New British publisher Blank Slate (www.blankslatebooks.co.uk), the brainchild of Forbidden Planet International founders James Hamilton and Kenny Penman, kindly sent us review copies of the first two graphic collections in their range.
The new company has an ambitious publishing program, with half a dozen more titles to be announced very soon. For the latest news, check their official blog.
Trains are... Mint by Oliver East (ISBN 9781906653002) has received high praise from several quarters in recent months. It's a diary of walks tracing the train tracks between Manchester and Blackpool in the northwest of England, the comic dispensing with word balloons in favour of text and speech written in longhand superimposed upon the images.
"Oliver East has produced one of the most unique works to come out of the UK small press scene," says Kenny Penman, "and one that I believe has a chance of crossing over to a much wider audience.
"The story is told in deceptively simple watercolours that many will see as childlike (somewhat like the work of a young John Porcellino) although in fact they convey not only the narrative but also the spontaneity of sketches - which seems highly appropriate to a diary."
The graphical diary does not present the glowing picture of, say, Bill Bryson's book Notes from a Small Island or BBC TV's Coast documenntaries. "It also serves as eyewitness to what modern Britain is like behind the tourist posters," feels Kenny, "showing the everyday lives of small towns and people, and the often deep drabness at their centre, it reminds me in feel of the films of Shane Meadows."
“On the Road becomes On the Track as Oliver tramps, traipses, strolls and slogs from station to station, says Paul Gravett of the book, organiser of the ICA Comics Festival and author of numerous books including Great British Comics. "It's a unique use of comics, almost a time capsule of the unrecorded, everyday provinces.”
Personally, Trains Are Mint is a good read but I felt slightly bemused by the lack of trains in the book (one!) which makes for a strange chpice of title (but perhaps that was the point?). That said, for all the warts and all approach to documenting the walks, which include several train stations I'd rather not ever see again (Preston many look grand, but it's never appealed to me having been stuck on it once too often), there's a undefinable joy to the storytelling and a strong sense of observation that I think will develop over time.
We can Still be Friends by Mawil (ISBN 9781906653019) has a much more definable quality, centring on a young man's tried and failed approach to win the heart of various girls.
You sit next to her in Sunday School, meet her at Summer camp, spend the first year away from home with her as a flatmate. You're intoxicated, excited, obsessional - you're in love. Then come the dreaded words "we can still be friends"...
In four very funny, bittersweet episodes Mawil explores that crushing moment we've all experienced when our hopes and dreams are dashed, our stomachs turned inside out and we want the ground to swallow us up.
Widely held to be Germany's favourite Graphic Novel/Comics creator Mawil's works have won numerous awards over the last six years and have been translated into French, Spanish and Polish. This is his first book to be published in the UK in English and marks a terrific debut for one of Europe's best cartoonists.
For me, this was the more enjoyable release of Blank Slate's first two books, evoking memories of the non-Spirit stories by Will Eisner and others. The art is accomplished, the storytelling detailed but beautifully relaized and there's a genuine feeling of identification with the principal character as he careers from one almost entirely disastrous encounter with the opposte encounter to the next, much to the amusement of his drinking buddies as he recounts the experiences.
These two Blank Slate titles offer two very different graphic storytelling styles and are a good start for the fledgling company. I'm looking forward to seeing what else they have up their collective sleeves.
• Visit the Blank Slate web site
• The Blank Slate titles are available from several good graphic novel stockists including Forbidden Planet International, Gosh, Nostalgia and Comics, Page 45 and Smallzone
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