It’s not really news to anyone that Pat Grant’s graphic novel Blue is a good’un – he’s had great press both here in Australia and overseas. That said, I have a review of Blue that I originally wrote for The Monthly, which they passed on, and then Australian Book Review and the Age passed too (mainly cos they already had reviews lined up). Seemed a shame to just leave it to moulder on the hard-drive, so here, in a slightly more formal register than I generally use on this blog, are my thoughts on this pretty speccie comic book.
And even though they didn’t take it, profuse thanks must go to John van Tiggelen at The Monthly for his excellent editorial feedback while I was writing this review.
A man reminisces about the day he and two of his high school friends went in search of a dead body on the local train line. As he tells his story he looks back at the history of his home town, lamenting its change for the worse. He attributes these changes to the arrival of a blue-skinned race of alien migrants.
Australian comic artist Pat Grant’s debut graphic novel Blue tells two stories: one about the social anxiety of adolescence, the other an exploration of racism in the face of migration.
The story’s setting on the northern coast of NSW, its focus on surfing culture, and its use of strine and slang make it distinctively Australian. Smaller details reinforce this, like sausage rolls with sauce, “We Grew Here, You Flew Here” stickers and Daily Telegraph posters.
Grant’s use of a minimal palette (black and white with shades of blue and grey) is striking, as is his lush, deft and fluid line work. His characters, both human and alien, are elastic creatures with rubber-band limbs and squashy bodies, reminiscent of 1930s cartoon characters.
Grant confidently explores the possibilities of layout in comics. Some pages are blank except for a few centred panels zeroing in on details from the landscape. Others are busy grids, each panel containing elements that can be read separately or as part of a larger picture or sequence of events. Others still are dense double-page panoramas illustrating the coastal environment that characters pass through.
Blue presents racism as an understandable response to social change. As a social commentary, despite its playfulness and humour, it never satirises the racism of its protagonists. Though aggressive and ill-educated, they are funny and likable.
The objects of their racism are less sympathetic: a mere source of confusion and resentment. There are a few moments, however, in which the aliens are convincingly humanised. These moments make Blue feel more like devil’s advocacy than a racist tract.
Some might want Grant to come out more strongly against racism, but not every book that deals with the subject has to denounce it. It’s true that Blue could be used as a pro-racist text if someone was so inclined, but it’s also a thought-provoking look from a less common angle at a significant issue in contemporary Australian society, using a relatively uncommon artform.
Grant’s illustrations have a stunning complexity and depth of meaning, and while his ability as a writer may not be as strong as his considerable illustrative powers, he is certainly a good yarn-spinner. His dialogue is a delight.
Blue is a beautiful, thought-provoking debut from an undeniable new talent, recommended for anyone interested in the graphic novel form.
Blue is available from Giramondo in Australia, Top Shelf in the US and Canada, and in full online at www.boltonblue.com.