Aneurin Wright has produced a remarkable graphic novel.
It’s substantial in format too, coming in at 10″ x 8″ x 7″, with 306 pages, printed in three colours; black, blue & red on tactile uncoated stock that’s pleasingly not too bright.
The prologue opens with an oblique discussion on funeral arrangements before shifting to a hard-hitting, yet everyday domestic scene as our protagonist administers morphine pills to his visibly frail, chair-bound Dad.
Our protagonist is a struggling, 29-year-old, freelance graphic artist, Nye (Aneurin) Wright. He’s chasing debts from ad agencies who won’t pay. He’s laid off from long-term contracts. There’s no work forthcoming and he’s drifting apart from his girlfriend.
I should mention he’s also a bulky, bipedal, blue, bovine. The males in this book are mostly illustrated as animals. The women are portrayed as human women. Does this work? Yes. Does it have function? Certainly. It provides a surrealistic avenue that consistently pays dividends.
The crux is the revelation that Nye’s dad, visualised as a blue rhino, is terminally ill with emphysema. It’s confirmed he very likely has six months to live. This has important ramifications, associated with Medicare entitlements that were a real revelation to someone on the this side of the Atlantic. His parents are long divorced. His sister has genuine commitments. Quite frankly, with his current situation, Nye is best placed to leave the big city behind and go look after his father, in his trailer park.
The progression of this personal drama is masterfully executed; Chapters of varying lengths focus on different themes, whilst adding momentum to the overriding arc, the inexorable approach of his father’s death.
Delivered with visual elan, wit and much wry humour, this is all so unconditionally real. Circumstances, characters and events drive the emotional peaks and troughs. The peaks are never exaggerated and the troughs never melodramatic. There’s an engaging and sad hindsight to the tone of the commentary throughout.
I remember a very ‘British’ public service film we were shown at school addressing smoking and it’s direct connection with emphysema. I only recalled it after reading certain chapters in this book, which were so much more impactful. With calm authority, the specific causes and symptoms of this disease are devastatingly illustrated.
Of course, the beauty of the chaptering is the contrasts that can be created; flashbacks, ponderings, drunken moments of madness. Memories of terror and delight. Yet always pathos.
Nye’s long-suffering mother, his super-active, overachieving sister, and his best friend Miguel, one cool cat, are all depicted with a winning combination of tenderness and candor.
Yet it’s the history of Nye’s relationship with his father that is the nucleus of this saga and it is explored with a disarming frankness through a number of vignettes, like Dad cajoling his caretaker son to assist him completing some architectural drawings. The dialogue and their hesitant bonding is sweetly sincere. A meeting years earlier, long before the onset of Neil’s illness, where a young adult Nye takes up his father on his faults and misdemeanours in a brutal act of condemnation. Truly powerful catharsis.
Another vital aspect is the meta-textual channel that runs through the book. It’s used with flair, providing revealing subtexts, deeply personal revelations and moments of futile fury. It’s key because sadly, this being Nye’s story, his Dad’s illness created this work of art and Aneurin embraces this fundamental truth from the outset.
So, we see scenarios played out in the creator’s head, providing insight into the depth of his pain, along with the more philosophical and whimsical aspects of this existence; his transformation into a crusader of the night, meting out dark vengeance on tobacco industrialists, is particularly agreeable.
The artwork is muscular, expressive and packed with drama. The choreography within each page and spread is planned and implemented with deliberation, determination, and love.
There is of course an inevitable conclusion, which is heartbreaking in it’s frank portrayal. The aftermath of grief and loss is powerfully visualised and particular episodes of surreality, provide the reader a genuine appreciation for the kind of madness that occasionally descends during such traumatic times.
Yet, Nye’s family and friends continue to support each other. Reconciliation, joy, hope for the future and a love of life are the prevailing motifs in the concluding pages
This is fierce, brave, and astonishing storytelling, with the heart of a prize bull indeed.
I’m very pleased that I had the opportunity to read this excellent piece.
Things to Do in a Retirement Home Trailer Park . . When You’re 29 and Unemployed is published by Myriad editions. You can find out more about the book on the official website. It is available in good book shops, comic retailers, and online.