Book of Pages by David Whiteland
(graphic novel, Ringpull Press, £9.99.)
It's a rare pleasure that a book arrives both unannounced and completely welcome. While I need more books to review like I need a hole in my head, I can always make an exception for something this accomplished and, well, different.
I didn't ask Ringpull for a copy of this and they didn't ask me if I wanted one, but got one I did and I'm glad - it is probably the best graphic novel I have read in years (Frank Miller's 300 notwithstanding). But we are in different territory here to 100 page strip epics - this book is only 64 pages long but still manages to be substantial both in subject matter and in physical weight, as it is only printed on the right hand pages. At first glance this appears to be a waste of paper but the approach that David Whiteland has used means that a conventional approach would have failed, the impact of the single-illustration and 'hand-written' double-column text diminished by the proximity of another. A smart, brave move.
The book itself concerns the story of Jiriki, a young monk sent from a mountain monastery to the Metropolis to find the mysterious Book of Pages. The tale progresses in a series of 64 single page vignettes as the culture shock of Jiriki's journey through the high-tech mega-city is explored with many diversions and musings on number theory, technology and its relationship with humanity, and many other themes. I am reminded here of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker trilogy at its best, and indeed the promotional material supplied cites Hitchhiker as an influence.
But there is much more here than homage or pastiche. The art is crisp and cartoonish with a great 'underground' feel to it, simple lines that recall some of the great newspaper strip artists, but occasionally letting rip with expansive cityscapes or attention to detail that betray some 2000 AD or Euro comics influence. Again according to the promo material, Whiteland studies Aikido in Thailand and is also a computer programmer, so there are plenty of pseudo-Zen musings coupled with insights into the inner workings of machines.
Readers of this review will fall into two camps, those who will immediately rush out and buy this book, and those who would not even be remotely interested. To the former, I would say nothing, as the door is already swinging in the wind, to the latter, I would say, "Open your minds!" This book is refreshing, different, thought-provoking and innovative. Recommended? What do you think?
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© Noel K Hannan 14 October 2000