Monday, 2 May 2011

'to all who care to know!'

The Rime of the Modern Mariner
by Nick Hayes

I held off reading this graphic novel as I worried that not having read the classic poem that inspired it would hinder my appreciation (I have since rectified this and you can read it online or download it for free here). But when a copy was put in my hand I couldn't help myself. It is gorgeous. Stiff boards, squared cloth spine with silver lettering, heavy paper stock, ribbon marker; it oozes quality. The pages are bathed in a hazy blue that permeates the black and white artwork and as you work your way through the book it begins to develop in style with gods and mythical creatures giving the work a stature to help it hold its own against the poem that inspired it as well as other great works of art and literature that seek to speak to the human race about its relationship with the planet it lives on. For Nick Hayes has decided to update Coleridge's poem into an eco-fable for our times. A Blackberry-toting office worker eats his 'rubber sandwich' and styrofoamed coffee, carelessly discarding his rubbish in the autumn wind before a salty sea-dog joins him on his bench to tell his tale.

His journey began simply enough before boredom led to his taking potshots at flotsam and the inevitable raising of that gun to the heavens where the fateful albatross was silhouetted against the sun. After it has crashed to the deck the boat's engine dies and the and the crew find themselves in the stillness of the North Pacific Gyre. Hayes retains Coleridge's meter whilst updating the language, sometimes with slightly comic results, 'So I turned around frustrated/And looked across the sea/And saw we were surrounded/By a wash of polythene/Swathes of polystyrene/Bobbed with tonnes of neoprene/And polymethyl methacrylate/Stretched across the scene.

But there are some stunning images; both mundane, like the 'writhing nest' of a trawling net stuffed with animals alive and dead and the plastic detritus that refuses to rot, or the stomach of the fabled albatross filled with the nylon gauze it had mistaken for food; some fantastical like the spectral animations, gods, and tsunamis that batter our mariner as a storm rages around him. The pages become more and more immersive as our narrator's visions become more extreme and it really is the artwork that makes the book work rather than the text. When he eventually washes up on shore and that blue tint is removed from the panels, there is no loss of visual pleasure as Hayes really gives full rein to his mystical, spiritual and very English visual style.

The ecological message couldn't be clearer throughout but whereas Coleridge's wedding guest learns from the Mariner's tale, his modern counterpart ignores his warnings and with time being money returns to work - 'He paid the seaman for his time/ And quickly hurried on/ To a world detached of consequence/ Where he would not live for long.' The dangers of ignoring that warning have been made all to clear and even with the original poem it has always been up to us the reader to learn the lesson or suffer the consequences, however extreme those may be.


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