Book Review: In by Will McPhail

TL;DR – a tale of existentialism through observation, courage, and a lot of coffee shops.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

In tells the story of Nick searching for meaning in his life. He knows there is more than meets the eye to everyone he meets, but he does not know how to reach them. Every conversation, every encounter is on a superficial level.

Even when he meets Lorena, a sassy, engaging woman, he struggles to feel anything below the surface. Their ‘dance’ is one where they both stand behind protective walls they have built over time.

When finally he dares to speak his mind and true feelings to someone, he discovers something beyond the bubble of his own existence. He discovers the significance of others, and he learns that to live life means you have to become vulnerable.


Every now and then you stumble upon something that leaves you speechless. Something that stays with you long after you’ve turned the final page. In by Will McPhail is one of those reads that will linger with you and make you re-examine how you live your life.

This is not your normal graphic novel. As both artist and writer, McPhail uses everything at his disposal to create a poignant, meaningful, and significant story. The minimalist nature of his character designs, the detailed beauty of his backdrops, the way he conveys emotions such as nervousness through how he draws dialogue bubbles/speech balloons, and his use of colour ensures the reader will want to examine every page in detail.

And that’s just the art.

The story he tells is of a character named Nick who is searching for genuine connection. It is not just the meaning in his own life but also the meaning in others. He works as an artist drawing carp for a fishing magazine and carries around a sketchbook wherever he goes doing doodles.

In a city thriving with people, he feels lost and suffocated. He ventures into random coffee shops and bars seeking to have meaningful dialogue as well as to get out of his lonely apartment where he spends too much time either watching porn or listening to Joni Mitchell on replay. But everyone he interacts with is stuck keeping their head down, nose to the grindstone, and fearful of revealing anything deep about themselves because it could lead to ridicule, strange looks, and vulnerability.

Nick knows he is no better than anyone else, stuck on the outside looking in (not that he believes anyone is really ‘in’). But when he finally builds the courage to step outside his own fortress/prison, he experiences doorways into lives filled with colour.

Life is filled with highs and lows. Laughter and tears. There is strength, hope, and love in vulnerability even if it causes you to fall to your knees.

Essential reading.

5 out of 5.

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