January 2017

A Graphic Novel Gathering

I love the merging of words and pictures, always have. I think we are introduced to this at an early age with picture books. It continued for me with a love of comics and then illustrated books such as Aesop’s Fables, Butterfly Ball, The Flower Fairies and the Asterix books. A family member bought me Raymond Briggs’ When the Wind Blows when I was in my teens and I poured over every tiny detail of it.

There is something completely absorbing and beautiful about visual story-telling – probably the very reason I focused on writing picture books as opposed to any other type of fiction. Currently, I am working on a graphic novel – begun in 2012 and a long-held dream… but that’s another story for another day!

Post Christmas, which elicited many wonderful graphic novel gifts and treats to myself, I managed to land myself with a back injury – Oh, how I have read! I’m no book reviewer, but here are some of my recent reads, bits of blurb from the books themselves, and personal reactions to them.

Brecht Evens: The Wrong Place
(Jonathan Cape, 2011)

15942174_1140102672776355_300005524_n‘The Wrong Place revolves around oft-absent Robbie, a charismatic lothario of mysterious celebrity who has the run of a city as chaotic as it is resplendent… his literal and figurative brightness is a startling foil to the dreariness of his childhood friend, Gary.’

I loved this book on so many levels. We all know/knew a Robbie and a Gary – we may, in fact, be/have been or have felt like a Gary at some point – the boring mate who people only want to know because we are buddies with the MOST attractive friend… yep, been there! It’s real, it’s true, and it captures that raw, alive, endless thirst and desire that comes with youth and stretches far beyond. The vivid watercolours, often splodgy, overlapping, incredibly detailed or sparce and incomplete, force you to feel what is happening and draw you into the exuberant and chaotic world, reiterated by the askew, and often multi-coloured, positioning of the words of the story. This is the closest you’ll get to being at a party in your own home while snuggled in a comfy chair!

Fumio Obata: Just So Happens
(Jonathan Cape, 2014)

15935923_1140102336109722_1725121978_n‘Yumiko is a young Japanese woman who has made London her home. She has a job, a boyfriend; Japan seems far away. Then, out of the blue, her brother calls to tell her that her father has died in a mountaineering accident.’

I found this a really thought-provoking book that seems to capture a multitude of moments and hold them there. It evokes a feeling of quiet contemplation that emanates from the central character of Yumiko as she reflects on her life in the UK and life in Japan and on her relationships with others in these two distinct, and very different, places. The illustrations are soft, subtle, sometimes abstract, almost dreamlike at times. There’s a spiritual feel to this book which explores the themes of life, death, love, expectations, change, and what prompts us to make such life-changing decisions. It also explores Noh theatre, something about which I knew nothing and am now eager to discover more.

Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët: Beautiful Darkness
(Drawn & Quarterly, 2015)
15942143_1140102302776392_780296157_n‘Join princess Aurora and her friends as they journey to civilization’s heart of darkness in a bleak allegory about surviving the human experience… Beautiful Darkness is a harrowing look behind the routine politeness and meaningless kindness of civilized society.’

This book is as delightful as it is disturbing. In this way it reminded me a little of Raymond Briggs’ When the Wind Blows, also William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. It’s unsettling and compelling all at once, and the sweet, witty and bright illustrations often bely the sense of darkness and soften the blow, while at the same time heightening the sense of horror. It’s a brave book that deals with things we don’t want to think about – greed, jealousy and the underlying cruelty of mankind. Visually, the shifts in colour palette are delicious – from bright greens to deep blue/greys and fiery orange/reds to muted grey/browns. There are moments when I grimaced, held my breath, put my hand over my mouth – at the same time it’s so beautifully restrained – the pictures tell the story here more than anything. It’s a wonderful thing!

Rutu Modan: The Property
(Jonathan Cape, 2013)
15936003_1140102729443016_1661943980_n‘After the death of her son, Regina Segal takes her granddaughter Mica to Warsaw, hoping to reclaim a family property lost during World War II. As they get to know modern Warsaw, Regina is forced to recall difficult things about her past, and Mica begins to wonder if maybe their reasons for coming aren’t a little different than her grandmother led her to believe.’

This book is jam-packed with story, history and intrigue. It’s a compelling, thought-provoking, poignant read, a real page turner with a well-drawn plot and believable, endearing characters. It merges history with the present and explores memory, truth, reality, motives and story-telling. There are stories within stories – something I love. I also loved the parallel between relationships past and present and the way the writer explores the difficulties of relationships between people of different cultures, sometimes purely due to the responses and perceptions of others. The crisp drawings are full of detail and clearly readable gestures and expressions, and the palette moves through a series of  muted colours. It’s one of those books that I think, on a second or third read, would still have more to give.

Tillie Walden: A City Inside
(Avery Hill Publishing, 2016)
15942198_1140256229427666_218562084_nThere’s no blurb on this one, and it’s not really needed – the story tells all!

This is a beautiful little book, illustrated solely in black and white and conveys just how much you can achieve with simple, but detailed, line drawings. It has a surreal, dreamlike quality that takes you from the central character’s childhood through the present to a potential future. It’s lyrical form suits the stark illustrations and the message, which seems to be about a journey – moving forward, to face the unknown without fear or regret. It could apply to all of us. I was moved by this book, by the poetic language and touching illustrations – I felt the emotion in every page!


If you have any graphic novel faves, I’d love to hear about them – I can add them to my *wish* list!











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