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Wednesday, 6 November 2013

"WHAT ARE LITTLE GIRLS MADE OF?"

SAY WHAT??!

There is absolutely no way that I am going anywhere near that post title! It was Mr Brown's heading. Anyway, on with one of his rare reviews.
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Gareth Brookes
Myriad Editions
Black & White/colour
208 pages •
160 x 230mm

ISBN: 978-1-908434-20-3
RRP £12.99
Published 12 September 2013
Pre-order from a local bookshop
Pre-order your copy online


Well, according to the rhyme, "Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice". Richard, the protagonist of Gareth Brookes debut Graphic Novel may think differently. Because Richard's girlfriends tend to be made from such everyday stuff as Rubber Tubing, False Teeth, Grapefruits,Wellingtons and Araldite. Brookes' deliciously dark tale of Pre-Teen surburban desire originally appeared as a small black and white zine, before winning the First Graphic Novel Award, which led to a book deal with Myriad and the opportunity to expand the tale to a more substantial length, all the more impressive when one considers the artistic approach and processes he adopted, more of which later.
To begin with, this is thankfully a book that goes against the tedious grain of a lot of work emerging in the current Alternative Comics scene, laden and leaden with semi-autobiographical self-indulgence ( A crime I admit a certain degree of complicity with, sorry ! )  and far too many easily impressed Clowes/Ware Wannabies who lack the sneering, cynical genius of the former and the cold,anally-retentive exactness of the latter. I might argue that there are signs within this debut that Brookes may well be destined for a rather amusingly more subversive path than the current crop of Alt-Art Desperadoes beating a door to the Gold-Lined Path of Graphic Novel Novelty.


I looked at a lot at things like stained glass windows and medieval painting, to see how those artworks deal with presenting narrative in a decorative way. I began to realise that there’s a lot of stuff out there that presents text and image together within a small space that I could draw on, things like matchbox design and vintage stamps.


From the start Brookes drops you gently into a somewhat unsettled landscape of the mind, and leaves you there, wondering just what you may have let yourself in for.

"She was the first one I had any real feelings for. I took my time with her. It wasn't really like that before. There had been others, but that was just messing about."

Are we inhabiting the mind of a gentle soul experiencing the flush of first love, or a deranged serial killer describing his victims ? There's a strange ambiguity about that initial statement, and that quietly disturbed feeling never really left me throughout reading this novel, oddly enough. While it quickly becomes apparent that we are indeed inside the mind of a twelve year old boy trapped in the mind-numbing mediocrity of an everyday Suburban landscape, this isn't your usual lad. You see, Richard has a hobby. Not for him the dull plastic thrills of Airfix Kits or football in the park, oh no. Richard spends his time making Girlfriends. To love. Emotionally. And physically. As you would of course. This may not be an entirley normal chap. And yet...yet...

If anything, the question of  "normality" is at the heart of this book. In places, it reads like a wonderfully funny reworking of Frankenstein, as Richard collects the bodyparts for his deranged Girlfriend construction in secret, trying to avoid being found out by the adults who thwart his attempts to finish his insane creations. Later on in the book, after his previous attempts have come to naught ( "Charlotte" is burnt as a Guy in the School Bonfire, "Jessica" is hidden in the woods in Black Bin Liners after Richard has had sex with her - doesn't this sound a bit serial-Killer-ish? Or is it just me?"Melissa is unravelled in the shed ) our hero tries to steal a toy Modelling Make Up Head from his friends younger sister's room to start again ( The Brain that Wouldn't Die anyone?) and is then chased by  his friend and his gang to the canal on bikes ( where were their burning torches ???) where our not-so-evil-but -maybe-slightly touched  Junior Frankenstein gets his comeuppance, of sorts. And yet, and yet...


Gareth Brookes with work-in-progress from The Black Project

That "Landscape of the Mind" has it's parallel in Richard's safe, suburban normalcy, an enviroment of Adults-at-a-distance, Authority figures that lack true Authority,. Within, and seperate from it, Richard is a child -on -the -cusp of teenager,yet to discover himself, partially invisible, withdrawn into a secret space, where one has to create one's own world, and one's own self, and in Richard's case, one's own mate. What struck me as a  truly brilliant narrative device is that not once do we ever see Richard as a character within his world, we only hear his voice, detatched, in our own head as we read/see his story. His female companions are given the predominant space to exist visually within the book, their development and construction lovingly described, each a strange yet charmingly individual creation, that are wonderfully contrasted with an equally illicit version of womanhood found in the pages of Razzle, cheapened, sleazy, obvious and samey.

Brookes' brilliant skill in evoking that world is in his choice of artistic expression and execution. He forgoes the obvious artistic comic-book equipment of brush,pen and ink, for a more homely D.I.Y. Suburban ethos of Lino-cut and sewn and stitched images, a choice which beautifully mirrors his protagonist's creative invention and unconventional approach. Gareth creates a suburbia of stitched and sewn telegraph poles and wires, carefully weaved streets and parks and houses, all neat and perfectly arranged, flat, ordered and dull. Panels are created by using patterned doilies to surround the characters, as if trapping them in their chintzy safety, or defining them by it. Richard's Girlfriend's are visualised primarily in darker linocuts, staring out like German Expressionist masks. This approach leads to a collection of truly remarkable and unique looking pages, certainly one of the most beautifully  realised books in the medium, that offsets and distinctly colours the mood and tone of Gareth's narrative.

 It's a painstaking and wonderfully original artistic achievement.

If anything, the one disappointment here may well be the ending, but that is only because throughout, our affinity and sympathy is for Richard as an unconvential outsider, an inbetweener, who, by the end has a chioce to make, which will define him on different terms perhaps to those he has created for himself. Gareth Brookes leaves us more questions than answers, but within, we may have discovered a small little book that's both a tribute and testimony to the creative will, and the untapped creative genius or lunacy we may all be capable of. Though if anything, I'd advise just going out and meeting women, rather than making them. You may just meet some rather wonderful people. But then agin, if you do have a few Graperfruits and a spare Bra from your Mum, well, I wouldn't want to quash your creative impulses !

Paul Ashley Brown.
the black project 06 gareth brookes myriadthe black project 04 gareth brookes myriadthe black project 03 gareth brookes myriad

the black project 08 gareth brookes myriad 

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Aging Hipster wannabe and poster-child for the Lost Thatcher Generation, Paul Ashley Brown, also a reknowned Bristol zinester who can be found lurching at various zine events in London. Paul rarely thinks if he can help it and writes sparingly --explaining all the spelling corrections I had to make).

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