LIGHTS! PLANETS! PEOPLE! Review – An Intergalactic Look Into Anxiety

The stellar team Molly Naylor and Lizzy Stewart bring us a graphic novel retelling of Naylor’s amazing stageplay about loss, legacy and the logistics of modern life. Lights! Planets! People! follows famous astronomer Maggie Hill as she prepares to give a lecture advising other young women to follow her path into a STEM career. She is also preparing for a personal journey in to therapy. Her struggle to battle her enfeebling anxieties while exuding a confident, successful happiness to these young ladies sends her looking back on her past and dissecting her life’s failures and achievements. The book revels in these juxtapositions and shows us the resilience and exhaustion that is part-and-parcel of modern womanhood.

This may be Naylor’s first graphic novel script but it is by no means her first work worth mention. She has written multiple stage pieces; winning the Norfolk Arts Award for Theatre on the stage version of Lights! Planets! People!, having Whenever I Get Blown Up I Think Of You adapted for BBC Radio 4 and is about to start touring Stop Trying to be Fantastic. All this alongside her Sky One series After Hours and upcoming feature film I’ll See Myself Out. You can see everything she’s learnt from this work in the powerful, simplistic dialogue she utilises, allowing whole scenes to speak for characters. She has proven herself to be a powerhouse of a storyteller in the past but has still outdone herself with this enchanting graphic novel.

While the writing is truly out-of-this-world, Stewart – just recently coming off the release of her solo title It’s Not What You Thought It Would Be which was chosen as The Observer’s July Book of the Month – brings a strange calm to the sharp feelings discussed within with her blush-light touch to illustrating. The flow of her sequentials succeeds in pulling readers into an languid pace that allows them to ruminate with our protagonist. And the directive lighting in this book might as well be a character all of it’s own.

Lights! Planets! People! discusses a very feminine understanding of mental health and the human experience, which only a team of truly talented women like themselves could bare onto the page. While Maggie suffers from a broken heart and a life that has become too much she is somehow still preoccupied with the task of lecturing these ambitious, brilliant and young woman. And with the legacy that she will be able to create. Through this literal mirror in to her past self she can see these women running headfirst into their future, her present, with no understanding of what that really entails. This duality Naylor has set up is enthralling and heartbreaking. Watching Maggie wrestle to groom this group of women into accomplished and content scientists better than herself in the intimately illustrated backdrop Stewart provides is a simply moving experience.

Readers driven to ask themselves “What have I done for the women around me?”, “What do I wish I’d done differently?” and “Where did I want to be by now?” after they pick up this book wouldn’t be alone. But readers who end up taking nothing from this book would be. People in all stages of their journey should be able to see themselves in Maggie and the rest of the cast. This is a book I’ll be recommending religiously to everyone for the next year. Make sure to go pick yourself up a copy when you’re able. You won’t regret it.

Praise for Lights! Planets! People! :

“This is a graphic novel that manages to be both vast and introspective. Lizzy Stewart’s sensitive art works perfectly with Molly Naylor’s quiet but powerful story and takes us to the outer reaches of space and back again.” – Isabel Greenberg

“Naylor writes with a poet’s ear for rhythm and metaphor, and delivers with a stand-up’s comic timing.” – The Irish Times

“Naylor offers a moving and sometimes humorous presentation of both the most personal moments and the greatest cosmic things that build our world. It’s an empowering piece that questions our approach on such differing themes of mental health and space, making us realise that they might have more in common than you’d think”. – Katrina Bennet, Razz

“Lizzy Stewart is one of comics’ great observers of those seemingly smaller moments of human existence.” – Andy Oliver, Broken Frontier

A nuanced portrait of a woman in later life and career. Readers will find the messy intertwining of Maggie’s personal and professional life sympathetic and inspirational.”  –  Publishers Weekly

Lights! Planets! People! Written by Molly Naylor and illustrated by Lizzy Stewart is published 23rd September by Avery Hill Publishing
(9781910395615, h/b, £16.99)

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