Over the Line: An Introduction to Poetry Comics ed. by Chrissy Williams & Tom Humberstone

Reviewed by Steve Nash


Over the Line: An Introduction to Poetry Comics achieves precisely what it says on its aesthetically pleasing jacket – which is not easy, considering the diversity of the field. Sometimes introductions attempt the theoretical primer approach; others prefer a potted history; occasionally the anthology lets the art speak for itself. In Over the Line, Chrissy Williams and Tom Humberstone attempt all three in a concise volume. It’s a tricky line to walk, but they traverse it with energetic grace.

A succinct, quietly passionate preface presents poetry and comics as separate poles on the highbrow/lowbrow continuum – “Poetry got the perceived highbrow end of the stick, and comics the low” – before persuasively outlining the myriad reasons why these two distant (at least in the popular imagination) schools are in fact sibling forms. Of course, this makes sense: one only need think of the passionate antagonism shared between these mediums and their use of the blank space of the page. Opportunities for play, experimentation, non-linearity, and a rhizomatic approach are rarely so explicit elsewhere. In panel, image, text, and the gutters in between, every element of a page can serve a purpose.

Rhizomatic provides, if not a definition, then a useful byword for the book itself. That’s not to say it isn’t structured; it is a thoughtfully presented work that offers a useful overview of the medium, a discussion of key practitioners, and a selection of diverse and startling new work. The rhizomatic can  instead be discovered in the book’s refusal to rigidly define poetry comics in narrow terms. Instead, Williams and Humberstone present possibilities, celebrating a world of creativity that is continuing to gather momentum and ingenuity.

The passion that the editors have for the medium is nowhere more evident than in their willingness to sacrifice their own voices, filling the vast majority of the book with brand new work (over 70 pages of it). Any attempt to demonstrate the breadth and scope of Over the Line would prove inadequate without posting the contents of the book’s entire final section; suffice to say the examples that follow serve as the most perfunctory of toe-dips into a decidedly vibrant pool.

(From ‘Sea of Faces’ by Anna Saunders)

Sea of Faces p1Sea of Faces p2Sea of Faces p3 Sea of Faces p4

Monday Night Terror(From ‘Monday Night Terrors’ by John Canfied and Sean Azzopardi)

Whatever Happened to the Blue Whale_EXTRACT

(From ‘Whatever Happened to the Blue Whale in 2302 AD?’ by Russell Jones & Edward Ross)


(From ‘Haunted’ by Amy Key & Rob VonRamm)

These variations gesture toward a field of possibilities as limitless as the forms themselves. This book is a genuine achievement that pays as close attention to the gutters as it does to the words and images on each page. An inspiring glance through a keyhole into a room without walls.