The Saddest Whale and Other Stories,
Here’s another review which I must apologise for being rather late in reviewing – I bought this from Steven at a local comic convention several months ago. In my defence, I bought myself a large pile of mini-comics that day, some I reviewed, some were put aside as I had other titles sent in for review, and I intended to come back to them. I imagine anyone else who reviews will know that feeling quite well!
There are five short stories here, including the eponymous sea mammal with depression, all with variations on a general theme of sadness. Which is not to say this is by any means a weeping fest, actually far from it, there are sad moment, but also sweet moments and funny moments, although some of the laughs are guilty ones. For instance in the Saddest Whale I was left alternating between feeling terribly sorry for this poor, depressive, lonely whale, but also laughing at some of it – the idea of such a warm, intelligent and social creature feeling that kind of depressing is actually humorous, but as I said a guilty humour, and that comedy is enhanced by the art – the image of the whale sitting upright on the sea bed cracked me up. It’s a lovely, simple bit of cartooning, not requiring lots of detail, but it carries in the pose and expression all the visual information you need to feel the poor whale’s despair. And while I both laughed and sighed at this story, mostly I was left wishing I could give the Saddest Whale a big hug.
The Bird Man of Rose Street was personally interesting to me – many who live in Edinburgh will have seen this man, a character who walks all over town. I’ve seen him for years, his long, white beard and always clad in a Duffel coat (even in summer), usually to be found feeding bread to birds (normally a nice pastime, but he has a habit of doing this right by street bins, attracting legions of screeching gulls, which afterwards try to get into the bins, not terribly pleasant). Steven speculates on what this solitary, older man does, why he wanders the city, sits by the bench, feeds the birds, and it was interesting to me to see a character from my own city streets feature in a short strip like this. Although judging by the way he treats him with some kindness I’m guessing the author hasn’t had that same street character walk up to him and scream inches from his face “JESUS SAVES!” as spittle flew from his mouth. That gives me a different perspective on that character than the story here! But it doesn’t invalidate Steven’s story. And they always say write what you know, so regular city characters are fair game for a writer’s mind, surely.
Among the other short stories ere William was my favourite. An elderly man, living on his own, it is three pages in before we see him talk to anyone, and even then it is just to grudgingly reply to someone saying “hello, Billy” to him in the street. This is a short work and yet Steven packs a lot into it – those first three pages really convey a feeling of painful isolation and loneliness, of atrophied social skills. And then into this short story Steven also manages to work several brief flashbacks, to his childhood, to his young adult period, each showing potential for fun, sports, friends, games, even romance. And with each there is also disappointment, and with each disappointment William pulls back further and further into himself. It’s a clever piece of work, all the more impressive for its brevity – it packs in several phases of the man’s life, how it and the events and the people around him shaped him, and how his own reactions contributed. But again this isn’t just a tale of sadness, regrets, the road not travelled, there’s more here, including hope; it’s a lovely piece of short comics work.