Reviews: Ellerbisms – a complete and beautiful collection.
By Marc Ellerby
Oh man, this has taken far, far too long to get around to. Apologies all round here. This is a book that came out from Marc Ellerby at Thought Bubble last November, a book I’ve already told you was one of my top 10 from 2012, so you know it’s something I love. But it’s somehow taken a third of a year to tell you about it. Rubbish just doesn’t really cover it.
Well, no, as Ellerby’s not so much repackaged as recontextualised and remade Ellerbisms. What was quite excellent in comic form became absolutely essential in collected form.
Ellerbisms started as a simple diary comic, sporadic, episodic, lacking direction. A little like Ellerby himself at the time one imagines. It was raw, yet entertaining. But like so many diary comics before and since, there was that feeling that the novelty would wear off, either for reader or artist. It was going to take something huge to change the strip, and that happened when Marc met Anna:
When I reviewed his work in comic form I talked of how the strip really takes off somewhere in issue 2, when everything came together:
“And much to my delight over the months since the stuff in volume 1 came out Marc started putting more and more detail in his work, started linking pages, making more of a story from strip to strip. It just got better and better. But something happened to Ellerbisms along the way whilst I was reading it, something absolutely remarkable and absolutely fascinating. Marc fell in love”
Yes, that was the huge, huge event needed to go from entertaining yet empty to utterly compelling, absolutely real, and totally essential reading. From that point on, Ellerby documented the relationship, the highs and the lows, unflinching, honest, determined to document it all, no matter how difficult or traumatic it might be. And it was the difficulties, as well as the sheer joy of being in absolute love, that made it such a powerful and rewarding experience.
As great as Ellerbisms was in previous form (and that’s all still available online to play compare and contrast if you so wish), here in this collection Ellerby has curated his work, changing, adding, removing, altering. The end result is that the collected Ellerbisms takes all that was powerful and effecting, all that was funny, all that was truthful, and brave, and impressive and makes it simply better, more complete.
The collected Ellerbisms has the benefit of distance. The white heat of being inside the relationship has dissipated somewhat and Ellerby can look back and reflect properly. It’s to his absolute credit that he maintains the raw honesty, never adjusts events to put him in a more flattering light. No, all the brutal honesty is still present, but with distance it’s been given context, and that’s actually made Ellerbisms stronger, more coherent. The collection benefits from an new introduction strip, an expansive new epilogue that’s an ending of sorts and as heartbreakingly honest as anything that went before, and several of the strips have been reconfigured and redrawn. Never to remove meaning or to benefit the perception of the artist, merely to clarify a position, or to contextualise something now Ellerby has the benefit of looking back in reflection.
The most pertinent example of that is one of those moments I highlighted when I first saw Ellerbisms Volume 2. First as it originally appeared and then as it appears in this collection:
Six panels become nine, but more importantly Ellerby condenses the moment of his utterly selfish and ridiculous anger and adds those extra lines at the end, completel changing the tone, allowing Anna that important retort. Hearing Ann’s response, seeing his reaction, that’s what’s different here, the whole thing has a sense of completion, of reading something wonderful, something raw, something whole, a truer picture of both people in the relationship than the day-by-day Ellerbisms could afford us.
Also, most importantly, Ellerby has decided to begin his collection some way into the online work, leaving much of the early material out. So instead of “the complete Ellerbisms” what we actually get is the complete story of two people in and out of love. Another advantage of joining partway through is that we can ignore the faltering, very rough artwork of the very earliest Ellerbisms. Just the few reworked pieces next to earlier material are enough to hammer home just how improved Ellerby’s art has become.
The end result of all of these changes is to create something far, far more than a simple stick the strips in order book thing. What results is complex, emotional, coherent, and absolutely readable.
Oh, and then there’s those round edges. On one hand a mere flighty design thing. But I prefer to see it as a wonderful, nostalgic look at the origins of Ellerbisms, a little diary comic, done in a Moleskine, just as this very first strip, included in the collection as a mere frontispiece, points out:
No-one, certainly not Ellerby, could ever have imagined back then, what his life and his work would become. If he had, then there’s always the possibility the young man would have chickened out. Thank goodness he didn’t.
Ellerby made something very special in Ellerbisms, but in collecting it here, special became sublime, and he delivered one of the best autobiographical works I’ve ever read. I like to think he’s more than lived up to the legendary little notebook he used.
Far more than just a “sporadic diary comic” as Ellerby so self-depreciatingly describes it on the cover, this is something describing in beautiful, heart-rending terms the beginning, middle, and sad end of an affair to remember for our times.
You can still read Ellerbisms online in it’s entirity, starting with that Moleskine page. But far, far better to read the story complete, and that’s available from Ellerby’s Great Beast Comics’ store.