To Be Seen is this lyrical piece about an unnamed female tween narrator and her life at a particular time. There are six vignettes in the comic, with most of them echoing throughout others.
The strips are gentle, sometimes funny, sometimes scary—Nowak captures that period where in childhood where you’re figuring out the world isn’t what you thought but you also aren’t able to describe these new observations because you don’t have the vocabulary. There’s this great part about how the world is only ever two things—here and there—and its simultaneously giant and tiny. It’s just great. Especially with the expressions on the narrator’s face as she thinks through the big ideas.
But it also feels a little like a Peanuts homage—there’s a mysterious hole in the ground and it seems very much like a kite-eating tree and something about the lettering; there might even be a mention of it. I mean, there’s definitely a mention of “peanuts” but it’s unclear if it’s Peanuts or not. The narrator goes home to keep the kids who are in the TV company and someone on screen can’t eat peanuts. Nowak phrases it much better, profoundly better. Most of the comic just flows, but there are occasional great lines.
The narrator also has some bad dreams and, similarly to how she’s learning to comprehend the universe, she’s also learning to understand her dreams and why nightmares can utterly lack logic. But she can’t describe it, not even to herself. She doesn’t have the words.
There are some great other details, like the stuffed animals the narrator brings around with her. They serve different functions, the cat and the bunny, and Nowak does a great job implying what one’s presence or absence means for the narrator’s state of mind.
It’s a lovely little book, kind of haunting, but also not really. Haunting is a heavy term in a way To Be Seen isn’t heavy. To Be Seen is learning the world isn’t really magic but it’s kind of better for not being. Or something.
Great art too. The expressions on the protagonist are phenomenal.