Book Review: GAST by Carol Swain

Apr 28, 2016 at 10:44 pm by -gToon

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Title: GAST
Author: Carol Swain
Publisher: Fantagraphics
Colors: black & white
Format: Softcover
ISBN-13: 978-1-60699-755-0
Year: 2014

Synopsis: Helen is an amateur bird watcher and naturalist who lives in a rural community in Wales. When local farmer Bill tells Helen that a "rare bird" named Emrys killed himself at Cuddig farm, she decides to investigate. One of the dogs at the farm tells her, by way of explanation, that Emrys "had no feathers and couldn''t fly." She plucks an old cosmetic kit from a dumpster and discovers it belonged to Emrys. Inventorying the kit's contents, she finds a spent .12 gauge shotgun shell. Her attempt to learn more about Emrys turns into a journey of self-discovery and ultimately a hard-fought reconciliation with the world -- as it is.

"Dark and full of life, like soil... [Swain's comics are] a perfect example of what modern comics are capable of if only they try." - Alan Moore


If you want to know whether graphic novels are an art form, look no further than GAST by Carol Swain. In an industry dominated by superheroes, it is deeply satisfying to read artists like Ms. Swain who writes and draws a world that is alive with animals that talk, birds, roads, sky and, most of all, hope in the face of loneliness, loss and death.

Carol Swain's simple pencil art with it's slightly messy and broad lines is perfect for the story of a young girl who finding herself adrift after having moved from the city to a small village with her parents, try's to make sense of her life by investigating the passing (suicide?) of a local man.

The careful framing and simple lines of each panel make the world of GAST vivid and real. It's a world where dogs and lambs converse more authentically than humans do. A world that is often still except for the every present xxx bird who are on the verge of leaving for xx for the season. It's a world where a young girl learns that being different can be painful and lonely; where everything you've done in life can be thrown out and burned in a heap after you die. It's a harsh world, but one that is still beautiful and poetic.


GAST is a novel with pictures; one that has scenes of great poignance and feeling, but without a trace of sentiment. Thank god we have artists like Carol Swain to tell us where to look and what to pay attention to. In our social-media-saturated culture, sitting on a fence looking a birds can seem trivial. In GAST, Carol Swain shows us just how much we are missing by paying attention to little things like birds and those seemingly little deaths that no one notices.

You can read about Carol Swain's book, GAST, at the publisher's website:

Actual book copies are available at good bookstores and direct from Fantagraphics. You can also purchase the ebook version via ComiXology.

Sections: Reviews

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