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Let Go by Mark Huebner  

A story of travail and triumph, Mark Huebner’s wordless novel Let Go follows a laid-off ad man struggling to carry the deadweight of his past as he labours through a blizzard toward an unknown future.

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A lost job.
A cardboard box.
A raging blizzard.

After being fired from his job, a veteran ad man is escorted from the office, carrying a cardboard box packed with mementos of his career. He steps out into a blinding blizzard, burdened by the weight of his collection.

Each object tells a story, and as he navigates the city and makes his way home, he indulges in memories from his past: former colleagues, an award-winning campaign, a lost love. But faced with the demands of the present—and the very real danger of the snow-bound city streets—he must decide whether to hold on to the objects of his past, or to let go in the hopes of surviving the night.

The bold, honest linocuts in Mark Huebner’s Let Go form an evocative narrative that distills over twenty years of memories into a single night of intense struggle against nature both meteorological and human.

prize

2022—ForeWord Indies Book Award,
Long-listed

prize

2022—eLit Awards,
Runner-up

Review text

An experiment in creating meaning, Let Go is a compelling wordless novel about accepting change.

A man is escorted from his former office on a snowy, windswept night in Mark Huebner’s wordless novel Let Go.

An unnamed man packs his personal possessions into a cardboard box under the watchful eye of a security guard. Each item connects to a significant moment from his time at the office, where he has fallen in love, won awards, and seen technology change to enhance his work. By all accounts, he has exceeded his company’s expectations. As he leaves and trudges through the city, his inner turmoil is reflected by the deserted streets. He works to decide how to move into his future.

The story varies in its approachability. With each item, it moves back in time so that the man can reflect on how he came to possess that particular object. When the story jolts back to the present, the object of concern falls out of the box and is lost—like an act of letting go. But unanswered questions linger, including about why the man was escorted off the premises of his workplace—and why he elected to keep these innocuous items, including an unwound tape, a typewriter, and a broken mug. His memories are a source of meaning, but the places at which he loses his possessions result in other meanings, too.

The illustrations in this wordless title are eye-catching and detailed. Each page contains a single linocut print, from which images emerge in black ink and negative space alone. Some of the prints are so rich that fabric textures and wood grain patterns are visible; others make extreme use of black, rendering their images near impossible to parse. But within even the most still of these images, there is movement, both subtle and extreme. Swooping and swirling lines denote the bluster of wind; snow drifts pile high against buildings. A flapping coat and hair standing on end simulate swift motions.

But because the art is the sole focal point of the book, the images sometimes overtake its sense of a story. The book’s foreword and afterword provide more narrative direction and closure, though they also somewhat undermine the experimental nature of the book by including information on advertising experiences that, in their industry-specificity, hamper the otherwise expansive tale.

A masterclass in visual storytelling, Let Go is a compelling wordless novel about accepting change.

—Dontaná McPherson-Joseph, Foreword Reviews

Introduction or preface

Foreword by Terry O’Reilly

The high-pressure world of advertising is not for everybody.

You are expected to generate creative selling ideas every day. The money spent on those ideas can be jaw-dropping. Sometimes you are creating the biggest campaign of the year for a client, so a lot is riding on it. Sometimes you are creating a pitch campaign to land much-needed new business. And sometimes you are trying to save an account from walking out the door.

The pressure can be relentless.

Clients ride you hard because their jobs depend on how well you do yours. So you work twelve-hour days and weekends. Your love life gets the short end of the stick. Cold pizza at midnight is routine. You have the occasional smoke to calm the nerves. Your coffee cup occasionally holds something a little stronger than Maxwell House.

You have a thick skin because it is an industry built on rejection. For every idea that gets approved, a dozen more get turned down. To outsiders, the ad industry preens with too many award shows, but you know why they are critical. The awards are a calamine lotion for that constant rejection. But most of all, the industry needs to take its own temperature. The best work inspires you.

Along with awards there are rewards. It’s an exciting, fast-paced business. You are paid well for sacrificing your nervous system. You can find yourself shooting a television commercial in Paris. Or Hollywood. You get to work with talented actors, eccentric directors, tasty photographers and testy celebrities. You drive a nice car. You enjoy legendary two-hour lunch hours. The people at your agency are comrades-in-arms. They work hard, they party hard. The shared foxhole creates strong bonds.

Every once in a while, you hit it out of the park. Your idea sells a ton of product and your client is thrilled. The agency president ducks by your office to give you an ‘atta-boy’. The press writes about your work. People mention your ads at parties. Your campaign is judged best of the year by your peers and a shiny trophy is handed to you on a stage.

It’s an interesting career because you travel light. Your tools consist of a pad and pencil. Doodling is high currency in this realm. You have an ability to observe human nature in a way few people do. You can be in a situation and hover above it at the same time. You are constantly analyzing your own behaviour. You take notes on why people do what they do, say what they say, think what they think.

You become a quick study. You are given reams of research to absorb with every new campaign. You do factory tours. You place bookmarks in product manuals. You learn to ask the right questions. You become adept at looking for a needle in a haystack of needles.

Your instincts are your stock-in-trade.

You love, honour, and obey your gut feelings. You climb the ad agency ladder because you are more often right than wrong. You know commercials can be annoying intrusions so you spend your career trying to make them fun. And smart. You pore over every syllable in a headline because you know the right word with just the right shade of meaning is the difference between being ignored and being persuasive. You become a consummate storyteller and can construct a tale within the unforgiving walls of thirty seconds. You are able to capture the essence of a product on a billboard in seven words or less.

You learn to put on your armour when you head into the boardroom. You know ideas are as fragile as soap bubbles. So you learn to fight for your work.

Your ads attract new business to your agency. The awards you win enhance the agency’s reputation. You become a go-to person so you work even crazier hours. You daydream through conversations with your lover as you roll the latest assignment around in your head. You keep a notepad on your nightstand. You pull all-nighters.

You are all in.

Then one day, the economy slips sideways. Or a new director of marketing decides he wants a new ad agency for absolutely no valid reason. Or your salary is just north of a red line the new holding company has drawn. Or a new creative director is hired and wants to bring in her own troops. Or maybe you’ve sprouted a few grey hairs and that isn’t a good look for a young, hip advertising agency.

That’s when you are let go. You are shown the door with a cardboard box that contains the souvenirs of an advertising life: a favourite coffee cup, a cracked ashtray, and maybe a shiny award you won for the best commercial you ever did.

You don’t retire from advertising. It retires you. That’s when you have to let go. And move on.

Yes, the world of advertising is not for everyone.

Mark Huebner knows this crazy business better than anyone. Look for the delicious details in every single frame. And because he is a consummate storyteller, he doesn’t need a single word to do it.

Adman Terry O’Reilly is host of CBC Radio’s Under the Influence and author of This I Know: Marketing Lessons from ‘Under the Influence’.


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Credit: Matthew Plexman Photography

Mark Huebner is a Canadian advertising copywriter and commercial illustrator. After studying film directing and screenwriting at New York University, Oral Roberts University, and University of Winnipeg, Mark started his career in film production before discovering that copywriting provided a broader channel for his compelling narratives. He is the author of Sports Bloopers: All-Star Flubs and Fumbles (Firefly Books, 2003), a YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. Let Go is his first published work of fiction. He lives in Toronto.

The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.

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COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Literary

COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / General

ISBN-13: 9780889844391

Publication Date: 2021-10-26

Dimensions: 8.75 in x 5.56 in

Pages: 288

Price: $26.95