A guest blog by Matt Imrie
Nobrow came into my life with all the subtlety of a punch to the stomach! I was peacefully minding my own business wandering through a bookshop when I stumbled over Nobrow 6 – one of their eponymous magazines. It is safe to say that it blew my mind, it took me back to my youth in South Africa when I was a major fan of Bitterkomix – an indie countercultural comic magazine that was created in the dying days of apartheid and Art Spiegelman’s Raw magazine. I bought it read it, reread it and loved it!
After the shock wore off I researched Nobrow, and to be completely honest I fell in love with their books. The best word I can think of to sum up their output is ‘different’ – one of the games I play in my head whenever I am in a bookshop is spot the Nobrow, their books are easily recognisable once you know what to look for – high quality books, in hard and paperback, the illustrations are immediately eye-catching and different and the books vary from almost an almost hand-finished, indie zine style to high gloss and many varieties in between.
My love affair with Nobrow settled into a familiar pattern, I would accidentally bump into the books whenever I was in a bookshop or (more frequently) at Gosh Comics and I would get that little frisson of excitement whenever I spotted something new. Then I discovered Flying Eye Books, I felt almost guilty as I got that rush of excitement when something new and interesting is discovered, I only found out a bit later that Flying Eye Books is the junior imprint of Nobrow (I am a bit slow on the uptake sometimes).
The art books by Nobrow and the Flying Eye picture books are things of beauty to read and behold but where Nobrow/Flying Eye really shatter the mould are with their graphic novels and comics.
Eschewing the capes and carnage of many mainstream comic publishers, Nobrow/Flying Eye bring their eye for detail and aesthetic flair to a comic business that with a few exceptions has been stagnating.
Comics are a medium that attract readers of all ages and from all points of the reading spectrum; from reluctant readers who fear to pick up a book to readers that like to dip in occasionally to the obsessive reader that devours everything they can get their hands on. From a library perspective comics are particularly popular with teens who are encouraged to read by parents, teachers and librarians so they often go to the graphic novel section of the library to choose what they think will be a quick and easy read. Comics are often deceptive in that way – holding hidden depths in what at first appears to be an easy read. Decoding a story told with text and images and sometimes only images takes a lot of brain power to parse the sequential story (and often stories that jump around).
It is an on-going tragedy that many parents, teachers and indeed some librarians feel that reading comics is inferior to reading a novel or non-fiction text. This viewpoint is changing, but far too slowly and it makes me angry and upset that many potential readers may miss out on fantastic genre tales told in graphic format. The fact that these comics may act as gateways to reading novels is often completely missed by the ‘gatekeepers’ (I hate that term) of literature.
Nobrow/FEB offer readers graphic tales in a variety of genres; from the cyberpunk stylings of Wren MacDonald’s SP4RX which takes the reader into a class-riven society, pitting hackers against an all-encompassing corporation fighting for control versus freedom to the beautiful and ethereal, horror-fantasy of Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez, they have comics to suit the tastes of just about every reader.
Their biggest graphic novel title (so far) is Luke Person’s Hilda series, with six volumes out to date, a vinyl doll and a Netflix series coming in 2018; Hilda is a feisty heroine who shows no sign of slowing down. This breakout hit started quite innocuously with Hildafolk published under the Nobrow banner introduces the reader to our heroine Hilda and her adventures in a countryside reminiscent of the Scandinavian countries, with a loving mother and cast of strange, supernatural neighbours the later Hilda books, published under the Flying Eye banner have grown and become more wonderful with each volume. Luke Pearson’s work is reminiscent of the Tintin series by Herge with his clear line style and Hilda’s joyful throwing herself into adventure with friends and at times complete strangers. Hilda and the Black Hound is an excellent jumping-on point, starting as it does with Hilda and her mum having left the countryside to live in the city of Trolberg. Urban it may be but it is still rich in mythological beings living side by side with the human inhabitants. Pearsons depictions of Hilda trying to make new friends and joining the local scouting group is achingly beautiful and the sheer sense of reality that he imbues the fantasy creatures with is a joy to behold.
Fantasy Sports by Sam Bosma incorporates tomb raiding for fun and profit with an unusual pairing of gruff old-timer Mug and intern Wiz both of the Mages’ Guild and their journey in learning to trust each other and work together while looting the cursed resting places of ancient evils. I have found these books to be extremely popular with manga fans looking to branch out into other comics but not wanting to stray too far from the comfort of the styles they are familiar with. Not only is this a cracking fantasy adventure series but it can be used as a starting point to discuss archaeology and the morality of digging up historical tombs and disturbing the final resting place of the dead.
