It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth explores clinical depression and suicidal thoughts in great detail. It is important to be aware of that before reading in-depth reviews or the graphic novel itself.
I had almost no context for this graphic novel when I started it. I say almost, because the way I knew of its existence at all was a glowing tweet from comic legend Chip Zdarsky that included a panel of fellow comic legend Kieron Gillen as a pigeon. That’s really all I needed to know. So it was only when I read Zoe’s disclaimer that the novel contained “discussion and depiction of suicide and self harm” that I actually became aware of what this book would be about. I went back to the cover and realized that the woman on it was not dancing but jumping into a dark hole. Or maybe both.
“It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth” is a self described autobiography from Zoe Thorogood, and it details her struggle with clinical depression and how that affects her art as well as her relationship with the outside world. Multiple art mediums and styles are used to create a look and feel that I honestly have not seen before. It seems impossible to try and communicate what she does so well with these storytelling methods and how it affected me in a simple review, but I was so profoundly moved by it that I felt like I had to try, if only to get at least one other person to give this a chance.
What’s immediately apparent in how this book is drawn and narrated is its meta quality. This isn’t “cutesy wink to the camera” meta or even the “we’re being meta about being meta” method that something like “Rick and Morty” uses. The closest comparison I can give is Bo Burnham’s 2021 comedy special, “Inside.” Both Bo and Zoe acknowledge that making a thing about making a thing can come off as pretentious and that being self-effacing about that can come off as self-pitying instead. This never-ending loop of expressing feelings, getting embarrassed about expressing feelings, and then expressing that embarrassment is something Zoe can and does argue about with herself, as the book features her in different variations and personas.
The way this story was told, with all of its different artistic tools and fourth wall breaking, sounds like it could be overwhelming, but what makes this so special is that it isn’t. Thorogood knows exactly how to use all of these pieces to tell a story that is heartbreakingly human. Love, friendship, art, loneliness, and even the questionable purpose of life is examined, and though she struggles with the word in the book itself, what could be more “relatable” than that? I’ve personally had similar thoughts as Zoe and every day take a pill to try and curb my anxiety and depression. I know that it definitely can be lonely and that the mind can seem like a vast place, echoing feelings that you don’t want to feel. I think this book will ease some of that loneliness for a lot of people, and I’m glad that towards the end, it seems to be helping the author as well. At the very least, you get to see Kieron Gillen as a pigeon.