Douglas Noble – Stripping, Robots, Choirs and Complexes…
Strip For Me
by Douglas Noble
Douglas Noble’s been making his Strip For Me comics for a long time. Although maintaining an ongoing number scheme, the tales within each of the four issues I read (18, 23, 25 and 26 – coincidentally three of the lottery numbers I so vainly play each week) are self contained pieces, vastly different in style and story.
In just these four examples I’ve seen, Noble shows that he’s more than happy experimenting with both story and art. The one consistency throughout the comics is Noble’s artistic style where his work has very little mid range, very little gray, just stark black and vivid whites across the page. All of the midtones are in his writing; literate, thoughtful writing that often leaves you thinking about exactly what you just read and what it may mean.
Of the four I thought two were absolutely great and two not so good. Getting the two I didn’t enjoy so much out of the way first:
Strip For Me 26; Cocksmen of the Western World is a story that I just didn’t really get into; good enough, but just not that engaging. Artistically it’s some of his strongest work though, with his stark black and white artwork really working hard to tell his story and doing it very well. But the story, of the life and loves of a cock fighting man, just didn’t do it for me. Interesting enough concept, just lacking that certain something to make it really good.
Strip For Me 18 didn’t really work for me either, with neither art or story up to the task of conveying the sense of emotion and feeling he was after. The art, consisting of tiny 16 panel grids with the story in between each line was too small, too indistinct and too removed from the story to engage with properly. Likewise the story was a little too meandering, too un-involving to really enjoy. It doesn’t help that each page is constructed with words in between each line of four panels in his sixteen panel grid. I found myself either skipping the art to read the words or concentrating too much on the art, trying to follow what was going on, to actually pay much attention to the story.
But having said all that, the remaining two comics prove that Noble’s work is well worth persevering with. His writing in these two pieces is rich and literate, conveying his stories really well.
Strip For Me 23: Empty Canvas, is a slow burning, intriguing tale of artistic obsession and a model’s determination to discover what makes him tick. But there are allusions to more, a mystery regarding exactly why the model has sought out the artist, living high over the city in a Dracula-esque castle. Deliberately open ended and mysterious and little more than a series of discussions of art and life between artist and model, it’s engrossing. Artistically it’s the best of the four as well, with Noble giving his art a little more room to breathe than some of the earlier comics and showing off how good his simple lines can look.
Strip For Me 25: A Man Of Certain Talents is the most satisfying of the four, yet is also a complete mystery, both in subject and content. Unknown man takes mission from another unknown man; “Do a good turn in Hamburg, unlock a factory door, speak to a child”. Hardly the stuff of classic spy movies. But Noble manages to create such a sense of intrigue and claustrophobic tension in his pages that it certainly feels like the strangest James Bond story you’ll ever read. It’s a fascinating story, hugely enjoyable, although you may not actually ever realise why you’re enjoying it so much. It’s also where Noble’s art really shines through. His stark imagery working with the uncertain, indistinct story he’s telling. It just all works.
(Two sequences from A Man Of Certain Talents, Strip For Me 25, by Douglas Noble)
But there’s far more to Douglas Noble’s work than just his published comics. There’s an absolute Aladdin’s cave of webcomics available through his website. What is most impressive perhaps is the sheer range of what he’s capable of.
(Douglas Noble’s Robotnik. 52 episodes available from his website.)
And in complete contrast to the extremely funny Robotnik, you should have a look at The Silent Choir, all 100 episodes of it. Described by Noble as:
The Silent Choir was directly inspired by a photograph. I wondered, on seeing it, what had happened to all of these happy, smiling faces. Where had their lives taken them? Was there something that kept them together or pushed them apart? The title suggested itself, and the title drove the rest of the story. As for the one hundred individual stories that make up and connect to form the story, well, who knows where they came from?
And by heavens it’s impressive. Coming to it at this stage, with no idea of the published order of the strips I have no idea if I’m reading it the way Noble intends. Although I think my not knowing what order it comes in is exactly Noble’s intention. Early episodes, later episodes all blur into one depending on how you approach the tale. Take it alphabetically, follow the links embedded in each page, there’s no set way to read it, but when you sit down and work at it a little it’s a really great bit of comics. Each character’s bio page gives you a little more of the story as it delves into their lives. And each of the pages ends the same way; for some reason they have not sung for eight years. Intriguing? Go and read it. It’s worth your time.
And finally, there’s Complex, his latest webcomic. At the time of writing this, there are just 4 episodes up of what looks like being an end of the world type of thing. But Noble’s already done enough to make me interested to know what’s happening so it’s joined my short list of webcomics to follow.
(From Complex, Douglas Noble’s latest webcomic, currently serialised on his website.)
His work is interesting, different from a lot of the current crop of self published comics, more thoughtful, more serious, more literary than some, less concerned with telling a very nice and safe, linear story, which may or may not be to your taste. Sure, they fail at times, but in trying to reach the heights he’s obviously aiming for, falling short is no terrible thing. Definitely one to keep an eye on.
And if you’re after more once you’ve devoured Douglas Noble’s Strip For Me website there’s always a very good interview with Noble conducted by Sean Azzopardi at his Phatcomics website (home of another must read webcomic – Necessary Monsters, which I reviewed a while back).