Right now, there is some exceptional work coming from Atomic Diner in Dublin.
You know I admit that sometimes I get uncomfortable and disappointed by the lack of calibre to some local comics; I pick up something with a stunning cover to find the art for a great idea a total let down. I am neither a just-story nor a just-art fan, I want the whole package to be good (well in a comic both have to be or it doesn’t work right – Joe).
Jennifer Wilde’s cover is a beautiful enticement to open up a wonderfully imagined world, where Oscar comes to life, and yet this most iconic and clichéd of characters is portrayed in a perfectly pitched way.
The protagonist is Jennifer Chevalier, a beautiful, clever artist in 1920s Paris who is a character with strength and incredible depth. There is much work done on these pages to portray her subtly, but with detail. Her father, with whom she has fallen out, was not at all what he seemed to be and suddenly he is out of reach, for Jennifer is soon on a mission, as she goes on to investigate his death with a wonderfully realised companion.
I caught up with writer Maura McHugh in London recently and asked her about this comic. I found the caustic relationship between Jennifer and her father and the sudden tragedy as they are on the cusp of reconciliation to be fascinating, and asked Maura about it: ‘Jennifer’s father had been living a life based on the demands of other people – his wife in particular – but his experiences in World War 1 underscored the fragility of life and the importance of being true to oneself.’
Jennifer had a traumatic time dealing with her father, as Maura explained, ‘Jennifer had only just returned from four years isolated from her family at boarding school in England during the Great War, and instead of the imagined family reunion her father began to divorce her mother. Jennifer also moved to Paris to study art, so there was a physical and emotional rift between the two for several years. Her father found this distance difficult to negotiate as he was involved in starting his life anew.’
There is an interesting line being tread here, with Jennifer’s mother doing what she believed was right based on her circumstances, but also causing hurt. This comic has a depth and thoughtfulness that may put it above its peers, I feel.
The next issue travels to Britain, but there will be an Irish entanglement, of a political nature and then the third and final issue in this initial series finishes in Ireland. I really don’t want to give away too much about Jennifer Wilde, and one of the really well imagined ideas should not be spoilt, but I am pretty sure readers will appreciate my coyness here when they pick up the comics.
McHugh is concurrently writing another female-lead comic book called Róisín Dubh, also from Atomic Diner (which James gave a glowing review to here on the blog – Joe). Yet one can see how much effort McHugh has put into this comic; she has researched and created quite a world to surround what is a very clever idea. She found writing Oscar Wilde the most daunting task: “Wilde is an intimidating character to write because he was so clever, witty and erudite. He had flaws of course, and writing him believably has been challenging… Stephen Downey has done a tremendous job in bringing this era to life through his artwork, and he’s really captured the essence of Jennifer and Oscar.”
I wonder whether there will be more to follow, and she says ‘I’ve written a short comic book script called ‘The Nail’, which will be appearing in the Womanthology comic book anthology coming out from IDW Publishing in December (see here – Joe). It’s a true story based on a woman imprisoned in 1950s Hungary. The artist is Star St. Germain, and I’m really pleased with how she’s interpreted the script.’
‘I’ve realised that I love all the aspects of writing comics. I particularly like judging how much story you can imply in the spaces between panels, to allow the readers to work out for themselves what’s happening’. I wondered what else McHugh would like to work on; ‘I would love to have a crack at superheroes, and I also have several comic book projects that I want to develop’
As we talked about the process of story creation, I was intrigued to see someone so interested in the raw mechanics of comic story telling, how she works at cutting all the boring elements out, telling more while showing less, using art as an intrinsic part of the process of storytelling and development, as she said, “there are only 24 pages and you have to cover a lot.” I note that there is a sequential but prompt cleverness and subtlety about Jennifer Wilde, but I also think this is because there is a sincere recognition of intelligence on the part of the writer for the reader. They are thrown straight into a situation and well, I think smart readers, which is most of us really, will catch it.
Jennifer Wilde, is a superb comic, the artwork is just right for this wonderful 1920s tale, and Wilde is just brilliantly brought to life. Definitely worth ordering, and McHugh may be one to watch.