By: Gareth A Hopkins
Reviewed by Simon Russell
The Book: The Intercorstal: 683 is a Kickstarter-funded anthology-style abstract comic, by a single artist, inspired by, and in homage to, British sci-fi comics.
You can read Gareth’s comics quickly and decide you know what he’s doing – you ‘get’ his point and it’s time to move on to the next luminous alcopop. But slow down. Take a moment to appreciate the complexity of what is in front of you and the dedication it took to bring it to you. Enjoy the layers and the flavours, and ponder the heritage they speak of.
Hannah Berry (Adamtine) says that in comics every element matters – it’s all been put there by design (because, of course, previously there was nothing) and The Intercorstal is testament to how true that is. A noodly-doodly look belies the serious intent behind what is on the page and a liveliness to the linework means the intensity and detail never becomes ponderous.
But what IS it?
So many silent, monotone, abstract pages should surely blur into one grey soup as you go through the book, but somehow Gareth has delivered page after vibrant page of dramatic tension and clearly demarked strips. If you can pace yourself reading silent pages, you will know when you’ve reached a clifhanger ending, and when you start the next story.
The astonishing confidence with which The Intercorstal deconstructs sequential narratives and reconstructs them laughs at the inflated claims from celebrated writers of Industrial Comics to be playing with deconstruction (by, basically, writing fewer words in bigger panels). THIS is true deconstruction – pulling apart Comics and forensically examining how they were put together to understand what they were made from. Reverse-engineering them to make a comic that looks nothing like its progenitor while unmistakably sharing the same DNA.
The result is a comic of story, rhythm and mood that jettisons plot, character and text. Varied lines and solid shapes; gutters between panels; repeated motifs and very deliberate page layouts all combine to make a coherent, thoroughly readable object.
And reading 683 once will be a unique experience. Reading it twice will be two unique experiences – the absence of literal figures or concrete meaning in the forms means the reader’s physical and mental circumstances change the perception of what they are seeing on the page. What we bring to this comic influences what we see in it and having read it once changes how we read it subsequently. Even reading on screen or in print will elicit different responses, so if you’re backing the current Kickstarter campaign, go for the both for real value for money.
When I interviewed Gareth for the first issue of my Question Marks newspaper (http://www.comicsy.co.uk/boinggraphics), he described himself as ‘an abstract artist whose medium is comics, rather than a comic artist creating abstract works’ and the distinction is telling. When I read silent comics my mind will often compensate for the missing sounds by inserting a percussive beat at each panel border… the edges become dominant while the content and the page as a whole is more armature than structure. In 683 there is a flow between panels and pages, a togetherness to the package that pulls the reader into each part rather than pushing them out.
The drawings are eerily beautiful in their own right – if you like the work of Sergio Toppi, Mick MacMahon, Mark Badger or SMS/Smuzz there should be some resonance felt here. Many pages or panels could be displayed as standalone images on a wall without the usual contextual dissonance inherent in sharing a detail from the whole.
Speaking with Gareth, it’s clear how deeply he has thought about what he is doing here and how comfortable he is with making a ‘difficult’ experience for the audience when that’s demanded by the rules he has set himself for this project. But he is wrong about it being difficult – against all odds these pages are warm and human.
In the way that Blake or Braque explored classical themes through a combination of intellect and passion, so Gareth is exploring comics. It builds something whole and new from pre-existing material, retelling a old potboiler of story in an idiosyncratic manner to mine it for greater meaning on personal and universal scales.
• Back the Intercorstal Kickstarter | Find out more about Intercorstal here | Listen to the Awesome Comics Podcast interview with Gareth
• Gareth A Hopkins is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Essex. His other work can be found at http://www.grthink.com
Simon Russell writes Night thoughts at Boing, a blog on comics and cartoonery. He is Managing Editor at Aces Weekly and creator of Nearlymades and That’s Not My Merkin
One of many guest posts for downthetubes.