When Eleanor Davis shared the first chapter of her latest comic, Tomorrow, on Twitter, she did so with a disclaimer: “I think this is the best comic I have ever made.” But ask her why, and she can’t quite answer. Davis has established herself as a maker of tenderly funny and introspective works for both YA and adult audiences, published by the likes of Fantagraphics and Koyama Press. A versatile visual artist who’s both emotionally and socially aware, Davis has never shied away from playing with form—moving deftly between scope, style, and genre.
With Tomorrow, Davis experiments with a format that’s new for her, yet as old as time in comics tradition: the release of a full-length book one chapter at a time. Making each chapter available for digital download for $5 each was a strategic choice that made sense both creatively and financially, with the added benefit of real-time reader feedback. But with anticipation embedded in its title, releasing Tomorrow episodically also feels fitting in more than just a practical sense.
The first chapter of Tomorrow follows a day-in-the-life of Hannah, a caregiver by day and community organizer by night who’s trying to start a family. Entirely dialogue-driven, the comic displays a level of character complexity beyond Davis’s previous work, and the emotional setup feels intensely precarious in a matter of pages. “I feel happy to have started working with a little bit more depth,” Davis says. “The story packs a lot of emotional punch, so I’m hoping people will respond to it.”
With anticipation embedded in its title, releasing Tomorrow episodically feels fitting in more than just a practical sense.
For Davis, and for many cartoonists, the process of writing a graphic novel can be intensely isolating and financially unstable. In 2008, she published Stinky, her first graphic novel and a monster tale for kids, and struggled through depression from its making. “Working on that was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done,” she says. “I knew I had to figure out a way to stay motivated to get Tomorrow finished, and to keep myself from becoming isolated or losing sight of the end goal.” The large amount of positive feedback she hears from readers was a major influence in her decision to serially release Tomorrow before publishing the book in its entirety. While in some cases listening to feedback might sway an artist’s vision over time, Davis considered it more as support than a dictation of direction. And with funding coming in as the work develops, Davis is able to prioritize Tomorrow at a level that would otherwise be impossible in her career as a freelance illustrator and academic.
For many cartoonists, the process of writing a graphic novel can be intensely isolating and financially unstable.
Importantly, releasing the book over time also heightens the tension of the storyline. With Tomorrow, Davis immediately drops the reader into a liminal zone between encroaching death and failing procreation. Hannah scours fertility Reddits in the hopes of getting pregnant while trying to build a house from the ground up. She looks after the snarky, tough-loving Miss Phyllis and spends her evenings with fellow activists who keep a sense of humor through it all. We see her perceptive compassion with Miss Phyllis, her unabashed honesty with a cop (who’s also a mother), a loving tension with her partner, Johnny, and the inklings of queer romance. The temporal gaps between serialized chapters lend themselves to the more “real-time” experience of waiting, of disappointment, of shifting and decaying relationships, and the inevitability–and promise–of change.
So, why is Tomorrow her best yet? Davis takes a moment to answer. “I just like it better. It’s a lot warmer.”
This warmth is one that’s carefully cultivated, and it’s mostly seen in the eyes. Davis’s past work extracts a massive reservoir of emotions from eyes that are literally flat (“dot-eyes,” she aptly calls them). While working on Tomorrow, Davis pushed herself stylistically, both to enhance her drawing and to break down a barrier between herself and the minds of her characters.
“Giving the characters dot-eyes lends them an opacity,” she explains. “It felt a lot safer. It took me a while to develop a style of drawing eyes that spoke to the character’s humanity a little bit more.” The reader enters the opening panel of Tomorrow through the protagonist, Hannah’s, wide, expressive eyes. From then on, we follow them everywhere.
The first chapter of Tomorrow ends with an incoming text from Gabby, Hannah’s alluring friend who’s been foreshadowed as a threat to her relationship with Johnny. The reader hasn’t formally met Gabby, but feels the pang that Hannah does at the sight of her name onscreen. Miss Phyllis instantly eclipses the rush, jolting awake from a nightmare about a fleeting mare: “Where did she go? Where did she go? I just reached down to touch her hoof.” Where did she go, we are left at the end of the chapter, reaching, waiting for a little more tomorrow.