I looked over the first four parts of O. D. Pomery’s Between The Billboards back in May this year. I really enjoyed it, Pomery’s story of a man living in isolation is clever, with great dialogue, and an intriguingly different artistic style.
James Ebner is that man, a lost soul, isolated and living a life where he’s systematically hermetically sealing himself off from life, spending more and more time living atop the roof, living in a converted water tank sandwiched between two billboards, the resulting structure looking like a giant butterfly merely reinforcing just how insular and confined Ebner has become. No matter what happens, he’s never going to fly, he can barely leave his four walls.
As yet, we’re not sure why he’s doing what he’s doing. It could simply be a reaction to the world, it could well be depression, there was a woman, a relationship that failed badly. Whatever the cause, the result is the same, he’s collapsing in upon himself, pulling back from life.
There are friends sure, but one by one Ebner’s pushed them all away, the deliberately isolationist stance, his sorrowful demeanour, neither particularly attractive to friendships of any kind. As part V opens, we’re informed through a small catch-up page that Ebner’s contact with the outside world has now become near non-existent, his last friend Israel meeting up one last time before he’s off on tour…
That gives you a damn good idea of the sense of style and the whole tone of Billboards. Love Pomery’s compositions, where he’ll just pull back and focus on the wider elements, or conversely where he’ll drill down to a tight close-up later on in this issue, drilling into Ebner’s narrow little world now.
Halfway through this short piece (just 14 pages long), Israel leaves, and that’s the last bit of dialogue you’ll hear, Ebner’s left to his own devices, the minimalist life Ebner leads is really beginning to take hold, and his life is far quieter…
Limiting Ebner’s outside contacts means less chat, which is both a good and a bad thing. At its best Pomery’s dialogue is sharp and witty, but at its worst it’s cliché ridden, and there’s one page here between Ebner and Israel that just should be great, but Israel’s dialogue is far too verbose and preachy, this parting moment of truth between two friends should have more emotional weight than it does.
Having said that, the occasional overdone dialogue is the only thing Pomery does wrong, and it’s a minor thing dispensed with in the first half of this episode.
And although it may be short, you don’t actually read this as a quick, condensed thing, your eye will deliberately linger, especially once Ebner is alone, once we’re diving down into the essence of the man. Here time slows for us as it does for him, here we share every moment, every thought that Ebner has, and we can understand something of the despair that drives him to cut himself off.
Pomery’s art here is simply gorgeous, capturing moments as Ebner looks around, realising his situation yet unable to change whilst also revelling in the loneliness, wallowing in his depression, convinced his way is the right way, certain in his despair, convinced that the world outside has little to offer anymore….
I do so like the style of Billboards, Pomery’s art has a confidence now, his vertical cross-hatching technique familiar yet still visually arresting, and his tone here is so right, gone is the conversational combat of earlier issues, gone the humour between Ebner and Israel. Now the comedy melancholy has turn darker, and we wonder how Ebner’s going to pull himself out of this deep isolation. That’s for next time, but this is one I really do want to see to the conclusion in the next issue.
It’s possibly worrying that I can see so much of my world in the protagonist of Pomery’s Billboards. I can feel his pain, sense his desire to just be allowed to be alone, cut himself off, less people means less problems, simplicity, reductionism, everything back to basics, just him and him alone, simple, easy, the only way he can cope. I worry about me sometimes.
But not before I absolutely get to luxuriate in just how well Pomery has captured a sense of a person closing in and shoring themselves up. This is inside the psyche stuff, powerful and affecting.