Sunday, June 15, 2008

Review: TRAINS ARE ...MINT & WE CAN STILL BE FRIENDS

Sorry I haven't posted much of late: working hard, watching too much football, plus slow news week equals sod all posts, etc.

But one other thing I have been doing is reading plenty, including the first releases from Blank Slate Books. I promised Kenny Penman long ago I'd give them the once over for the blog, so here goes...

Two books, TRAINS ARE ...MINT by Oliver East, and WE CAN STILL BE FRIENDS by Mawil. Straight off - great packaging. Nice paper stocks, and I'm always a sucker for French flaps on a paperback (insert yer own filthy gag). Kenny must have bombarded the entire British comics blogosphere with copies, cus there's reviews flying up all around the place, all positive, and all more diligent than mine'll be. Of TRAINS..., all I'll say is that East has a bloomin' great authorial voice, one of a kind I can't really remember hearing/seeing in comics before: an amiable young fogey, equally bemused, amused and disappointed at the state of the nation as he travels it, recording his impressions in watercolour sketches. In his introduction to the book, Penman likens East's work to Shane Meadows, but I'll throw Alan Bennett and Karl Pilkington into the "strange comparisons for a graphic novel, that" blender. In fact, as I read it, I can hear Pilkington's voice narrating it. Think about that 'un if it ever gets made into a PERSEPOLIS-style movie, gents.

Love Mawill's book, too. I was dreading this on first skim, because if there's one kind of comic book I can't stand, it's the "self pitying cartoonist fails with the ladies" sub-genre riddling the back catalogues of Top Shelf, Drawn & Quarterly, Fantagraphics, etc. But Mawill's work is lacking entirely in melodrama and any real self-pity. It's just touching, funny, and human, and exquisitely cartooned. Really - visit his website and have a hoke around. He's cracking. I've a real hankering to see more of this guy's work translated into English now.

The most exciting development here is the springing into existence of a new "graphic novel" publisher, here in the UK, especially an ambitious one with such a stable and successful business background. Sure, Knockabout are great at what they do, but they have the whiff of knackered old hippies about them. Even after just two books, there's something about Blank Slate that has the feeling of First Second or Adhouse about it. A real energy. Reading these books reminded me of reading ESCAPE as a teenager: having my horizons expanded, entertained at the same time, and feeling like British comics were growing up. And it's great to see the artform continue shifting its publication model from its immature roots in the laissez-faire economics of the pre-war comic book boom (no, seriously, go read THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY if you haven't already) to the more enlightened spheres of the book trade.

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