When I like something, I want a lot of it. This is why I gravitate towards comics like Lumberjanes, which has so many volumes, or Wicked + Divine, which has a long and complex enough arc that getting to the end is a satisfying endeavor. But every now and again I pick up a one-shot story that reminds me that sometimes less is more, that fewer words can be achingly beautiful and leave a hole in your heart wanting more. Enter Rosemary Valero-O’Connell’s Don’t Go Without Me, a triptych of short comics, each a different story connected by themes of “memory, isolation, and connection.”
A Summary of Don’t Go Without Me
This book is gorgeous and, as someone who has been thinking about writing a collection of loosely-connected short stories, a great example of how to take unrelated plots and characters and make them a cohesive work.
The first story, Don’t Go Without Me, follows a woman who loses her girlfriend when they cross into another dimension together. As our protagonist describes her girlfriend to the creatures who inhabit the parallel dimension, she slowly loses her memory of her girlfriend’s face, then personality, then existence. The creatures of the alternate dimension are full of eyes, mouths, and long necks who hunger for our protagonist’s description of love and beauty.
In the second story, What Is Left, a spaceship that’s powered by human memory explodes, and the sole survivor is trapped in their donor’s memories, witnessing her childhood, heartbreak, and young love. The protagonist loses herself in the memories of the woman, who was also on the ship when it exploded, perhaps permanently.
In the third story, Con Temor, Con Ternura (With Fear, With Tenderness), a town gathers on the beach, where the giant who has slept offshore for generations may finally wake. No one knows for sure whether it will, or what will happen when it does, but for what might be their final night on Earth, they choose to party on the beach, surrounded by music, food, and loved ones. This story is a meditation on life, on how we choose to live it, and what, at the end of the world, really matters. It leaves us with two questions:
- What will you do if it wakes up?
- And what will you do if it doesn’t?
It challenges the reader to look inward, to ask whether how they choose to live every day reflects what is truly important. At the end of the day, what matters isn’t whether the giant wakes, but the actions of the people who believe it will.
The book leaves you bereft, with big questions, the answers to which you will find inside yourself. It really is impressive how the author, who both wrote and illustrated the book, created a cohesive piece of art via the themes of the stories as well as the colors and artwork.
All three stories are illustrated with two or three main colors that grow and complement each other across the work. Don’t Go Without Me is colored in shades of coral and mauve; What is Left is muted pastels of pink and lavender; and Con Temor, Con Ternura, shades of coral, grey, and seafoam green. The limited colors force the reader to look harder at the intricate illustrations—each story’s world is full of life, full of details that balance the relatively sparse prose.
The artwork shows us another side of comics than we usually see, particularly the depiction of the protagonists and their love interests in each story. The highlighted romances—our protagonist and her girlfriend in the first story, the memory suppliers past partners in the second, and the oldest woman in the village and her wife in the third—are all between women, and I particularly loved the diversity in age, body type, and facial features across the book.
It’s easy to pick up a comic with not a lot of words and burn through it quickly, especially when the stories are compelling. But this book deserves to be sat with, each page turned slowly and only after the reader has examined it carefully, and re-read several times (perhaps even in the same sitting). I already have a different perspective on it now than I did when I read it for the first time. I can’t wait to revisit it throughout the years and see how each story impacts me differently as I continue to grow.
Marina is a West Coast native living in Washington, DC. She loves writing anything, from sci-fi to creative non-fiction to romance, often drawing inspiration from the frequent travel required by her day job. Her work has appeared in such literary magazines as DistrictLit and Corner Bar Magazine. When she’s not writing, you can find her hosting bar trivia, baking something involving peaches, or bothering her extremely patient dog, Daisy. You can read more of her work at marinabarakatt.com and find pictures of Daisy at @marinabarakatt.