Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The Nao Of Brown Review

Glyn Dillon
Self Made Hero

Quite simply, this is one of the best graphic novels I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. I’m putting that grand statement at the start of this review as you may see those words ‘graphic novel’ and find your head saying ‘click away, click away!’ through fear that I might be about to talk about capes and super powers. Forget it. This is a great book that happens to use pictures to draw you in to its wonderful world.

The story revolves around the character of Nao, a half Japanese girl in her twenties living and working in London. She works in one of those quirky adult toy shops that have weird robots and all kinds of imported things in them. She attends Buddhism classes and shares a flat with a friend. And that’s about it.

Over the course of the story we see her meet a large, bearded washing machine repairman who reminds her of a character from the Japanese stories she reads in her spare time (and at work). We also see her dealing with some deep mental health issues that cause her to have wild and violent visions and this is great example of using the right medium to express certain ideas within a story. In film it would seem contrived and if it were just written it would lack to dramatic impact displayed here.

It’s a tricky book to sell really because there is no great epic arc. It’s just a richly detailed story with a very underplayed but naturalistic script. The artwork is immensely beautiful and, with its rich images in watercolour, is clearly a real labour of love. There is a vivid reality to the London locales, but it is the character details, especially of Nao, that elevate it. Moments when a downward glance and some subtle piece of body language say more than words ever could are expertly used throughout.

A second story runs amongst the main narrative that tells something akin to a Japanese folk tale, which is perfectly introduced a couple of pages at a time and involves a completely different style of writing and art. Images of giant robots roaming fairytale landscapes are an excellent counterpoint to the main story. It’s just so beautiful.

I’ve recently interviewed OK Comics in Leeds, from where I purchased this and one thing I asked about was whether the decline we are seeing in physical sales for music and books is mirrored by those of graphic novels and comics. Quite rightly, I was told that the experience of reading a comic or graphic novel is not as easy to replicate digitally (though it has been). The Nao Of Brown is absolutely an example of why physical books WILL survive. It’s the kind of book you would happily build a shelf from scratch for, just to have it in your house.

 Dean Freeman

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