By Harvey James
“In 2008, Harvey James, as a young man of 25 years of age, travelled to South Korea to teach English to elementary school students. The six most eventful and enjoyable months of his life, he was constantly inspired and formed bonds and friendships that will last forever.In his own words, the artist describes A Long Day of Mr. James-Teacher as “a comic I drew about a day where it rained”.
A snapshot of his time in Korea, it encapsulates the highs and lows of his life as an English teacher. The perfect poster-child for the new wave of manga-inspired western artists adapting the style to their own ends, Harvey James exhibits astounding craft in his depiction of one particularly grim day. Attracting praise in its original limited-edition self-published run for its breath-taking, fluid art style and emotional range, this deluxe Chalk Marks edition adds all-new work and a couple of extra surprises for readers.”
Another of Blank Slate Book’s Chalk Marks series, following on from Joe Decie’s Accidental Salad and Nick Edwards’ Dinopopolous – lighter on page count than a full graphic novel, so just the thing for new or emerging creators, yet not skimping on the quality – lovely thick pages and the strangest of things; a comic with a dustjacket.
Blank Slate really are the M&S of comics in the UK right now. Or something like that.
(Page 1 of Harvey James’ debut: A Long Day Of Mr. James – Teacher. Read the first 4 pages at our preview)
So yes, this is, in theory, a simple autobiographical tale of a day in the life of an English teacher in South Korea. James is just as out of his depth, disorganised, and frankly a little crap at the job as you and I would probably be.
He’s in a foreign land, responsible for so much at such a young age, with the lure of the social continually at odds with the need to knuckle down and produce lesson plans for his disciplinarian tutor Mr Kang who isn’t all that impressed by his slightly too unusual English teacher:
(Not the lesson Mr Kang may have wanted. From A Long Day Of Mr. James – Teacher by Harvey James)
It all takes place on one long, long rainy day, with rain sheeting down, solid lines of precipitation from sky to ground forming a beautiful backdrop to a manic, difficult day that leads us to question just how much fun James actually had on his South Korean adventure.
Is it simply a case of James allowing the overall experience, combined with a few, admittedly spectacular highlights to colour the memory, overwhelming the sense of day to day grind?
In just this one day we see him suffer indignity, what seems to be a fairly regular telling off from Kang, and most importantly and tellingly of all the creeping realisation on James’ part that he may not be doing that well….
(Oh dear, all does not go too well. From A Long Day Of Mr. James – Teacher by Harvey James)
Mr. James – Teacher is all about the grind, about the experience of being alien, of being out of place, unsettled. It’s full of a creeping tension, a feeling of unease, it starts as one thing, bouncing along, as you’ll see in the preview pages we put up last week, but very quickly we’re questioning, just as James does, just what is he doing and why?
And all along it’s set, quite beautifully, to a backdrop of the most incredibly drawn rain you’ll ever see.
But it’s not just his rain, everything about James’ artwork is quite stunning, incredibly expressive, amazingly full of kinetic and potential energy. So few lines, and such incredible skills. Even in his most expressive of moments, such as the opening panel to that page above, where James captures the flight of both football and child, frozen in midair, in time, James fills the art with a tension, of unreleased energy, as we capture the figures in the moment of the art, as if it were a photograph.
In the quieter scenes it’s even more profound, and just as gorgeously realised, as if the lines are just poised, waiting to explode from the page. It leads to a strange feeling of constraint that so suits the story here, as we settle down to a day of doing very little, held in by the rain.
This is one of those where very little happens, but it’s a fascinating, engrossing sort of nothing, a nothing that wraps you up and carries you all the way through. And did I mention that he draws the most beautifully expressive rain…..?
I adore the way the page seems to get more and more detailed as the panels progress, the figures less defined, the rain ever sharper, until by panel six, it’s incredibly detailed, yet figuratively practically abstract, the Mr Jin character now merely an expanse of white space, glasses, a circle where a nose should be. Beautiful.
It’s quite rare I react so strongly to the art of a book over the story. I’m very much a story driven reader, and often the art is simply in service to this. I know what I like, and what I like artistically is often secondary to what I like in story. But here, with Harvey James, I get the same incendiary feel I get when I look at a Paul Pope page. And that really is saying something.
That he can marry a simple, readable, effective story to these beautiful and powerful images is a bonus at this stage, that he does it so well really bodes well for future works. But if one image had to sum up what made this so rewarding, so enjoyable it would be this one:
It’s the frontispiece, a last minute addition he says, where the modernity of a wonderful mess of wiring contrasts so simply with an image of drying squid hanging from a simple dual line that ends the book. Each time I looked at the book, each time I opened the cover up, that stunning imagery of the wires, a beautiful, insane mess, stays with me.
Another great Chalk Marks comic. And another magnificent debut.
Harvey James will be another one to keep an eye on. His full length début graphic novel Zygote is due out in 2012 from Blank Slate. That may be incredible.