Return, written and illustrated by Niki Bañados, offers personal insight and social commentary. It also provides warnings about those pesky Cockatoos; they always have an agenda! Largely an internal monologue, the comic takes us through some recent and major life events Bañados has experienced. Moving back to Australia; the fires that followed; the pandemic; job hunting; settling in new surroundings. Bañados guides us through all of these things in pastel panels packed with a whole lot of wit and charm.
Bañados skilfully keeps the writing relatable despite it all being too personal. One of the ways she pulls this off is through the “random” comments and thoughts added to the panels. These work well as comic relief and – as with those shady Cockatoos – help move the story along. The comments aren’t profound; they’re just silly little things we might all think but never actually say out loud. But they create the perfect atmosphere for getting into the heart of the work. And that of course is this growing sense of frustration with the modern way of life.
The daily grind isn’t an original topic to cover, but the unique artwork grabs and keeps your attention. Scribbles of frustration; heads bursting of boredom; literal seeds of frustration growing under the skin. These are some very eye-catching design choices. Another key artistic theme is the relationship we have with nature. Or rather, the lack of one depending on the way you see things. The wild animals appearing in various points of the comic often raises questions of have we spread too far into natural spaces, and should we stay in our own, human-built environments?
These are the issues Return tackles, alongside other “big picture” topics that are sure to make readers think. Ultimately, the main drive of Return is where and what our roots are; the journey we face leaving and coming back to them. Things change and nothing is what we expect. Bañados uses this to question all of us. What the cost is of this to us and our surroundings; should we constantly be expanding; what impact are we having on nature; how will things look in the future; where do we all really belong?
Despite enjoying the story and artwork, I do think there might be some limitations. Especially on how well the short comic ‘Hail’ – featured at the end of Return – works for non-Australian readers. Or people who aren’t keen “twitchers” (no, not the social media users) in general. A quick search online can answer some questions. But I do think that a more universal approach to the message would give it greater impact.
It would also have been nice to get more answers from Bañados. The comic is great at laying out issues; there are moments where her opinions on subjects are engaging enough to be explored further. Unfortunately, they tend to be more open-ended and don’t provide enough depth as to the author’s stance. However, this is more of a personal preference than anything. The “open-ended” style is still enjoyable enough as it stands.
Overall, Return proves to be a thoughtful and insightful work that raises plenty of questions. Perceptive, relatable, and nicely designed; Bañados invites us all to reflect and think about the way we live, and how it impacts ourselves and our environment.