. We see inside the brain of a Tibetan Buddhist monk struggling with the concepts of rebirth and suffering. We watch two women wake up from a one-night stand and discuss the idea of truth—“as always happens after a good night together,” Fox said with a laugh—and are asked to think about what happens when traditions and fantasies fall apart, all while the famous Cottingley Fairies, the photography hoax perpetuated by two young English girls in the early 20th century, dance in the background.
“’I’ll draw it out, basically kind of storyboard it, and then have an idea of how the story’s going to go,” she said. “But I don’t have the words of the story, which is kind of useful to me, because I’m like, ‘He’s feeling something, but I’m not quite sure what it is. I’ll figure it out after I’ve drawn it.’”
What she draws is black and grey, in pen, washed over with ink and a brush in order to give it another level. Fox’s particular visual language, as well as the strong conceptual underpinning of epiphanies, connects each of the twelve stories in her upcoming graphic novel despite the many divergent, far-flung narratives.
And with epiphanies, the discourse surrounding moments of revelation is that “it’s always about something being revealed to you, but it’s always about something transcendental being revealed to you,” she said.
“We’re all so immersed in the idea that there’s something beyond the physical. Actually, it’s kind of an epiphany, a revelation, to go, ‘No. This is what’s important right here,’” she said.
For more about Fox’s work, visit her website.