‘The Lab:’ Graphic Novel Review

The Lab is a wordless story about a nameless, humanoid lab test subject that’s subjected to a litany of trials and experiments. The subject is held in spartan conditions in isolation, surrounded by countless others. While they are clearly being used for some kind of research, we never see the “researchers” whose presence is only hinted at with sophisticated technology that picks up the test subject and administers the test protocols, before depositing the subject back in its cell. In short, it’s a haunting look at the monotony of mechanized testing protocols.

Allison Conway serves as a one-person writer-artist-colorist marvel. While this is a “silent” story, Conway’s vision comes through loud and clear. The imagery is hauntingly evocative with an elegant simplicity. Most of the pages are rendered almost entirely in black and white, with sparse usage of color that really amplifies the horror. The sparing use of color really highlights the variety of horrors that are visited upon the test subject in an otherwise monotonous setting. The ending sequence is a gorgeously rendered moment that feels like an ultimate relief from the oppressive horror of the earlier portions of this book.  

I felt that I had to read this book, coming from a biological science background. Animal testing is a subject that is fraught with emotional arguments, and I think that #StoriesMatter because they allow us to approach certain subjects from a place of fiction instead of reality. The undeniable fact is that the human race has greatly profited animal testing, allowing us to invent and refine medical treatments that have saved countless lives. This fact is often overlooked when we look back at the past from a position of privilege (having had access to vaccines, antibiotics, and other such therapeutics.). Where I think this book succeeds is in generating empathy for the test subjects; by using a vaguely anthropomorphic figure, Conway makes it easier for us to relate to its plight. By giving us a more “human” test subject to empathize with, it allows us to consider the position that we may take that human lives are worth the sacrifice of “lower” organisms. Some may still hold this position, but if nothing else, it creates the possibility of a dialogue, which may bring both sides closer to seeing each other’s perspectives. That’s the power of stories: to unite us in what is fundamentally a human experience.


Creative Team: Allison Conway (writer, artist, colorist)
Publisher: IDW Publishing
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