Who On Earth Was Thaddeus Mist
Edited and created by Owen Michael Johnson.
Stories by Owen Michael Johnson, Dave West, Mark Douglas, Benjamin Dickson, Max Deacon, Jim Schwitzer, Andrew Cheverton, Marleen Lowe. Art by Conor Boyle, Steve Howard, Mark Penman, Leonardo M. Giron, Nicola Patten, Rhys L. Reed, Jack Tempest, Marleen Lowe.
Not an anthology, or at least a different sort of anthology, Who On Earth Was Thaddeus Mist tells a tale of one man’s life from the viewpoint of those who knew him, gathered together for Thaddeus Mist’s funeral, each segment told by a different creative team, the whole thing tied together with bookends and inter-segment pieces by writer, editor, compiler, and Thaddeus Mist creator Owen Michael Johnson and artist Conor Boyle.
It’s a structure adopted very successfully by Nelson in 2011, and continues that book’s high quality, albeit going off in a completely different direction.
Here, it’s all about building up a picture of a life, through reminiscences, betrayals, adventures, loves, loss, regret and more, but all combining to tell us more about those telling their stories than about Mist himself. It’s partly a series of intriguing and involving tales, partly a treatise on the nature of self, of perception, of character, of how we give facets of ourselves to those we meet, but rarely the whole, of memory and its unreliable nature.
(Thaddeus Mist: The Widow’s Tale by Owen Michael Johnson and Conor Boyle)
Thus it is with Thaddeus Mist, as each person; his widow, niece, best friend, street urchin employee of sorts, mistress, father, priest, give their reminiscences, their encounters and their version of the mysterious man lying in the casket in front of them.
The wife tells of her husband the magician, her life as his assistant, his lover, his wife. The Niece tells of fanciful tales her uncle used to tell, of African adventures where he claimed to be one of Queen Victoria’s ‘Finders’, plunderers of far-off lands, a thief by some other name.
(Thaddeus Mist: The Niece’s Tale by Dave West and Steven Howard)
The friend tells of a man of weakness, whose friendship is difficult but solid, whose life brings excitement to those it touches, and of a great detective. The Vagabond child tells of a strange man doing (occasionally) the right thing, the Mistress tells of a Parisian lover who escaped his life to be with her. The nanny tells a tale of love, of her role in Mist’s young life, more parent than nanny. The father’s tale is perhaps the saddest of all, as the father admits he really never knew his son and it’s his life’s regret, told against a series of montages from the travelogues run in the local paper telling of adventures to far-off, mysterious lands, adventuring tales that mysteriously stopped with Thaddeus’ death.
But then again, the narrative of Thaddeus Mist exists to show us we really never know the whole of anyone, just the facet they choose to share with us.
And finally the Priest sums it all up, chatting to the widow, summarising all we’ve seen, making clear the problems of each narrative, of the inherent untruth of tale-telling, how fictions are unreliable, and fictions about people are the most unreliable of all.
(Thaddeus Mist: The Friend’s Tale by Mark Douglas and Mark Penman)
Each individual tale is insightful, adding a little to the man each time, building up our image of him, and every single tale works, story and art all doing really well. There’s genuinely not a thing I can pull the book up on, it’s something I’ve read three times now, and each time, I’ve gone cover to cover without a break, captured and entranced by the tales spun within. Most enjoyable stuff.
(Thaddeus Mist: The Father’s Tale by Andrew Cheverton and Jack Tempest)
The way it all fits together, each tale’s different writer contributing to the whole, is testament to the strength of both the original idea and of Owen Michael Johnson’s vision and skill in pulling everything together. Each writer calls upon some interesting facet of Victorian lit; there’s Sherlock Holmes, high fantasy of Haggard and Burroughs, and Dickens social commentary in here. It all fits together seamlessly, each writer and artist working perfectly, each individual tale building the whole, and when you’ve finished the book , you genuinely feel you’ve experienced a life, in all its fascinating aspects. Who On Earth Was Thaddeus Mist is a great Gothic mystery of a comic. Good work indeed.