These Alien Plants Won’t Explode Through Your Chest: Expanding My Graphic Novel Horizons

I started reading Jeff Lemire’s Trillium after a brief conversation with a couple of co-workers where I said, “Oh, man I’m a sucker for time travel, give me any kind—forward, backwards, sideways—I’m guaranteed to like it.” My co-worker pointed a finger at me and said, “I’ve got a book for you.”

I haven’t read many graphic novels, and when I say that I mean I’ve read two. I’m getting ready to devour the Dark Tower graphic novels, but other than that, it’s been Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and Watchmen (and yes, I did read it after I saw the move). To say the least, I’m by no means vetted in the graphic novel world. I had some trepidation when the book was handed to me, not because of the medium per se, but because of my own personal reservations—not GOD GRAPHIC NOVELS ARE LAAAME, but due to how I would take having the scenes spelled out before me in illustration and color. Sometimes I felt like I couldn’t imagine the story in my head as well as I could with a novel, because the scene was already drawn for me.

I jumped easily into the novel and enjoyed it immensely. The problem lay in the fact that I would read the dialogue so fast, I had to physically pause to take the time to appreciate the artwork. While I did have slight trouble between imagining vs seeing, the illustrations were done in such a way that I could appreciate how the author was imagining the story and, once I got my head wrapped around it, I could imagine the happenings beyond the illustration. So, thumbs up, graphic novels. I approve.

Trillium is, in a sense, a basic science fiction romance. A sentient virus has destroyed most of human life in the galaxy and pushed the remaining colonies to the far reaches of a new solar system where a black hole—the mouth of god—lies forever present above them. Even though the virus is honing in on them, the colony has uncovered a potential cure, the flower Trillium, which is currently being kept inside the gated community of the planet’s native species. Nika, our heroine and xenobiologist, is adamant against invading the native species and taking the flower, despite humanity’s impending doom, and she’s headstrong about developing a dialogue with them, much to her commanding officer’s anger. When Nika learns the virus is closer than expected and that the human army plans to take the flowers come hell or high water, she rushes out of the compound to help the native species, which sends her on a quest backwards, forwards, and sideways in time.

I mentioned romance, but I felt like that aspect wasn’t so much about falling in love, but finding a kindred spirit instead. While extraordinary circumstances brought William and Nika together, it didn’t have the feeling of a love-at-first-sight romance (as I believe was intended), but more of a sharing of experience and bringing two people together who can know each other inside and out. I read reviews complaining that this method wasn’t their cup of tea, but I was so charmed by the story that I didn’t notice many flaws and came to it like a child: fully entranced by the glamor and enjoying it for what it was, instead of expecting anything more.

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Nika getting mind- f**ked by crazy alien plants and sharing the experience with William

The artwork is wonderful, especially with dark and light images pared beside each other to show the terrible things both Nika and William have endured. I found one of the best things to be the alien language, which exemplified our emoji-driven society pared with aesthetically pleasing rounded shapes. It made it fun to find the encryption key in the back and decipher what the aliens were saying.

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Translation: “I could really use some pizza right now”

I particularly enjoyed the split-page section along with the life-swap—I mean anything that has me turning the book in strange directions to find the answer like a book huntress!—makes my reading experience better. While the ending was ambiguous, it was still hopeful. I had Battlestar Galactica feels. And, Essie the AI hadn’t gone suicidal or psychotic and killed all the passengers. Win.

I’ll have to check out more stories like these. I’ll be a graphic novelist critic yet.

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