Gareth’s new book, released by Good Comics – go check out the preview or buy it at the following links:
I have a long history with Gareth Hopkins’ work, or so it feels anyway. I was away a long time from looking at anything comics and Gareth’s were some of the first comic drawings I saw when I came back. They stuck with me as they felt interesting and personal. They are also the first abstract comics I’ve seen that felt like they had something to say, rather than something to do.
That’s quite an oblique description so let me explain more. Although these comics are abstract, they are not impersonal, not formal exercises. There’s something in them that affects me, not just something I look at and think, well that’s interesting, then turn away because that’s all there is to engage with – ‘clever trick’ or ‘boring trick’.
However – until ‘Extension’ I’ve not read any of Gareth’s writing (in fact I think this may be the first comic published with Gareth’s own words. He’s recently had Petrichor published and I think that was written before Extension but published after).
I was surprised by how much emotion he evoked in this story. How evocative and captivating it was. In all honesty I never thought I’d get emotionally affected by any of this work, abstract comics essentially being a distancing concept. However, there is such a strength in this work, in the pacing of the words, the sequencing of the pages. It feels like poetry; epic, raw and deeply personal.
He achieves an amazing range of pace and depth of meaning. To me, someone who easily glazes over when met by blank verse or stream of consciousness, I thought I’d pretty much delve into the images and skirt over the words. But I quickly found myself into the rhythm of the work, I could not believe how much life this had. I was head nodding at the call backs and remixing in the text, it kept it fresh, giving a sense of cohesion, of purpose.
I was impressed by the general mood of the art – the density matched the mood of the text. I felt that the images belonged to the world of the words, even if they weren’t showing the same thing always. To make a weird analogy – it’s a piece of work similar to industrial music tracks – the images play a dark ambient music under the words that feel like a voice muttering dark and velvety. Beautiful and painful like a Leonard Cohen song.
It’s the first times I’ve not found myself admiring Gareth’s design sense. I was too busy soaking in the atmosphere. The many, many moments where art and word weave emotively together. ‘When I wake up I’m going to absolutely’ big burst on the flip, bursting out of dream, a rupture of what they were trying to hold onto. A drawing that, in the context of the other pages, could have stood out as quite light and cheesy, that instead lifted it up and hit home the sensation of a dream smashing on waking.
I soon found myself believing its rhythm, going along with it, persuaded I was reading rhyming verse where there was none. I felt like I’d been pulled along into a dance and now I understood its rhythm I could go with its steps. There was something in pithiness of the boxes that made it have that same bounce as rhyming couplets. None of it rhymed. I’m not sure how much that was intentional, and how much intuitive (don’t call it luck – that’s a disservice to it), but it sucked me in to the story at that point.
It changed my appreciation from looking at the art, to feeling part of a moment. It hit home with feeling. This was personal, someone secretly reaching out by hiding a human plea in a seemingly abstract (and so supposedly emotionless) piece of art. There is a point where the words suddenly, directly address, for me, the whole purpose of the piece, not in a meta sense, just directly, openly speaking a truth at the heart of the work. It was like someone suddenly swinging their down staring gaze to burrow into your soul whilst switching their mumble to a firebrand’s roar.
To put it a clearer way – there’s a moment where it feels like you’re seeing the whole meaning of this swirling universe, the mists part and the path to the heart of it all is laid bare for you to follow.
The pages that followed are a beautiful synchronisation of text and image. Oddly they made me smile with relief and recognition, they felt like the first moment of human warmth, even though they’re filled with frailty and fear. That happiness is a sort of prelude to deeper, fearful emotions to connect to. Some say just before you die, you suddenly get a second breath and that’s what his moment feels like, that last smile before the rattling breath brings the fear home. A good and affecting end.
all art copyright and trademark it's respective owners. content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019