by Oliver East
(The full wraparound cover to Proper Go Well High)
This is East’s second book; the first – Trains Are … Mint – was one of my books of 2008 (review) and I described it thus:
“Sometimes a book just catches you perfectly, you fall into it’s sweet spot and are overwhelmed by it. So it is with Trains Are…Mint …… Trains Are … Mint isn’t about the narrative and the story, It’s about the process, it’s about the experience, it’s about the sheer bloody joy of holding the book in your hands and realising it’s very, very special indeed …. It’s a spectacular success. Oliver East’s Trains are…Mint is one of the most intriguing, complicated, difficult, strange and altogether wonderful books I have read in a long, long time.”
And I thought Proper Go Well High was better than Trains. Which is some feat.
(How’s that for an opener? Here we go for another of Oliver east’s walks. Proper Go Well High indeed.)
First things first, Proper Go Well High can easily be described as merely another book of East taking another of his walks; this time from Manchester to Liverpool, sticking as close to the train tracks as possible, taking in everything along the way. But to say merely another walking book completely misses the point of East’s work/walks. It’s all about documenting the walks for us with an artist’s eye for detail and the beauty of the inconsequential all around him. East walks, and in doing so he takes time to reveal every small moment along the way, every simple wonder of the everyday, the subtlety of the small, the people he sees, the graffiti, the buildings, the urban decay. It’s all here, perfectly observed in East’s unique style.
Proper shows us just how far East has developed, honed and improved his work since Trains. Two very important elements develop in Proper – the exploration of the obsessional nature of the walking and a darkening of East’s mood throughout the piece. The walking seems far more focused this time, one could even say obsessionally so. But in that obsessional attention to the small details lies the very essence of East’s work. And in his darker, more isolated mood during the latter stages of the book we get a far more intimate view of the artist’s feelings toward the world. It’s as if the time between parts 1 & 2 – some 18 months – has seen East open himself up and allow more of himself onto his pages. There’s a great sequence where East talks of his walking as therapy, as a way for a personal meditation. Plus, like he says; “there’s no one to have to talk to, which means, out here, no stammer“:
(And there, unheralded, unremarked, we realise why the series is called Trains Are … Mint. From Proper Go Well High)
Yet his opening up on the comic page actually details his darkening mood, where he seems closed off, avoiding contact with people, almost fearful of it. But he is aware that he should be talking to folks, if only for the purpose of recording their reactions in his comic, and it’s these tentative attempts at human contact that leads to some of the best moments of the book – a revealing series of pages where East goes to buy a bottle of water – pure torture and pure wonder in equal measure, a page of practising the words he’ll need, a page loitering outside the shop to wait until the people have all vacated so he doesn’t have to speak in front of a crowd, a page where the point of view shifts to the cctv cameras picking up East tentatively approaching the shopkeeper, and a page for the anticlimactic moment at the counter, where all of East’s practice is derailed by the shopkeeper cutting across him anyway.
But it’s not the only moment to pick out – and please don’t get the idea that this is some dark, depressive piece. Sure, East’s mood seems darker on this walk, but there are still some wonderfully uplifting moments here as we walk along with East, taking everything in, the glorious scenes, the moments of pure exhilaration at achieving the goal, even the despair at taking a wrong turn leads East to find the positive side – a chance to get some good scenes in. And at the end, as East rather half-heartedly finishes his walk, and his book, we’re there with him. Because neither of us really want it to end.
(Some of East’s gorgeous Proper art. The facial expressions, the anger and frustration at getting the route wrong, the realisation that the wrong way has given him something interesting to draw and his satisfaction with that – the essence of Proper really.)
East’s art in Proper Go Well High is a huge step forward from the first book; a more confident line that results in some wonderfully abstracted artwork – this really is art that challenges the reader to decipher it’s meaning. He makes great pains to point out his weaknesses whenever he’s interviewed, but it’s actually not a weakness at all – it’s a freshness. But here that freshness has been honed by experience. Look at those panels above and you’ll see what I mean – east’s art challenges us to see the world the way he does, and in doing so we find a wonderful new way of looking at the world. Just take those spirals wrapping themselves around legs and lampposts – that’s the way East chooses to convey wind whipping through a scene. There are countless wonderful touches like this all the way through, some are obvious, some not so much. But it’s all part of the work and hopefully something you’ll embrace with the same joy I did.
Reading Proper Go Well High, just like Trains Are … Mint takes you out of yourself, wraps you up in the world that East is walking through, makes you work hard at deciphering the meaning of the art and overall is an incredibly rewarding and strangely uplifting experience.
Both Proper Go Well High and the first East book; Trains Are … Mint are available from the FPI webstore, from Blank Slate Books and from all good comic shops. East described the process of making his comics in some depth on the FPI blog earlier this year (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). The next Trains book; Berlin And All That has recently been described by East on his blog as:
Berlin And That will be the last Trains Are…Mint. They’ll be new things (one’s at the embryonic stage now) and they’ll still be fundamentally psycho geographical (me walking about and crapping on) by nature, but they’ll be something different. I reckon three’s enough isn’t it? The first one’s the original and probably best, the second is the dark and moody one and the third’s just a load of Muppets and a forest.
But don’t listen to him, he’s one of those difficult artist types. Read his books instead.