Now and Then
Now and then.
Past and present.
A history tale without a capital H, showing yet again that the smaller moments of history, the ones affecting everyday life, are often just as fascinating as those momentous occasions that litter the history books. It’s this sense of everyday history that informs Now and Then, a short comic by Sally Jane Thompson, whose Atomic Sheep I enjoyed and reviewed a while back.
In terms of publication date this is earlier work, self published in 2012 as opposed to Atomic Sheep’s 2013 publication from Markosia. But in terms of artistic development and direction this is newer, Atomic Sheep a long refined and reworked story from a younger Thompson’s life, this one something now, something she talks of in her afterword as triggering ideas and themes she’s thinking of using to develop something longer in the future.
Thompson tells a story here that allows us to glance back, imagination casting off to connect the now and the then so well, in a beautifully drawn and realised short comic.
That’s the voice of an American guest at a Matlock B&B, up from London to rural Derbyshire, the countryside a delight of old fashioned greenery and quaint market towns full of curiosity to wander around. She’s happily been exploring the little shops selling bobbins and loom shuttles and the like, glad of a chance for coffee in the peace and quiet, absorbed in a new book, something on the old mining industry of the region.
This gentle meandering, in plot and in art proves a fine chance for Thompson to draw some beautiful landscapes, which is something I could easily lose myself in for many more pages, but even here there are details to pick up on, little elements in every page with meaning, the past reflected in the present.
This connection from the past to the present is there in something as simple as the older couple at the B&B table, frequent returnees, their experience of the area gained from past exploration, or the basket of bobbins and loom shuttles she finds in one of those quaint little shops. These may be lovely objects, but they’re also a call back to a more industrial age, of a milling industry as long gone as the mining industry she spends her coffee time reading about. Even those landscapes hark back to a more agricultural and industrial age, the chimney in the background and even the sheep in the field a connection to the mills of yesteryear once more.
But it’s once she falls into the reverie of sleep that the connections from now to then are really strongest, her mind flutters and wanders, travelling in time around the fixed point of the Derbyshire countryside. This is a gentle dreamscape of a piece, ideas introduced through imagery rather than story, the text often a mere pointer to a direction her mind takes.
“the feeling of loss when I woke.
It made me feel like there is no THEN.
Only a NOW,
and another NOW,
and another NOW after that.”
This is accompanied by a simple, yet poignant series of pages, fixed in place outside the B&B, but travelling through time, watching each generational change in the lives of everyday people. The simplicity of these five pages of full page images and no more than a line of text per page is inversely proportional to the cumulative effect of the pages, this is the payoff to the short tale, this is the thing to make the reader really consider those past and present, now and then connections.
Thompson’s beautiful style is much in evidence here, such careful storytelling to feel so relaxed and free. Likewise, her art is surface simple, but so careful in what it does, each smooth, flowing line sending the eye this way, then that, ordered and careful beneath the simplicity.