No Man’s Land….. conceptual brilliance, but……

Published On June 25, 2012 | By Richard Bruton | Comics, Reviews

No Man’s Land

A story written and illustrated by Blexbolex


Again, here’s a book universally praised for it’s clever rejection of conventional narrative, for the hypnotic, hallucinatory imagery, for the sheer beauty of the dislocation between reader, reality, and story, and generally described as a “masterpiece …. by French illustration genius Blexbolex“.

And again, I’m left wondering what exactly I missed.

I can certainly agree it’s visually quite staggering, beauty perhaps not the quite word, but certainly incredible, colours and shapes forming an intoxicating series of tableaus on each full page of artwork. But everything else about it just seems overcooked, overly long, a comic in love with the sound of its own voice-over below each image. I’m calling Emperor’s new clothes on this one.

In fact, that quote I used above “French illustration genius Blexbolex” seems very relevant to my thoughts on this. Because that’s what this feels like – pure illustration, beautifully done. Yet the words get in the way, an annoyance, a narrative that falters and spoils the pictures.

The idea is all, the story a mere figment of a neurological disturbance. It exists as a moment, quite literally, this immediate sequel to 2010’s Dog Crime, taking place in the terminal moments of the narrator’s life. The narrator is a detective, the dog crime case just finished, and not finished well.

“I’ve just blown my brains out at the conclusion of a case”

“I grabbed the gun concealed in the left pocket of my jacket, and showing boldness I didn’t think I had in me, fired at least once upon the police of which I was the lone representative. The wounds resulting from my gunfire provoked an almost instantaneous death – at least I didn’t suffer.” 

But instead of his life flashing before his eyes, what we have is a complex series of vaguely connected scenarios, dreamlike imagery, dream logic controlling the tale. From first page to last we exist in a man’s dying brain, amongst the synapses so desperately firing in a last moment of potential, the split second before everything shuts down. A blur of ideas, fractured moments presented before us, switch, shift, dream logic kicks in, we’ve moved on, instantaneously transported somewhere new, just as strange, full of strange, disconnected, dislocated events and characters.

That initial idea, those initial words, they all work, the idea of following a dying man’s manic thought processes through a bewildering series of disconnected tableaus is eminently appealing. But if Blexbolex’s art is justifiably described as brilliant, I simply found the narrative, the language used too easily described as too much, over doing it, flowery, annoying. It all just lost the initial thrill of the idea, struggled to live up to the conceptual greatness.

“What is this game? To assemble words and pictures, to find links ……”.

Yes, it definitely feels like he’s talking to me, instructing me. All the way through the first half I found my mind drifting, not really engaging with it as a narrative at all. Pretty to look at sure, but I was certainly reading something far, far different to most commentators on the book I’ve seen. It got slightly easier in the second half, as the events overtook the words, the pace accelerated, everything leading us back to a detective, lying on a floor, bleeding out from self-inflicted wounds, life slipping away in an infinite instant.

In the end I was left flat, feeling deflated, some of it down to the bewildering sense of the journey I’d just shared, a journey of a split second, played out over the pages and psychotic, psychedelic dreamscapes of the pages of No Man’s Land. A journey that resolves itself as it began, with a dying man on a floor.

But more of it was down to a simple sense of wondering what I was missing. Visually stunning, narratively empty. An idea to hang imagery off. Not for me.

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About The Author

Richard Bruton

– Started in comics retail aged 16 at Nostalgia & Comics, Birmingham. Now located in Yorkshire, he’s written for the Forbidden Planet International Blog since 2007. Specialising in UK Comics and All-Ages comics, Richard’s day job in a primary school allowed him to build the best children’s graphic novel library in the country.

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