Not to brag or anything, but I read a graphic novel. I’m pretty sure that makes me the zeitgeist, right? And it was a graphic novel in translation. I couldn’t be more at the forefront of intellectual hipster thought if I tried.
This brings the number of graphic novels I have read to two: the other one was also by Brecht Evens, and I wrote about it about three years ago. As with that one, The Making Of (2013) was a review copy from Jonathan Cape that has somehow spent years on my to-read-really-soon shelf. (This shelf, it seems, is where books go to die; the moment I designate books as must-reads, they lose some of their appeal.) Thankfully, I was lured back towards it this week, and thoroughly delighted in Evens’ work – translated by Laura Watkinson and Michele Hutchinson.
The Making Of is about Peterson, an artist who gets a grant to help out an enthusiastic but disorganised community prepare a great art project. He has to stay in the shed of someone’s mother, and quickly realises that the whole affair is well-meaning but a shambles – from friendly Kristof right down to Dennis, who seldom speaks and contentedly covers (all) surfaces in little swirls.
As in his previous book, each character is a single colour – as is their dialogue – and scenes are often made of superimposed or incomplete shapes. His palette is chiefly green, blue, red, and yellow, and he uses beautifully sort watercolours to get across an often rather poignant or sharp story. For instance, this page seems to me to portray the mingled indignity and dignity of old age far better than many lengthy descriptions:
The story was pretty involving, and certainly better structured than in The Wrong Place, which I seem to remember being a little confusing, but the main reason I loved the book was undoubtedly the art. (The story itself was slightly sleazier than I’d have liked, but still very engaging.) Evens’ way with colour and shape is deeply set in naivety, but it works beautifully. Another example…
I also think Evens is probably a lot cleverer than I was equipped to realise. There was one image which caught my attention. Surely (I thought) it was similar to an image I’d seen on the front cover of a Virago reprint of Naomi Mitchison’s Travel Light (for my art education is found in such places). A bit of Googling later, and I discover that the image from the Mitchison book is The Unicorn in Captivity, a medieval tapestry, and Evens’ image is undoubtedly an homage to it. Here they side by side, with Evens’ on the right:
I felt a momentary triumph at noticing this similarity, and then realised… that probably means there are dozens in there that I missed. I spotted one still life that might be a nod to Léger, but is more likely to someone else… I’d love to hear back from any art experts better at identifying these sorts of things!
The hardback itself is a thing of beauty, incidentally; a lovely shape and feel, which is a relief, as poor production would really let down Evens’ exquisite work. And I really did spend ages just poring over the pages.
When I wrote about Evens’ previous book, I think I asked for graphic novel recommendations. I have been very lax at following them up, but I would still love to hear about any beautiful graphic novels, preferably colourful and not comic strip style…? And, dear reader, do go and seek out The Making Of and The Wrong Place. They’re such delights.