I Drank Holy Water
by Olivia Sullivan
Self-published [available online]
Colour / £6
Review by Tom Mortimer
Olivia Sullivan’s I Drank Holy Water is a raw autobiographical, self published comic exploring her relationship with religion; predominantly through childhood memories but also a personal exploration.
Much like Sullivan’s past work, this has an angst-ridden drive coupled with an open, bare-all honesty and a great sense of immediacy that sometimes breaks structure to leap into free flow. All of which combines to give the book a zine-like quality in terms of tone and layout.
The subject matter is quite layered and playful. While it begins with Sullivan’s roots as an Irish catholic, and her attending Mass, there are various anecdotal stories, confessions, concerns, observations and digressions that spin off and weave back into it to create a more fleshed out life experience. Anxieties and medical conditions are explored, both mentally and in physical manifestations, with three chapters that help collect and collate these strands.
The publication isn’t necessarily what you’d expect; for example, the majesty of religious decor is played down (one church is cited as resembling a McDonalds, for instance). Biblical content is also notably less discussed. Sullivan places much more emphasis on the individual experience, as someone who has been brought into that world and feels its lingering effect.
In terms of technical approach, Sullivan’s work seems softened in colour. Perhaps through a wider mid-tonal range, she loses some of her usually harsh black and white edge. They have been occasions in her black and white work where texture has really leapt forth – Sullivan is not afraid of the ugly or the gritty – and here, while present at times, the skin of the reader doesn’t quite crawl in the same way. That said, her use of colour is fairly well selected, and doesn’t fall into the “sky is blue, grass is green” pitfall. Her murkier palette also echoes that sense of exposing the mundanity behind her experiences. This colour scheme is occasionally interspersed with bursts of electric colour, in a manner that seems fitting to the context – such as glowing blue Marys.
Having interviewed Sullivan last year, I know she feels like she’s currently at the beginning of her game and a newbie to the small press world – something many of us can relate to. It can also sometimes be frustrating as a creator to feel that you’re at that start of a process. That vast future ahead is daunting, and for all its potential reward, there also comes with it the looming prospect of frustration and hard labour. But at the same time, now is an exciting stage to be involved in small press comics. Creators like Olivia Sullivan are accessible and human in their approach to storytelling. I have every expectation that this may be an area that she will champion in the future. In that at least, I have faith.