For a while now I have been filing graphic novels into my mental TBR pile but just haven’t quite gotten round to diving in. So when I found a copy of Dan and Sam at the SYP Conference, I was so delighted that I wasted no time getting started. Dan and Sam is a stunning collaboration between comedian Mark Watson and illustrator Oliver Harud.
Dan Jolly and his wife Sam are pretty much the dream couple. Lovers and best friends, their life is about as perfect as it can get. But then one terrible night Sam is knocked down and killed by a car right outside the restaurant. Dan cannot believe Sam is gone. But then one night, as if by a miracle, she comes back to him. But it cannot last and as quickly as she appeared, she is gone again. Soon Dan realises that he must make a choice – to have Sam with him again, but just once a year, or to let her go – forever. A magical story about love, grief and moving on…or not.
This novel is so beautifully and painfully honest in its portrayal of grief: the way it leaks into every aspect of your life and alters your interactions with everyone around you, even those you love. It also represents the way you can see them everywhere and have to remind yourself that it’s not possible and the heart-tearing sensation of that realisation.
But just because it hurts, part of you can’t let go of that feeling because at least the pain is a part of their existence living inside you. How can Dan live as if Sam was never there? How can he love anyone else when she was his world? How can he navigate life when everything about him is part of the ‘Dan and Sam’ brand? His life was so constructed and determined by them as a unit.When he sees the slightest glimmer of hope that he can make their story last, he grasps onto it even if it’s torture. I almost felt like this annual ritual and his blankness in between was a way of him torturing himself because he was the one that had stayed. He felt like he had to mirror Sam’s year long nothingness and only live in that one night.
Graphic novels and comics are often used to illustrate complex issues such as mental health, prejudice and politics. The concept of Dan and Sam is perfect for the graphic novel genre because Sam’s return can be seen as both supernatural and psychological. Dan is the only one to see Sam and it could be a self-delusion formed out of hope, loneliness, and as I’ve already said, torture. This idea is further hinted at as Dan begins to see a counsellor. I’m unsure as to whether the counselling was good for him as he was channelling all his energies into increasingly frequent sessions to just talk about how hard things were and fill the time until he could see Sam again. It was as if it was another way to have her with him in between.
The illustrations in this book are beautiful and what I like most is the way Harud has used colour only in the panels in which Sam has come back. This both shows her bringing colour to his life, but also enforces the idea that this could be a fantasy, a delusion that Dan has constructed which goes beyond his everyday in every way possible.
It has certainly reignited my drive to read more graphic novels!