(The comic side cover of Nobrow 6 – by Tom Gauld)
Not content with putting out some very fine examples of graphic novels in the three years of their existence, Nobrow Press also have the temerity to put out their illustration anthology, simply titled Nobrow, a collection of short, themed illustration works by many once and future Nobrow artists, all working to the exquisite standards you’d expect, and of course, packaged and designed with all the beauty and style Nobrow do by default by now.
The theme this time round is “the double issue”, and marks a change from the usual Nobrow magazine format by splitting the book in two – half illustration, half comics – each artist, no matter what, having just one double-page spread to fill. And whether comics or illustration, all the artists involved play with the idea of doubles in one way or another.
I’ll get to the illustration side later on, but the primary interest here is the comics half, and as with most anthologies there’s good and there’s not so good in here. Far, far too many to mention individually, but I will highlight just a few, those that impressed the most:
As you might expect by now Luke Pearson starts the whole thing off on a high – packing his double page with panels, telling a self-contained, relatively simple story of artistic endeavour, leading to a grotesque finale. (Full strip at his website).
Another Nobrow favourite – Jon McNaught, delivers a double-pager packed with multiple panels, in McNaught’s refined, silent signature style. A beautiful, meaningful tale.
Liesbeth De Stercke‘s Cuckoo tale – another simple tale, start – tell the story – throw in a few accent gags – utilise the hideous nature of the Cuckoo. Does everything simply and simply so well.
Roman Muradov‘s art impresses with it’s simplicity, and his story – of a photocopier accident producing an unfortunate body copy – is equally plain and simple. But it’s that simplicity that makes it work so well.
Thus far, all the strips I’ve highlighted are very much story driven comics, but there were strips less about story and much more about mood that really worked in here as well – Blanquet‘s Red Schizophrenic is another silent strip, but it generates a hideous, grotesque, chilling nightmare across its 2-pages.
And then there’s the gag strip style – as depicted so very, very well by John Martz‘s Know Your Double.
The very best of the comics here; and there are several that fall into that category just play around with “the double” in some way, using their double page allowance to actually try to tell a quick story, not over-stretching the narrative, knowing they’ve very little space to play with.
But all too often, the artists involved just take it a little too far into the metaphysical, into the vague, into the scratch head and wonder what just went on. Alongside this there’s the feeling that too many of them are not really making use of the double page, trying too hard to say too little, using their space too spoarsely. It’s no surprise that some of the best in my eye utilise the double page by cramming with many panels, attempting to actually tell a story withing the confines of the space they have.
It may simply be a Nobrow issue though – the whole imprint will always hold sway at the more esoteric and artistic end of the comic making spectrum. That’s no failing, that’s actually a grand strength. But here, when too many of the 30 comic artists all seem to compete to out weird each other, to spend more time challenging their reasdership to extract meaning from some slim pickings, maybe there needs to be a slightly tighter rein?
(Nobrow 6 – the illustration side cover by Gwenola Carrere)
Right. That’s the comic side done, now a quick mention of the illustration side.
I’ve gone on and on and on about my dissatisfaction with the various Drawn & Quarterly Petits Livres series of high-faluting gallery brochures dressed up in posh hardbacks that deliver so little satisfaction again and again. So the back-end of Nobrow #6, the arty stuff, should rightly leave me a little cold.
But it’s better than the petits livres for a couple of reasons; first off it’s shorter. Each artist gets just a double page and if it’s not to your taste the next double page might give you something better. And secondly there’s enough range of works that even an artistic philistine such as myself will find something they like. In this case it was the more comic artwork that did it for me, and here’s just a couple:
Nobrow 6 is absolutely full of potential, full of unfamiliar names, and full of promise for the future. It may not have filled me with delight every step of the way, and it certainly has its faults, but it wears them defiantly on its sleeves, just as something so artistic should.
As an artistic statement of intent, a Nobrow Press manifesto, mixing its signature style of illustration with its increasingly important comic brand, it’s a good, strong, impressive body of work.