By Kevin Jackson (writer) and Hunt Emerson (Artist)
Published by Knockabout Comics
Published May 24th 2018
The Book: Darren Bloke is an ordinary, hard-working stiff until a lottery win changes – and ruins – his life. He squanders his windfall and loses everything but his beloved dog, Skittle. Then he is visited by the spirit of John Ruskin, who shows him the true meaning of Wealth – not how to acquire it, but what is the right way for an honest human to deal with it.
Further visits from Ruskin’s spirit take him on a journey into Perception – how to look at the world through a more creative filter, and finally, he learns from Ruskin the true value of Work, and how it can enrich his life above and beyond a pay-packet. Darren discovers the meaning of Ruskin’s favourite saying – There is no wealth but Life.
The Review: Longtime readers of downthetubes will know Hunt Emerson has often worked with The Ruskin Foundation, and some of the material in this fantastic graphic novel springs from previous publications – but there are plenty of new pages, too.
You might be forgiven for thinking a story of how a pot-bellied no hoper (Darren) finds new meaning to life with help from a dead art critic – the eminent Victorian, John Ruskin – would be as dry as a bone, but far from it. In the capable hands of Kevin Jackson and Hunt Emerson, Bloke’s Progress proves an illuminating, enjoyable and very funny exploration of Ruskin’s political philosophy, and for me, offered a very moving Guide to Life we could all do with paying attention to.
For the benefit of those unfamiliar, John Ruskin, (1819 – 1900) was an art critic – possibly the greatest in any language. Yet his concerns were by no means confined to art. He was a sharp-eyed observer of nature, he had a fascination with architecture and he developed strong ideas about work, wealth and money.
He was what we would now call a “holistic thinker”, which obliged Ruskin to examine the society in which he lived. The conclusions he reached made him many admirers, including Leo Tolstoy and Marcel Proust – and some enemies. He inspired all sorts of reformers and idealistic politicians, including Gandhi, who said that reading Ruskin on a train one night changed his life.
Ruskin was much more than just a best-selling writer: lots of people regarded him as a kind of guru or latter-day prophet.
Part satire, part economic and philosophical treatise, Bloke’s Progress, offering a very 21st century perspective on Ruskin’s work, is also part love story, part political argument, part psychedelic craziness, and most importantly, very funny.
Pulling Ruskin’s ghost from the past brings the character and his views alive, and Kevin Jackson has worked hard to give this philosopher’s Victorian world view a very modern relevancy, complete with a healthy dose of no-holds barred cynicism. Bloke’s Progress often has its protagonist, Darren, a working class lad whose life is torn apart by a lottery win, question Ruskin’s philosophy – and tackle whether it’s still of value today.
Not only did I find the story and the discussion if Ruskin’s views fascinating, I was also very moved by Bloke’s Progress and what it says about modern life. It’s a rare thing for a comic graphic novel to achieve the kind of emotional impact this story had on me.
Offering a positive, funny and intriguing journey through Ruskin’s work, Bloke’s Progress is very much recommended.
Kevin Jackson is a writer, broadcaster and film-maker, and is a committed follower of Ruskin.
Hunt Emerson is a cartoonist, and a committed follower of his dinner. Find out more about Hunt Emerson and his latest projects at www.Largecow.com
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The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. He is currently editor of Star Trek Explorer, published by Titan – his third tour of duty on the title originally titled Star Trek Magazine.
Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Babylon 5 Magazine, and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War” and “Dan Dare”.
He’s the writer of “Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies” for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.