Comics Features

REVIEW: Brighton: The Graphic Novel from QueenSpark Books

Written by Patrick Smith

This is an anthology addressing the seaside conurbation that is Brighton. However, the gamut of storytelling within this tome is broad and deep. This is as it should be when one pauses to consider, even for a single minute, the cultural references that Brighton evokes.

It began as the settlement Brighthelmstone, before the Domesday Book of 1086. The railway link of 1841 led directly to the classic imagery of awkward Victorians paddling by the sea. In living memory, one can’t ignore the 1960’s clashes between the Mods and the Rockers or in more recent times, the bombing in 1984 of The Grand Hotel. These days Brighton flourishes as an adjunct of the capital, with a lively nightlife and a thriving LGBT community.

So, at first glance, Brighton: The Graphic Novel contains 14 stories with additional bios, annotations, and acknowledgements within its 256 beautifully designed and produced pages. One rather nice touch is the care taken to clarify the years in which each feature occurs, the range herein being from 1752 to 2013. Another is that the running order is chronological. Whilst the diversity is immense, this progression gives structure and a kind of momentum to the reading experience.

The talent on display from each of the contributing writers and artists is substantial. However, what is most gratifying is the apparently unrestricted scope of the various narratives. That suggestion of infinite possibilities and having no real clue as to what’s ahead of you is just what you should expect from a good anthology.

I was transfixed by Seawater, from Jim Holland and Chris Hagan. A maritime epic of unrequited love, hard toil and the power of the sea. The artwork is quite frankly stunning and is filled with drama.

I was thrilled by Jonas Tindale: Nightman, from Jon Sapsed and Pete Katz. A dazzingly depicted, sepia-toned boy’s own adventure of dark dealings, murder and revenge.

These are the first two stories, both captivating and completely distinctive. Yet they share a thread within the detail. In this instance, a medical dissertation by Dr Richard Russell, from 1760. It’s an ingenious ploy as it slowly reveals itself and one that is repeated in disparate forms to forge links between later chapters. Great fun.

Other fine yarns include a family and their railway in Off the Rails from Rob Simpson and Jaime Huxtable; Something in the Water, a tale of evil doings, old murder and magick, from David Bramwell and Aneurin Wright; the exploits of a citizen sleuth, The Arsonist,
from Jonathan Stearn and Paul Stapleton that focusses on the West Pier fire of 2003.

Two other chapters that particularly grabbed me were A Helping Hand from Tom Johnstone and Joe Blann and Beside The Seaside from Tom Harrop and Iain Buchanan; The first is influenced by the classic film Brighton Rock. Corrupt coppers and teddy boys, sexism and racism are tackled head on. It’s a ripping yarn depicted with energy, grit, incredibly authentic dialogue and a dash of comic parody. The second sets its sights on the seaside riots between mods and rockers in the ’60’s and early ’70’s. It’s a harsh, urbanesque murder mystery. While it also deals with attitudes towards women and race, it’s vividly and boldy illustrated with some humour and pays fine homage to the prevalent styles of the times.

This is Brighton: The Graphic Novel. Each and every recountal within this volume was a pleasure to read because the themes addressed are essentially common to us, wherever we reside. The unequivocal sense of place provides an ideal foundation from which to build layers of historic and modern myth, of pleasingly varied textures and perspectives. So, if you’re a Brightonian or someone with fond memories of this town, you’re going to find this book an entertaining and illuminating read. Likewise, if you’re one for beautifully crafted and diverse graphic fiction, you may well find this book a treat.

QueenSpark Books was established in 1972 and is now the most longstanding and prolific community publisher in the UK. John Riches and Sarah Hutchings are the public face of QueenSpark. However, a lot of other people including Nicola Benge, Kathy Caton and the Management Committee are at work behind the scenes. The cohesion that is woven throughout this book is a credit to the editors and the entire team involved in the commissioning, creative development and production of this excellent publication.

Any individual who has the good fortune to read through this anthology certainly won’t be disappointed and is highly likely to discover a personal gem or two.

You can find out more about Brighton: The Graphic Novel here.

About the author

Patrick Smith