Square Peg, £14.99 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop; Jonathan Cape, £14.99 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop
The House That Groaned, By Karrie Fransman
Please God, Find Me A Husband!, By Simone Lia
Two graphic novels illustrate the pathos and comedy in the modern quest for true romance.
Saturday 25 August 2012
Romance is in the air, as two gifted British graphic novelists confront today's physical, psychological and spiritual challenges of finding love. Karrie Fransman explores the peccadilloes of a decidedly oddball sextet of lodgers sharing "The House That Groaned". Newcomer, "living doll" Barbara, seems the least maladjusted, whereas across the landing, Matt works as a photographic retoucher, in search of blemish-free perfection, but unable to touch another living human being.
Downstairs, divorced six-stone dietician Janet is being tormented by nuisance phone calls from the gluttonous members of "The Midnight Feast Front", while Brian has developed an attraction to diseased women, making long-term relationships difficult. On the top floor live timid grandmother Demi, confined to her tiny flat and ailing frame, and the hedonistic Marion, who wants to free all bodies from society's shackles.
Fransman interweaves their unravelling narratives with flashbacks to formative incidents in her players' pasts, enriching our understanding and sympathy. She peppers her ensemble story with several surprises, sometimes macabre, sometimes shocking, usually saved for left-hand whole pages to catch us unawares. Fransman's dual background as a psychology and sociology student and a creative advertiser helps underpin her skills at both characterisation and communication. She has a lively cartooning style in black and shades of blue, with such quirks as large V-shaped noses and doll-like circles on her characters' cheeks. By its melodramatic finales, The House That Groaned acknowledges some scars that miss their chance to heal, but also gives us a kind of happy ending for two tenants.
The search for love has been no simpler for cartoonist Simone Lia, dumped by email, almost 34 and single again, shouting in Leicester Square: "Please God, Find Me A Husband!" To her surprise she gets an answer of sorts from the INXS song playing nearby, "Need You Tonight". In a reverie she joins the bearded, bespectacled Almighty in a rendition and resolves to "go on an adventure with God". She tells Him her plans involving Australia, "an interesting near-death experience", "a gorgeous man" and "a little miracle would be lovely, please".
Her adventure starts in a community of Welsh nuns, whose quiet devotion inspires her to seek some inner peace. In one scene of 18 almost identical panels, we follow her as she tries to listen to the silence, finally hearing the comforting words, "I value you". Lia is no model Christian, all the more empathetic for hiding none of her religious failings and doubts, while also communicating her fragile moments of revelation. She sidesteps the offputting self-confessional and self-help genres by maintaining a lightness of touch and a refreshing unpredictability. Slipping smoothly between reality, memory, prayer and imagination, she can portray her heart as a shrunken, unshaven grouch with an eyepatch, or follow Jesus back to her childhood self.
Lia gets her adventure in Australia, where she falls for handsome horse-trainer Brett. When he compliments her as a Penelope Cruz look-alike, she redraws herself as she feels, with Cruz's movie-star glamour. Lia conveys her quest for love, whether earthly or spiritual, with deceptive simplicity and abundant good humour, accompanied by the recurring, slightly mournful sound effect, "weenk, weenk", of a spinster's spinning wheel, Lia's suitcase – and some impressive wheelies by God on a bike.
Paul Gravett's '1000 Comic Books You Must Read Before You Die' is published by Cassell
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food