Wednesday, May 25, 2016


More than 25 years since the Green Comics post (above) and my first introduction to graphic novels, THE GENERALIST is now making contact with the best publishers in the field and will be reviewing stand-out titles across a wide spectrum of content and style. These first two treasures will give you a hint of the delights to come.

SMH Winner LogoSelfMadeHero is a class act and leafing through their catalogue reveals a rich treasure trove of titles. They describe themselves as a 'quirky independent publishing house committed to producing ground-breaking work in the graphic novel medium.' They appear to have certainly succeeded in their aim. They both commission new work and publish works in translation.

IRMINA is a substantial hardbound book with 266 pages of graphic story-telling which demonstrates in no uncertain terms the importance of the medium. Based on her grandmother's diaries and letters, Barbara Yelin has crafted a personal story that has depth and resonance, set in the fully-realised landscapes of London, Oxford, Berlin and Barbados, in the years leading up to the rise of Nazi Germany.

Irmina comes to England to train as a foreign language secretary, meets Howard - one of the first black students at Oxford University - and their friendship as two 'outsiders' blossoms into love. Forced to return to Berlin through personal circumstance, they lose contact and Irmina is drawn into a marriage with a husband who is a rising Nazi star. Her personal adjustments to these unfolding events enable the reader to gain a real sense and feeling of how and why the women of that time suppressed their feelings and stayed silent. Some 40 years later, an unexpected letter leads Irmina to the coda of the story which is full of new landscapes, emotional depths and dimensions, leaving the reader full of thoughts and reflections on the journey one has experienced.

The novel is realised with a sharp pencil and muted colours that suit the mood of the story and the times - browns, greys, blues and blacks and pink skin tones. Red begins to appear and becomes more dominant as the Nazis rise to prominence. In the final section, green signifies a change of mood. Yelin captures characters brilliantly and brings them to life with a subtlety and realism that speaks to the heart. We move from tightly-packed white-framed comic style pages full of dialogue, thoughts or penned diary entries to unexpected and wonderfully realised full-screen city visions or white pages with vignette illustrations, small windows into this other world of the past. Everything is carefully judged and well-paced in the service of a powerful and moving story that deserves the recognition and acclaim  it has received.

NobrowEstablished in 2008 by Sam Arthur and Alex Spiro, two friends from the famous St. Martin's School of Art, Nobrow, this a lively imprint that, in their own word, 'has sought to make great design, ground-breaking art and narrative, luscious production values and environmental consciousness central to its mission.' Now a team of 14 or more, their catalogue of titles under the Nowbrow or Flying Eye imprint all look engaging; the latter is aimed strictly at kids whilst Nowbrow books are more adult but for the kid within.

Certainly that's how I felt when experiencing 'Geis: A Matter of Life & Death', the first volume of a trilogy of adventures by the highly talented Alexis Deacon. The book is described on the back as a 'supernatural historical fantasy' and begins with the death of great chief Matarka who, in her will, has set out the rules of a contest to see who is fit to take her place. The word Geis is Gaelic and means a taboo or a curse. Little do the contestants, seen all together in the first full-page frame, seated round the body of their late chief, realise what is in store - namely hair-raising adventures and encounters with beasts and ugly spirits.

Set in a medieval  landscape  full of dark forests, huge castles and half-timbered houses, this is a truly magical piece of work, full of remarkable surprises. Often, on turning the page, one's breath is taken away by the sheer ingenuity and beauty of this imaginative tale. There is a lot of humour in the cast of quirky characters and the whole is realised in a cinematic style, using a wonderful palette of rich colours that add depth and interest to every page. I'm already itching to read the next two volumes.

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