Sticking with fantasy for now, Geis (pronounced ‘Gesh’), a trilogy by Alexis Deacon based on Gaelic supernatural beliefs around taboos and curses and the struggle between 50 people fighting to become ruler after their Matriarch dies. This is the first graphic novel sequence I have read that falls into the grimdark subgenre of fantasy. It is an eminently readable, beautifully illustrated tale that will enchant all who read it.
Dalston Monstaaz is a contemporary tale set in (yes, you guessed it) the Dalston neighbourhood of London, well I say contemporary but this is a story about the youth of today and the monster riding subculture that has sprung up around the sudden appearance of otherworldly creatures that stalk the streets of London. Accurately portraying the multicultural nature of London, this beautifully illustrated story about friendship, love, gangs and monster fights will make you wish that you could live in this recognisable, but different version of London.
Before you dear reader start thinking that all Nobrow focuses on is fiction I would like to introduce you to toe work of Ricardo Cavolo his 101 Artists to Listen to Before You Die is an illustrated introduction to the 101 artists that he loves above all others, in his introduction he entreats the reader to participate in the book by writing notes on what they think or what feelings the artists evoke when the music is heard and at the very least to draw moustaches on the images of the musicians themselves. This is not a dry academic text, but rather what Ricardo feels about the artists and how he discovered them. He describes this work as a musical diary that will give the reader some insight into who he is and what he loves.
101 Movies to Watch Before You Die is a companion work to the previous book, this time focusing on films that he has loved, no synopses appear in this text rather it is a compilation of love letters to cinema that has left a lasting impression on his mind and life. From La Voyages Dans La Lune to The Revenant and 99 other cinematic gems in between, this book will have movies that you yourself will have loved, hated and in some cases be outright disturbed by. It is a paean to the sheer scope and variety of the art of cinema.
Audubon On the Wings of the World by Fabien Grolleau and Jeremie Royer is by far the most outstandingly beautiful graphic biographies I have ever read. Detailing the life and work of John James Audubon. Glossing over the less salubrious aspects of his life (slavery) this work instead focuses on his epic quest to illustrate the birds of America, breaking away from academic illustration, Audubon instead wanted to show the birds how they appeared in life (albeit after shooting them to obtain models he could work from). His was a life of obsession, driven to share his vision with American and the world.
Psychoanalyst Corinne Maier and artist Anne Simon have teamed up to bring readers the graphic life of Sigmund Freud (Freud) and Karl Mark (Marx) these works introduce the lives of these two men who influenced much of 20th century psychiatry and political thought.
Bouncing back through time with A Castle in England, Jamie Rhodes and a number of illustrators have retold historical vignettes based arounds the builders various owners of Scotney Castle in Kent focusing on various historical hop points in England’s history, this is a phenomenal handbook to how historical events influenced life in and around the castle.
Joe Todd-Stanton has created a graphic novel series aimed at younger readers, Brownstone’s Mythical Collection. Narrated by Professor Brownstone, the first story, Arthur and the Golden Rope blends Norse mythology and adventure, details how Arthur, the very first Brownstone, a young and inquisitive lad became a hero by defending his village.
Moonhead and the Music Machine by Andrew Rae takes on alienation and high school outsiders with protagonist Joey Moonhead who has a literal moon for a head, an atypical character in a typical high school drama revolving around Joey’s upcoming participation in the annual school talent contest. This surreal yet uplifting story is about the importance of being yourself, friendship and the brutal nature of the high school pecking order. It is seriously the weirdest comic I have read this year and it is so fantastic!
Nobrow has also dipped its toes into dystopia with Garbage Night, a post-apocalyptic tale featuring anthropomorphised animals living in the ruins of a supermarket waiting for the return of what was known as “garbage night” until a rumour of a town where humans still live reaches them, and they set off on a quest to find all the refuse they can eat.
Purchasing Nobrow/Flying Eye titles will give you a solid core collection of quality comics for those beginning their journey into comics, adding them to an existing collection will give readers an alternative to the mostly superhero and manga titles on offer that I have seen in many libraries. These books not only champion the weird and the odd but also celebrate the mundane adding whimsy and magic and they not only provide tales to spark the imagination, they look beautiful on the shelf.
This guest blog was provided by Matt Imrie. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.
You can see the Nobrow and Flying Eye latest catalogues here:
Flying Eye Books | https://issuu.com/flyingeyebooks/docs/catalogue_autumn_feb_issuu
Matt Imrie is a Librarian from Cape Town in South Africa, and a former judge for the CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Medals. He has made London his home for the past decade and has mostly worked with teens and young readers in both public and school libraries. A massive fan of comics, graphic novels & genre fiction he is an unabashed fan of the geekier side of life and celebrated libraries and working in them. Find him at www.teenlibrarian.co.uk