The Silver Darlings is the debut graphic novel by writer/artist Will Morris and is published by Blank Slate Books.
It is 1967 and in the port of Dunure on Scotland’s Firth Of Clyde the small family-owned fishing boat The Silver Darling is preparing to put to sea for the first time with Danny. He had hoped to avoid the fishing life by going to college in Glasgow but has to replace his grandfather on the boat for a week that summer. With his father, the ship’s skipper, his cousin James and seasoned seaman Tam McCurroch all prepared to abide by the many sailors’ superstitions, Danny is determined to show them the error of their ways by taking a forbidden white handled knife on board. However as the sea and its storms get the better of Danny’s legs and stomach, he begins to understand the harshness of the seafaring life and appreciate the camaraderie of the Silver Darling’s crew.
From the familiarity of the family’s dinner table to the danger of the heaving deck of a small boat in a storm, Will Morris takes his readers on Danny’s journey of discovery both of the working lives of his family and friends as well as of himself. Danny doesn’t really want to be there, considers that he is more modern thinking that his crew mates and sets out to effectively show up their superstitions, yet it is they who show him what it is like to work as part of a crew with its own history and traditions. Indeed the book, without being too obviously educational, shows in some detail how this now old-fashioned type of fishing boat and their crews worked to bring in the herring catch.
With its wraparound watercolour hardback cover interrupted only by a faux fabric spine with silver lettering, Blank Slate have made an impressive effort to set this book out from the crowd. Internally the artwork is black and white ink wash over inks originally applied to textured paper, the texture coming across in the reproduction, and the softness of the wash does much to alleviate what would have been very harsh ink lines without it. While the linework has a scratchiness that takes a little time to get used to, the use of the different levels of grey wash does much to swing the mood of the story when the storm takes hold and Danny realises the pettiness of his plan and so seeks to change it.
The Silver Darlings is a remarkable first book, lovingly put together by its creator and backed by a sympathetic publisher. Given the quality of this book, and its standalone story, it will be interesting to see what Will Morris produces next.
Will Morris will be appearing at Edinburgh’s Stripped Book Fest on Friday 23 August at 3:30pm together with Stripped blogger Ed Ross for A Pair of Innovators Club Together. There are more details on the event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival website.
There is more information about Will Morris’ work on his website: www.whmorris.com
There are more details about The Silver Darlings on the Blank Slate Books website: www.blankslatebooks.co.uk
This review was first posted on the Stripped Book Fest blog and is re-posted here with full permission.