There were no words in Quinton’s debut graphic novel, aside from the title in white block letters on the cover. Not a single sentence to contribute to the narrative, or to give context to place and time, even to name characters. The story was told purely through Quinton’s illustrations, two hundred pages of imagery. The conflict, the character development, the meaning, could be unlocked only by studying the images and their relationship with one another.
Raking Light was the title, an art restoration term for using light at an oblique angle to reveal the imperfections of a painting. Some fans of Raking Light clung to those two words as evidence that it was autobiographical, that the mysterious artist was revealing his very soul and all of its ugly imperfections. And perhaps so much was revealed that the artist couldn’t bear to let it see light without anonymity.
The autobiography was one theory. The artist’s approach left plenty of room for interpretation. Raking Light was gritty and dark. Shadows hid so much that the viewer’s imagination was forced into filling in the darkness with his or her own perspective. What was in the light was explicit in every way. Scars were emphasized. Nudity was shown with every minute flaw accentuated. Violence was guttural – the vivid portrayal of a tragic car accident, and the self-violence that followed.
The faces and bodies of the two main characters, a young man and woman, were intensely realistic, with a concentration on the eyes to convey the polar extremes of warmth and pain. Yet the environments that floated around the characters were surreal, somewhere between the worlds within a David Lynch Film and a Salvador Dali painting. The contrast between the two components was jarring. And everything was realized in rich black and white.
Who was the artist? Hidden behind the mocking pseudonym Jay Walker, fans and critics could do nothing more than suppose his intentions. What were his interests? His politics? His background? For some, discovering the identity of the creator was essential to understanding the meaning of the work.
For others, the identity was irrelevant. Some believed ambiguity was intended to allow each person to find his or her own meaning.
Apart from the ambiguity of the storyline, the meaning behind the emotions was clear, as was the sequence of emotions. The story began with infatuation, that fluttering state when the body is as light as air, when two find each other for the first time and the eyes open to revelation. Infatuation transcended to an experience that language is ill equipped to categorize, that state where nothing matters except for the other, where eyes reveal the soul and the connection that had manifested. Following, an abrupt atrocity, wicked and unjust, tore one from the other, and the eyes dimmed under the shadow of loss. Then madness set in and the eyes, unblinking, were wide and fixed like stone. The story ended with a sullen acceptance and the one left walking alone.
Quinton’s pseudonym helped him to detach from the buzz. He could be sheltered from personal inquiries about the meaning of Raking Light that would have surely been too much for the artist to handle. The conversations took place in universes far away from his nearly solitary reality and avoidable with the right measures. He could exist detached from the public buzz as if Raking Light never was.
After the first print run, the artist flipped through the pages of a copy that his agent had shown him; and upon returning the copy, it was the last time he ever touched it. Quinton didn’t own a copy and any versions of the original artwork that were used to create Raking Light were stored away with no intentions of ever opening the carefully sealed boxes. The only faint reminder was a sketch of a young woman hanging in his apartment that was drawn long before Raking Light ever had a reason to be.
Not too long after the book was published, the agent had broached the subject of the work’s meaning, but was met with a gaze that was completely vacant and against only silence where his client, his friend, seemed to go into a trance, the agent left the apartment unnoticed and never brought up the subject again.
Raking Light had remarkable success, but Quinton did not allow himself to benefit. Only from the second graphic novel that was just as dark but unrelated in subject matter, did he begin to take payment. Every penny of Quinton’s portion of the profit from Raking Light was donated to charity.
Raking Light was never meant to be and there it was. Quinton had created the work because he had to, because it needed to be evacuated from his mind the way an exorcism evacuates the demon. The fact that it was discovered was happenstance.
His agent, Troy, had stumbled on what would be Raking Light in the basement of a rowhome in Queens, New York. He was dating Quinton’s sister as he travelled between New York and Philly, paying his dues in a small music agency. The romance was long enough to be introduced to her brother. Quinton was living with his sister for a few months following the third stay in the hospital as he tried to piece his life together working as a freelance graphic designer. He was reclusive and would often leave the home when Troy stayed the night. His sister never discussed Quinton’s issues, only that he had always seen things differently than others, and he was trying to get over things from his past.
One evening, when the upstairs had suddenly gotten very cold, Troy went to the basement to check the heater, and there was Quinton on the floor putting together panels of art. In a near manic state, he didn’t notice Troy who watched, amazed by the work. Over the next several months, Troy got to know Quinton and eventually was permitted to see the artist’s work-in-progress. Their friendship strengthened as the romance between Troy and Quinton’s sister waned. Nearly a year later, Troy convinced Quinton to let him try for a publishing deal. Quinton’s reason – to make amends.