Annie Murphy is a recent CCS graduate and I Still Live is her Xeric award-winning comic. ISL opens with a four-page, moodily illustrated quote from Ascha Sprague, the titular spiritualist that Murphy discovers while researching local Vermont history. In fact, much of I Still Live is illustrated passages of Sprague’s writing, interspersed with historical facts about her life and the Spiritualist movement, as well as a few pieces of the story of Murphy’s research into it all.
The whole book is black and white, colored only by bluish shades of watercolor grey, highlighting the passages of Sprague’s words. Murphy’s rendering of faces and natural details are quite bewitching, making the reader stare into the staring faces of 19th century Americans, ravens and ornate gravestones alike, except in the case of drawing herself, where she just looks like a hastily sketched cartoon stand-in. Each page is laid out differently, giving the sense of a sprawling, illustrated poem in some places and a history or autobio comic in others. This method was a bit disjointed, but effective enough to tell the parallel stories of Murphy and Sprague.
The uneasy coexistence of the two stories is what undermined my enjoyment of I Still Live. From the cover depicting Murphy engaged in the Spiritualist practice of automatic writing, channeling this comic from the faces of the dead above her, I expected something more united in theme, a focus on one story or the other, or a more detailed look at both. Murphy sells her own story short by giving us only a sketch of her motivations and methods, and also gives short shrift to her subject by mainly illustrating her words instead of interpreting Sprague’s message for today’s audience. I am still left to wonder what was so personally compelling to Murphy about Sprague that she decided to do this project—disappointing in the face of Murphy’s obvious enthusiasm.