Review: no matter what, the Night Post will get through to you…
Comic book or picture book? Can be an easy question to answer, can be a hard one. Sometimes it’s down to prejudice. How many librarians and teachers in the past would baulk at calling Raymond Briggs’ beloved books comics, ignoring all the obvious signs? Luckily we live in (slightly) more educated times and we can call Brigg’s work comics pure and simple. Except when it’s not so simple, when you strip away some of the words, ditch the grammar of comics, jettison some of the mechanics, at what point do you switch from one to the other?
In truth, there’s a very nebulous borderland where you can call something a picture book or a comic and be right both times.
Night Post, the latest from Improper Books, is one of those. This wordless fantasy tale of the ‘other‘ postal service delivering to all the various creatures off the night, qualifies for me as a comic but others will see it as a simple picture book. In the end, it’s immaterial. What Night Post is and isn’t doesn’t matter, not to the reader. To the reader, hopefully, they’ll see this as the delicate, whimsical flight of inventive fantasy that it is.
And my mentioning Raymond Briggs is fitting, as there’s plenty of similar ideas here, from the simple narrative following a special worker about his day (think Father Christmas) to the pages packed with value-adding extra details (more Fungus The Bogeyman). Nothing wrong with that either, Briggs as an influence is a fine, fine thing. There’s also, with Night Post’s delightfully diverse menagerie of monstrosity and mystery, something reminiscent of Jill Thompson’s excellent Scary Godmother series.
Through the panelled pages, you’ll first meet, then follow our un-named night postie from his plain, suburban house, where he’s read his daughter her bedtime story, watched a little TV with his wife, grabbed his pack-up from the fridge, wrapped up warm and headed out, to moon-lit streets of an everyday town, to his night-shift.
Then it’s through ornate gates, gothic and imposing, out of town, taking us far out of the ordinary. Behind the gates lies Regal Mail, which looks for all the world to be just another industrial estate mail depot, mail-vans waiting outside as the autumnal leaves swirl round, caught in a chilly evening breeze. But it’s not. We know it’s not. And now we’re off to the fun of Night Post, down the special stairs, modern world left behind, concrete and pre-fab giving way to something far older, ancient wooden doors with heaving, groaning, ornate metal hinges, deep into fantasy land.
Off he goes, sack full, impossibly full, a nod to Mary Poppins just one of many references to enjoy in here. Delivering letters to ghosts, wearing his special headphones to deliver bubble bath to frolicking sirens at the lido, parcels go to mummys at the museum’s Egyptian exhibit, to trolls lurking under bridges, to vampires in their graveyard, and to so many more.
All the way through, at least when you take it slowly, there’s fun to be had… here’s just a couple of scenes, blown up for the details…
(Pity that poor mouse enthralled by the little siren mouse at the Lido above and what about those poor Billy Goats Gruff below – poor things eh? )
There’s so much in Night Post to love. The details are absolutely packed in, it’s a book that rewards a re-reader certainly, as the temptation, especially for children (and reviewers) is simply to rattle through the book to get a feel for it. But doing that you’ll miss all the little quirks and wonders that litter these pages. All the invention and visual treats are there in a simple and straightforward narrative where the skills of Trinder are oh so important to carry the story. And although it’s not perfect at times, a few iffy faces perhaps, a couple of spreads that didn’t seem just right, proportion and placement just off in places, but all in all, some really lovely stuff.
To show you what I mean, look at these two panels below, as postie takes a step into the Faerie ring, the first panel full of fabulous detail, but also a couple of frustrating moments; the light’s beam is off, the angle wrong, and although I can see why it’s done that way, the whole lighting of this night scene is off, too bright, too much colour, the light beam as a see-through thing… and yes, I’m being picky, but in a book where so much of it is about the detail, where the details make us look so closely, you will pick up the faults in detail as well.
HOWEVER, all is immediately forgiven with the panel after, that close-up of the fateful step inside the ring, a moment frozen perfectly, beautiful use of time and motion, including those un-tied laces, a great touch ..
There’s an element of spot the reference here, something of an all-ages League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen thing going on, but it’s none too distracting, something that comes through in the second, third, fourth, more readings of a delightful book. The owl and the pussy-cat, Nemo, Dory, the creature from the Black Lagoon wearing armbands, Hook’s crocodile finally rid of that troublesome alarm clock… so much to see.
And in the visual playfulness there’s also clever ideas galore. Here’s just two, I’ll leave the rest to you to find and be impressed by.
When our postie delivers a material letter to the ghosts in their immaterial world they’re first frustrated, which turns to anger when postie sets it ablaze which swiftly turns to realisation, dead post turns to ghost post. Clever.
However, I’ll leave you with my favourite moment, where clever writing, clever ideas, clever art, all come together as our intrepid postie heads to the museum with a mummy’s delivery, sets his hieroglyphic bicycle bell to whatever the Egyptian equivalent of ‘open Sesame‘ and rides straight through the wall, so cleverly done, even more cleverly shown with the bisecting of image with panel borders…
Night Post is a lovely book, a gorgeously drawn picture book, a wonderfully imaginative comic, full of invention, light on story perhaps but the reader gets to bring so much of themselves to it, so much to see and imagine and dream.