Updated: Feb 9, 2021
Set in modern day Britain, “Heartstopper” is a webcomic and print graphic novel by Alice Oseman that follows the developing love life of Charlie Spring, a bullied high schooler, and Nick Nelson, a popular rugby lad. In the words of the first volume’s back cover, “Boy meets boy. Boys become friends. Boys fall in love.” Straight to the point, this is a story about love, but also about bullying, family, and mental illness.
Still an ongoing story, this webcomic updates three times a month in short episodes containing multiple pages of the story. Through the online format, this comic has amassed likely hundreds of pages since its conception in 2016, allowing for a homely moment-to-moment focus in the panelling and composition. This focus on small moments- from hesitant touches, changes in a smile, feelings of helplessness- allows the reader to connect with these characters on a deeply personal level. Quite literally, “Heartstopper” captures a beat in time, and a slice of these character’s lives. With a diverse supporting cast, Oseman widens the lens of her story to include so many unique and important aspects of growing up, especially those pertaining to the LGBT+ experience.
The most present of these issues in the story, being Charlie’s strict home life and ongoing struggle with an eating disorder he’s afraid to open up about. The handling of mental illness in this comic, and how it intertwines with other aspects of adolescence, is gentle and saddening all at once- with the insistence that this isn’t something he can handle on his own, and it’s not something he can fix with Nick’s help either. Mental illness can be sneakily difficult, and can put a massive strain on interpersonal relationships whether intentional or not; “Heartstopper” handles this, like it’s many other topics, with grace.
In addition to its charming and loose art style, “Heartstopper” and its moment-to-moment emphasis is only bettered by its origin as a webcomic in print form. Although in greyscale throughout the majority of the comic, Oseman’s use of panel composition and loose textures carry the story and hone in on the inner turmoil of the main cast. Overall this is a comic that hits close to home for any reader who knows what it’s like to feel their heart stop.
"Heartstopper" has also recently been announced to be coming to Netflix in an eight part series!