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Psychic Hotline (review)

Creator: Leonie Brialey

Glom Press, 2018, 2020

The promotional copy for this title, Psychic Hotline is understated, to say the least:

It’s about a ghost calling a psychic hotline.

This one-liner gives no credit at all to what is, with respect, a masterclass of nuance by Melbourne-based creator, Leonie Brialey. The arrangement of the comic is impeccable, belied by the simplistic art. Pages slowly build in thematic waves. The story suddenly crests and tumbles upon the hapless reader, who is unexpectedly caught in previously unseen currents of sadness, melancholy, regret, and insight. (With all of the water metaphors we have used in this critique, it seems appropriate that many of the scenes feature the Psychic in a bath occasionally clutching her head.)

Who is the most forlorn character in Psychic Hotline? Is it the agitated ghost, desperate and lost, struggling to grapple with a family history of an absent father? Is it the father, a man equally despondent by his failure as a farmer and by his hidden bisexuality?

Or is it the Psychic herself, comforted by her dog? In a marvel of ambiguity, is the psychic telling the dog that the dog is a good girl, or is the dog telling the psychic that the psychic is a good girl? There seemed to be something amiss on a first and second reading which we could not immediately pin down. Only on the third reading did it become apparent. It is the absence of word balloons that generates a doubt around who is saying what: who gives the praise and who has the need for praise?

Some of the text is achingly existential:

The combination of having all of your desires supressed or otherwise thwarted can be pretty devastating. Perhaps this devastation is passed on somehow.

The comic infuses serenity with agitation. On the surface at points, the pages of textless art, barely moving if at all, suggest peace, a mantra of repetition of image. The sea gently rolls. But below is an incessant submarine fidgeting. Is the ghost a metaphor for a person who is emotionally dead? Is the ghost another failed potato misplanted by the farmer, the emotional distance caused by his repressed sexuality failing his offspring? Or is the ghost a representation of the farmer’s only successful crop – he has given life, even if that was not the “plan”? When the ghost sinks partially into the ground and forms part of a grand and broad vista, what… what, what does this mean? An interpretation can be seen but not grasped. It spills between our fingers, unfathomable.

There are so many questions stirred up by this comic, with many possible answers.

Ms Brialey has a profound gift.

We bought Psychic Hotline from the Glom Press desk at the recent 2022 Perth Comic Arts Festival. This title is otherwise available for purchase via this link: