It’s difficult to describe anxiety and its resulting sadness when you exist in it. You watch the world pass by as if everything is completely normal while inside, you are drowning. Despite many failed attempts myself to eloquently express the depths of what loss, anxiety, and depression feel like, Alessandro Baronciani captures it in a few beautiful blue frames as his protagonist in When Everything Turned Blue, Chiara, fears for her life while scuba diving and, in the quiet darkness begins to panic as she hears a disembodied voice. The underwater nightmare turns out to be just that, but in her waking life, a phone call alerts her to the death of her friend and peer, Marco, and with that, the trajectory of her path changes as she is engulfed in the concern of her own mortality.
Baronciani creates a beautiful and heartbreaking story as Chiara begins to dissociate from the world around her, hunting for an answer to the mystery illness that plagues and alienates her from the life she once knew. The graphic novel and its illustrations (also by Baronciani) read like a beautifully illustrated book of poetry as we follow the protagonist into the depth of her melancholy, judging the world and community around her while trying to survive by any means possible.
Chiara observes her environment quietly while on the near-constant brink of a panic attack, causing a halt to the life she once knew. Visually, we follow her as she appears to be a shell of the gentle character we first saw, becoming fearful and panicked about the unknown, and pushing those close to her away as she seeks answers for her constant anxiety in the form of doctor’s visits and a myriad of tests while looking to her past for solace.
The through line that Baronciani comes back to is that to be human is to accept that there will be a fear of the unknown but encourages the need to embrace the moments that bring you joy and perhaps a sense of purpose and belonging. Marco was ill, a fact Chiara knew and avoided because they were young, and she couldn’t imagine death.
When faced with the reality of her own mortality, her story begins to spiral, which is shown beautifully with each frame. The story captures an experience familiar to many with calm yet foreboding imagery, allowing the reader to feel cozy yet alone as they watch Chiara’s journey through the blue unfold before them.
Through his words and art, Baronciani captures a moment in time when the path of your life splits. Through his illustrations, he captures the isolation that sadness and fear of the unknown can create. Chiara is a complex but familiar character that we can feel for even if we can’t relate to her experiences, and this story allows us a brief moment into the vulnerability of being human.
First released in Italy by Bao Publishing in 2020, Dark Horse presents this graphic novel in English for the first time, translated by Carla Roncalli di Montorio.