Reviews of Lizzy Stewart’s Walking Distance and B. Mure’s The Tower in the Sea by Peter Duncan
Every so often people who think of themselves as comics fans need a reminder that comics are a medium, not a genre. There is lot going on out there beyond the world of superheroes, horror, fantasy and science fiction. There are few limits to the type of stories, thoughts or ideas that can be covered in comics form.
London-based Avery Hill Publishing are a perfect illustration of this. Each of their titles seems to come from a different, often off-beat, direction. Two titles published late last year show just how versatile the comics medium can be.
Walking Distance, by Lizzy Stewart, is a 56-page hardcover, published in muted colour with beautiful illustration, that defies classification. It’s isn’t a story; it isn’t a documentary. It somehow manages to be a stream of consciousness visual essay on certain aspects of Lizzy’s internal life that is both deeply personal and totally understandable.
It’s like spending an afternoon in Lizzy’s head, as she walks through London and muses on her worries and joys. Beginning with an idle thought of how much she likes, “shots of women walking through cities” and then moving, perfectly naturally, from subject to subject, taking in the experience of living in her world.
We get to know Lizzy, what she thinks, who she is, her fears and foibles. It all seems so natural and yet anyone who has tried to write first person narratives will know that this is a difficult trick to pull off. It takes a masterful piece of writing to make something so beautifully crafted seems so seamless and real.
Her technique, of mixing swathes of raw text, with her own pale blue, watercolour illustrations of the sights she sees on her walk through London and the starker black and white line drawings that represent doubts and fears, gives the book a rhythm, that matches the sensation of walking and thinking.
Her artwork draws more on magazine illustration than the comics I’m personally more familiar with, but the wordless pages do tell a story. Partly it’s the walk, and we do get a sense of a journey taking place. There is real storytelling skill here. But there are also sections where the pictures amplify the meanings behind the word, adding something.
I was worried about reviewing this book. I’m not thirty, I’m not a woman and I’ve never lived in London. But Stewart almost ‘gave me permission’ to write about this book in her own ‘addendum’ to the main story.
It would have been easy to say that this book was about “being a woman” and step back from passing comment. But as Lizzy says herself, she is writing about “being this exact human-person”. Only she can truly understand what it is to be Lizzy Stewart, but through this book anyone can catch a glimpse of who she is.
For every reviewer there will be things that we can recognise in her thoughts and other things that are alien. Walking Distance is about being Lizzy Stewart, and Lizzy Stewart is someone I’m very pleased to have had the pleasure of getting to know, just a little, through this book.
At first glance, B. Mure’s The Tower in the Sea could not be more different from Walking Distance. The third book set in the fantasy world of Ismyre, it’s an anthropomorphic fantasy telling of a secret school for Diviners.
It starts as a gentle tale with a menacing overtone that grows as the book goes on. New pupil, Miriam, brought to the secret school, the Tower of the title, is struggling to tell the if her dreams are merely nightmares or portents of disaster. An occupational hazard for fortune tellers and diviners I would think. What follows is small of scale, being limited to the activities of a few children hidden on an island, attending a secret school in a tower.
Creator, B Mure, takes his time and over almost 90 pages builds the story and background through little asides and looks from the adult characters. There is something big going on, somewhere else, and these children will play a part in it.
There is no cruelty in this school, rivalries between pupils are just that, not battles between good and evil. Characters are not two-dimensional tools of the story but change as the book goes on.
Read in one sitting, I didn’t want this book to end and there is a huge hint that it won’t. That there will be a continuation of it. There has been a lot of talk about getting kids to read comics, to find something to captivate them once they move beyond Beano (do you ever really move beyond Beano?). this might well be one of those books. For certain kids, the older, bookish ones who become obsessed with reading, this might be a gateway to the wider world of comics.
Somehow it evoked a little of the same magic that Rupert the Bear had for me when I first learnt to read and even had a character who reminded me of the wise old goat from those stories. The story is charming yet sophisticated enough to be interesting. The art is beautiful and distinctive. Hand drawn, with watercolours added to the inked pages, the colouring is more mellow than either of the two previous books set in this world – which I read very quickly afterwards.
I think I could love this comic. Reading it I was constantly reminded of what it felt like to read favourite books from my childhood. There was that hint of Rupert, perhaps a nod towards the Earthsea trilogy and a whole lot of the humour and gentleness of the early Moomin books.
But this was not nostalgia, this is a proper grown-up comic that recaptures those feelings from childhood and lets me experience them again today.
Keep a look out for the two previous books in B. MUre’s Ismyre series. Ismyre and Terrible Means are also available for £8.99 each from the same webpage, although you do not need to have read them to enjoy The Tower in the Sea.
Avery Hill Publishing is a small yet perfectly formed publishing company, featuring the work of wonderfully talented people in whatever form they wish…