The Park is a graphic novel of considerable substance from Argentinian-born Oscar Zarate; an artist of considerable pedigree. He has been living and working in London for some forty years. In his time he has drawn an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello and produced illustrations for Alexei Sayle’s Geoffrey the Tube Train and the Fat Comedian, however he’s probably most recognised for the graphic novel, A Small Killing, created in partnership with Alan Moore. In the great wizard-scribe of Northampton’s own words, “A Small Killing is one of the best pieces of comic book art that I have ever been involved in.”
In this instance, Zarate is in partnership with SelfMadeHero Publishing. Emma Hayley launched this independent publishing house in 2007, having perceived a gap in the market when it comes to producing ground-breaking work in the graphic novel medium.
This book is a reflection upon living in London, today. I’ve heard many people attempt to define this metropolis over the years and perhaps the most persistent recurring theme is praise for the plethora of green spaces scattered, albeit unevenly, throughout the city. London is blessed with many parks and commons and here we have first and foremost a homage to their contribution to our lives. Specifically this is situated in the Big Daddy of them, Hampstead Heath.
The opening page therefore, pleasantly defies expectation with a beautiful full-page monochrome watercolour of the greatest comic duo of all time: Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.
As the story commences, we meet Chris Stein, enjoying his favourite DVD of this comedy pairing. He’s a mild-mannered, middle-aged guy and a sincere fan who finds much solace from their madcap antics. He reflects on their actions and their relationship. It’s through this prism that we are encouraged to consider the nature of the many and varied relationships on display throughout this story.
Zarate presents the reader with two distinct groups of principal characters.
In the blue corner, we have the aforementioned Chris Stein, a postman by trade and an amateur musician with stubbornly professional aspirations, his son Victor, a keen jogger and an impatiently intolerant if well-meaning son, and his long-suffering musician mate and band co-member, George.
In the red corner we’re introduced to Ivan Grubb, a much older gentleman with a career in populist journalism, perhaps in the vein of Richard Littlejohn. If that name is unfamiliar to you, conjure your favourite right-wing tub-thumper, his independently minded daughter Mel, a student and eco-activist, and his patient, attentive brother, Harry. Also, it is worth mentioning that Ivan is devoted to his pet dog, Carla.
It is in the park that these two worlds collide. Chris is strolling with George, arguing over the merits of a band re-formation. Nearby, Ivan is playing with his beloved dog whilst Mel chats with her uncle. The over-excited animal bites Chris, who instinctively kicks back. Whilst Mel is apologising, an outraged Ivan rushes onto the scene, attacking this stranger who has dared to abuse his precious. The melee is broken up swiftly enough, whilst providing the foundation for a revenge plot that is more jaunty comeuppance than dark vengeance. This event springboards arcs focussing on Chris and Victor, Ivan and Mel, that are deftly divergent and contiguous, as required.
There is however much more to this book than this spine of retribution. The overriding narrative is finely written prose that opens doors to the story’s development and resists walking you through it. Bird’s eye perspectives are provided, addressing the wider environment of this park and all life within; the community at large, the flora and the fauna. It asks questions as opposed to submitting axioms and whilst examining the relative positions of the players in this fiction, we are encouraged to study our own.
The accomplished composition, in collusion with some vibrant, energised, watercoloured vistas, provide for some breath-taking pages. Creditably, there are fine contrasts to the joys of green spaces, with splendid depictions of urban life. In particular the renderings of a metropolis at night are quite wonderful to look at.
There is much craft and expertise in the storytelling, rewarding the reader with insights in terms of both the wider themes being addressed along with the essential emotions and the humanity of the characters on display.
There has been some discussion ‘out there’ as to whether the U.K. is currently experiencing a Golden Age in graphic novel publishing. Whilst I think it’s a little early for a retrospective, this superior work provides strong evidence that at the very least, there’s cause for much enthusiasm.
You can find out more about The Park at SelfMadeHero.com