And now for something completely different…
Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls; welcome to True Brit, a look at comics based in Great Britain and / or written by British creators. As a British comics reader I sometimes worry that British books and comickers get overshadowed by our American cousins, as everyone associates comics with The Big Two (or in this day and age the Big Three *waves at Image*) and when people think of British comics we tend to think of the Dandy and the Beano first and foremost. I am here to (hopefully) change that, and to introduce you all to a smorgasbord of British comics, maybe a few new titles, perhaps to remind you of some classics that you have read before.
This time round we will be looking at a glorious example of how to get it right in comics: The Highest House.
On my most recent appearance on the Talking Comics podcast (episode 345 for those of you keeping score at the back) I brought up The Highest House, from Mike Carey, Peter Gross and Fabien Alquier, which is also a book I mentioned in my start of the year preview piece as something that I was looking forward to. This is a deep and textured book that presents the tale of a poor boy sold into slavery to help change the lives of his mother and blind sister. What starts as a simple tale of Moth, a boy finding his way in a strange new world, rapidly descends into magic, mistrust and mystery, with a side of unrequited love and some clandestine conferences between characters. The story-telling is exactly what you will expect from Carey if you have read his previous comics work The Unwritten, or any of his works of long form fiction, including the incomparable Girl With All The Gifts. As with this latter work, The Highest House is they type of writing that works better if you don’t have it spoiled for you, so I’m not going to give too much away here.
What I will tell you though, is that this story goes into a number of dark places, but always makes sure to drag you back into the light. There is a sequence that goes into more detail about roofing techniques than I ever knew I would need to hear, some in depth discussions on how the economics of the world of The Highest House work, and a heart-rending look at how arranged marriage affects more than just the bride and groom.
I’ll be honest, I am thoroughly confused as to why I haven’t heard more fanfare about this book, as it is genuinely one of the most beautiful books that I have ever had the chance to get my mitts on. Published in an over-sized format by IDW, Highest House has intense and intricate artwork, with some unconventional and innovative layouts that wouldn’t look out of place in Liam Sharp’s The Brave and The Bold, another favourite of mine from this year. One method that Gross uses to particular effect is the blending of background art into the page, moving the story in a gorgeous flow from panel to panel and page to page.
The combination of Gross’ art and Alquiers colours creates a visually entrancing world, and the characters are all so brilliantly realised that there is none of the confusion over who is who that I sometimes find in the Big Two house styles. An interesting element to the book that I haven’t often seen is that Gross letters the book himself, which I believe plays into the flow of the art, as he is the master of all the visuals and must know where the word balloons will go as he is creating the images. At least it seems that way to my untrained eye!
The trade is due out in November, and I really hope that it is a bigger seller than that single issues seem to have been, if word of mouth and a lack of conversation about it is anything to go by! I can only assume that the size of the book has put people off, as it won’t fit into your regular short- or long-box, and whilst I’m lucky that I store my floppies in a bookcase that can take these over-size issues, I know not everyone gets that. I also don’t know how the oversize format would affect digital readers, and I’d love to hear from anyone out there who has read the book digitally to see if it makes a “Silver Surfer #11” style difference (sorry for bringing that up Bob and Joey…), so please do get in touch if you’re in the know!
I’ve been sucked into the story of Moth and his new life, featuring forbidden love, evil masters and maybe even something lurking in the depths of that house that shouldn’t be mentioned unless all the lights are turned on! Please go out and find copies, because this is the kind of fresh and exciting storytelling that needs support to continue. Plus of course the first arc has finished on a bit of a cliff-hanger and I need to know more…
Thank you for reading this edition of True Brit, and I’ll be back again soon with more pithy quips* and overdone sarcasm for you all!
*Please note, quips may not be pithy. There will be sarcasm, though.
Ps. My thanks as ever to the wonderful Bob Reyer for suffering through the process of proof-reading for me