I have a blissfully undisciplined approach to graphic novels. People send me things they think I’ll like and I tend to read them on the loo. I pick things up in bookshops because the pictures are beautiful. I’m like a happy lost tourist in a vast country. Some of the most original fiction I have read in the last few years has been hand-drawn, and some of the graphic novelists I’ve read—from here and abroad—could teach mainstream writers and publishers a thing or two about fine writing and high production values.
Nobrow are a case in point. They create physically exquisite objects, made with love, which are unashamedly diverse. They smell incredibly good, they are spot-colour printed on good paper and well-priced. It’s celebratory publishing, nothing fearful or imitative about it. Nobrow aim to satisfy the printed matter fetishist.
Everything We Miss by Luke Pearson is a slim little hardback. It describes—in black, grey and orange—the slow disintegration of a relationship. The break-up narrative is bombarded with unseen, otherworldly forces and unconnected vignettes of other people’s lives, things on the periphery of our understanding. It has some wonderfully dark imagery, a little bit David Lynch, a little bit Russian fairytale, orbiting the two undetected as they slide grimly towards separation. Pearson splices together the mundane and the fantastical, springing little surprises of tone and register in a way only a comic book can. The balance between the grotesque and the poignant is pitch-perfect, and it has a splendidly macabre short-story-like ending. In fact, the novel has a lot in common with the work of contemporary short story writers such as Etgar Keret; for example, an old man peers into the dark and “misses his wife float upwards, separate into sixteen pieces, then rearrange herself in exactly the same order.”
Everything We Miss is very contemporary and urbane (text messages and the loneliness of the empty email inbox underscore the pain of failed dating) but also seems to me to sit within a tradition of British folk tales, not least because of the malign, meddlesome intentions and narrative function of the spectres. Pearson’s slithery dark ghosts play the same trickster role as the boggarts and changelings in Alan Garner’s re-telling of old English tales. At one point a shadowy oil-like form crawls up inside the body of the boyfriend, mid-argument, grips his tongue and makes him say ‘You’re so fucking boring these days.’ It’s a good ancient device in a banal scenario, revealing the manipulative gods or goblins behind human actions, but Pearson does it with a lovely lightness of touch. He doesn’t let the uncanny elements undermine the pathos of the plot.
Everything We Miss is slight but very satisfying and it lingers in the mind. I loved parting with cash for it, turning it over in my hands and making room for it on the shelf: all old-school pleasures, but never more important than now.
Max Porter is Manager of Daunt Books on the Fulham Road.