I am, as you will know if you read this blog with any regularity, a fan of the graphic novel. This is partly to do with the form and its possibilities when compared to prose but I would have to be honest and say that a lot of the time it has to do with aesthetics. I like pictures, I like artwork, I am often drawn to graphic novels whose artwork does something for me. But for all their innovation with storytelling techniques the vast majority of comics and graphic novels that I see remain very traditional in their execution. They are drawn, sketched, occasionally painted but more often than not firmly rooted in the artistic techniques that have existed for many, many years. Where then are the graphic works that utilise the tools of the modern era?
Well, one look at the front cover of this new work from writer Ravi Thornton and illustrator Andy Hixon tells you that this is a book that has little to do with pen and ink. That said, it would be wrong of me to say that this is imagery created solely in a computer processor, far from it, as Andy Hixon's work is all sculpted from clay of one sort or another, decorated with a dab of paint before being photographed and then 'taken into Photoshop for arranging, colouring and texturing.' This combination of traditional sculpture and computer manipulation gives the images a look that I have never seen before in graphic novels, looking both real and impossible, hyper-real or dream-like, unsettling throughout. This book is also a riposte to those who think comics are only for kids. This is a very adult and disturbing tale that manages to be both terrifying and almost romantic by its final pages. On a first read it is almost too upsetting but each subsequent experience shows the beauty of the work that has gone into it.
Before they met Brin and Brent were considered dysfunctional, 'Disordered, destructive, sexually shambolic. She is rattled. He is loose.' When they meet and come together 'they are truly insane' and yet they manage to present themselves at The House of Care for the Grossly Infirm where they are employed together. Set within spare grounds the house holds Those Committed and another building called the Rehabilitation Pool. It is in the pool that Brin and Brent work, keeping the tiled floors clean with bleach that burns the soles of Those Committed and the water chlorinated above safe levels so that they flail and moan whilst Brin and Brent retire to their den to watch through holes drilled in the wall and to 'celebrate disgust' with sessions of 'hard beating, hard sex.'
Into this dark set up comes an innocent looking child called Minno Marylebone who lets herself through the back door into the pool each night and bathes in the waters there. This regular ritual of hers happens unbeknownst to the pool's guardians but we have a nagging sense that she will not be able to keep her visits a secret and a creeping unease about what might happen to her if she is discovered.
I won't spoil it any further by telling what happens in the third section of the book, only that we are told in that final chapter, 'That Brin and Bent catch Minno Marylebone is perhaps the most fortunate thing.' Italics are the writer's own. Perhaps the most intriguing thing about the book is that it is prefaced by a comment from Thornton in which she confesses that the tale is a metaphorical rendering of 'something bad' that happened to her in the past. It is one of those things I am both keen to know and scared to even ask about. Both Thornton and Hixon have provided a director's commentary on the making of the book which is an interesting read, particularly the part about images being censored by the printers. The book is also much more than a simple book having already spawned a musical score and with a ballet app in the pipeline. A ballet app? I hear you ask. I have no idea, but everything about this partnership and this book has me yearning to know more. You too hopefully.