summit, I red: The Intercostal 683

Posted in criticism
summit, I red: The Intercostal 683

Review
01/06/16

I’ve been lucky enough to see a preview of The Intercostal 683 by UK artist Gareth A Hopkins (see interview in Question Marks Won) and I can honestly say it’s a breathtaking comic…

The Intercorstal 683
Gareth A Hopkins
You can look at the drawings of Gareth A Hopkins and think of the Italian Futurists ~ their fractured imagery and the irresistible sensations of movement and speed do indeed share a distant kinship with Gareth’s work… but, I prefer to think of him as Guinness!

You can read Gareth’s comics quickly and decide you know what he’s doing ~ you ‘get’ his point and it’s time to move on to the next luminous alcopop. But slow down. Take a moment to appreciate the complexity of what is in front of you and the dedication it took to bring it to you. Enjoy the layers and the flavours, and ponder the heritage they speak of.

I think it was Hannah Berry, author of Adamantine, who said that in comics every element matters ~ it’s all been put there by design (because, of course, previously there was nothing) and The Intercorstal is testament to how true that is. A noodly-doodly look belies the serious intent behind what is on the page and a liveliness to the linework means the intensity and detail never becomes ponderous.

But what IS it?
The Intercorstal is a five-strip, 32-page, black and white anthology comic. It’s also an exploration of the language and structure of comics through abstraction. It’s a welcoming experiment in alienation. It’s one artist’s playful idea made glorious reality through hard work and harder thought in pursuit of a singular vision. It’s a love letter to British weekly comics… written in purple crayon… by James Joyce.

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So many silent, monotone, abstract pages should surely blur into one grey soup as you go through the book, but somehow Gareth has delivered page after vibrant page of dramatic tension and clearly demarked strips. If you can pace yourself reading silent pages, you will know when you’ve reached a clifhanger ending, and when you start the next story.

The astonishing confidence with which The Intercorstal deconstructs sequential narratives and reconstructs them puts the inflated claims from celebrated writers of Industrial Comics to be playing with deconstruction into perspective. THIS is deconstruction ~ painstakingly taking something apart and forensically examining it to see how it was put together, to understand what it was made from. Gareth is reverse-engineering previous examples of the form to make a new thing that looks nothing like its progenitor while unmistakably sharing the same DNA.

The result is a comic of story, rhythm and mood, that jettisons plot, character and text.

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Varied lines and solid shapes; gutters between panels; repeated motifs and very deliberate page layouts all combine to make a coherent, thoroughly readable object.

If reading 683 once will be a unique experience, reading it twice will be TWO unique experiences ~ the absence of literal figures or concrete meaning in the forms means the reader’s physical and mental circumstances change the perception of what they are seeing on the page. What we bring to this comic influences what we see in it and having read it once changes how we read it subsequently. Even reading on screen or in print will elicit different responses, so if you’re backing the current [at the time of this review] Kickstarter campaign, go for both for real value for money.

When I interviewed Gareth for the first issue of my Question Marks newspaper, he described himself as ‘an abstract artist whose medium is comics, rather than a comic artist creating abstract works’ and the distinction is telling.

When one reads silent comics, the mind will often compensate for the missing sounds by inserting a percussive beat at each panel border… bum-tit; bum-tit… the edges dominate while the content and the page as a whole become more armature than structure. In 683 there is a flow between panels and pages, a togetherness to the package that pulls the reader into each part rather than pushing them out.

The drawings are eerily beautiful in their own right ~ if you like the work of Sergio Toppi, Mick MacMahon, Mark Badger or SMS/Smuzz there should be some resonance felt here. Many pages or panels could be displayed as standalone images on a wall (without the usual contextual dissonance inherent in sharing a detail from the whole).

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Speaking with Gareth, it’s clear how deeply he has thought about what he is doing here, and how comfortable he is with making a ‘difficult’ experience for the audience when that’s demanded by the rules he has set himself for this project. But he is wrong about it being difficult ~ against all odds these pages are warm and human.

Without putting him on the same level, it’s fair to say that in the way Blake or Braque explored classical themes through a combination of intellect and passion, so Gareth is exploring comics. It builds something whole and new from pre-existing material, retelling a old potboiler of story in an idiosyncratic manner to mine it for greater meaning on personal and universal scales.

Check it out and take your time to appreciate it all…

Cheers!

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