I’m Not A Plastic Bag is a graphic novel created by Rachel Hope Allison as part of an attempt to bring awareness to pollution in the oceans. The story, which is mostly wordless, fictionalizes the North Pacific Gyre, a patch of ocean where garbage gathers on the surface of the water.
While the story lacks any word balloons or captions, written language is certainly present here. The garbage heap speaks through the texts written common objects that humanity has discarded. Its vocabulary is limited but no less expressive when combined with its amorphous features.
And as worrying as it may be, the expressions of this clump of trash inspire more empathy than the vast majority visual stories published today. The desires of the garbage are plain to see and not at all alien. Allison has manage to infuse hopes and dreams into trash.
It might seem weird at first that the protagonist of a pro-environmental story is a sympathetic pile of garbage, but the polemic of the book is deeper than a simple warning against littering. The journey of our nameless heap of trash is really about realizing the simple pleasures of the environment. While the few humans in this book have focused their attention elsewhere, the swirl of garbage contemplates the open sky, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea. Readers will find plenty to examine within the garbage, but the lasting beauty on each panel rests within the landscapes of the unpolluted Earth.
In a childlike way, the circle of litter attempts to be friendly with the creatures around him. And with the most pointed allegory of the story, the birds and fish must flee from the garbage if they want to live. In the same way, the life that we coexist with on this planet has to escape further and further away in order to survive.
The oblivion of humans deals death. But this isn’t a story where grotesque villains combat natural beauty. Allison devotes equal attention to both man-made objects and the creatures of the ocean, making mundane things seem inherently valuable. The reader must pause to consider; everybody knows about the prettiness of the unspoiled environment, but what if our trash is also our treasure? The whole Earth is a treasure trove, but disaster strikes when things are not in their proper place.
This isn’t mere pro-environment propaganda. It’s a very good story that prompts contemplation.