Review: Safe Distance by James Hindle

Safe Distance is a 20 page zine published by One Percent Press and is the third book by James Hindle published by the micropress. I got a copy at Genghis Con in 2015. I’ve read it a few times since then, and while it’s a quick read, Safe Distance is a complex book. In it Hindle explores the relationship he had with his father and the grieving process after his death.

Hindle sets the stage of the comic with a bizarre chemical spill that only affects his apartment. The strange spill causes an overgrowth of plants and trees inside his apartment, eventually causing the destruction of his home and his disconnection from the rest of the world. The metaphor of destructive change, acceptance, and growth links closely with the way death affects families and people. No matter where you are when you start, you aren’t the same at the end. The grieving, the anger, those final questions – they all change you irrevocably.

James Hindle explores a few specific moments in his relationship with his father, and the way he remembers those moments. Importantly, Hindle confesses his anger and his confusion, but never finds a satisfactory answer to his questions. The best he can hope for is emotional resolution. The way that Hindle transitions between these memories and the magical realism of his overgrown apartment is abrupt, and I wish there were some sort of visual signifier for those transitions.

Throughout Safe Distance, Hindle’s line and figure are strong, but the illustrations of Hindle’s self-insert character are a bit dead-eyed. There’s a relative simplicity to the panel construction and layout, and part of me wants to see how Hindle would handle more complicated scenes, because most of the images in the book are Hindle’s character staring off into space. Hindle has a good eye for shadows and there are even a few panels that are reminiscent of Mike Mignola. That said, Hindle’s emotional response to his father’s death is the primary subject of the comic, and that’s an area of the comic that is lacking visually.

The act of processing grief, and the person you become afterwards, is a fertile ground for creative work. Safe Distance’s strong metaphor and lovely line make it a rewarding read, even if it doesn’t hit all the marks.

James Hindle is a designer, illustrator, and cartoonist based in Massachusetts. You can find more work by Hindle here. One Percent Press is a punk/DIY publisher of comics and music. You can check out their catalog here.

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