Beyond The Wire
By Alys Jones
James reviewed Beyond The Wire in June, but Alys was kind enough to send an extra copy for me to have a look at. Initially I said digital would be alright, but having the finished, printed article in my hands I can fully understand why it had to be print. This really is something that demands the physical experience, that integrates format into storytelling.
Beyond The Wire as an object is physically imposing; A5 landscape with heavy cardstock cover, but opening it up really reveals the uniqueness, within a few pages the images fracture, cut outs revealing pages and images beneath, carefully constructed to add layer upon layer to the tale Jones is telling. The interview James conducted with Alys confirms what I thought; every copy of Beyond the Wire has those cut-outs done by hand. Dedication every time.
It’s not quite a comic though, more an original take on illustration, almost poetic in the paucity of its language and text, but emotive, involving work where the format gimmick is used to really powerful effect.
Beyond The Wire is a WWI tale, a trenches tale, two divergent narratives battling for your attention, left hand page telling you one thing, right hand page another, left cold steel blue tinged, right trench mud brown, left the soldier’s tale, right the ever-unreliable narrative of an officer who writes, or perhaps a writer playing the role of an officer.
Things are left deliberately vague regarding events, with fragments and ideas pitched up and left to the reader to develop impot and meaning. The officer/writer could well be delusional, his witterings a lament of a man lost to the war and incapable of dealing with reality. The soldier certainly thinks so; “tried convincing several of us we were characters from one of his poems.”
But this is more bemused frustration than anything else, as said squaddy points out further on, as they stand in the regimental first aid post watching the worst of the officer class sending a shellshock victim back to the front line, “there were many worse officers“.
This is one of the most affecting themes of Beyond The Wire, Jones using the imagery to emphasise the brutality of it all, and her layering device is perfect for this;
Taking those squaddies from the frontline to the first aid post, bandages and injuries overlaid on their traumatised faces with each page turn is a great three pager, but you seeing it here on the screen really doesn’t do it justice, the physical act of turning the page, of creating the new image, that’s something else.
It’s a pretty unique book, using the formatting trickery not just as a gimmick, but as an integral narrative device, creating drama and pathos from the turning of the page, from the layering of the images, and telling a tale of warfare, not patriotic, not jubilant, not celebratory, just cold, miserable, sad, and deadly.
As a debut from an illustrator it’s most certainly a hugely confident and impressive work.