Monday, 21 July 2014

Fish: stringing along death

Fish by Bianca Bagnarelli, Nobrow Press

Milo's parents died in a car-crash last summer, and he now lives with his grandparents on the French Riviera. It's the summer after the accident, and his cousins are here to visit, although Milo is still grieving; wondering about death, why it happens, explanations and reasons for it, how it relates to life, the purpose of it. He sees it in everything around him: the dead fish in the stream, the wilting flowers at the table, the shrimp he's eating for dinner. The feeling is that if he could establish meaning for it, he might be better able to understand and process his parents death.

Fish is a shorter comic- 24 pages in length, but the narrative ebb and flow, along with the tone is perfectly judged: the story spooling out naturally, veering into neither mawkish-ness or despair. Milo is similarly effectively etched, with Bagnanrelli providing the reader a grasp on the young boy with ease: still raw with grief, smart, relatively taciturn, but also sorting through his emotions and thoughts- although this isn't so much about resolutions and closure as it is about being within that zone, that experience, itself.

Bagnanrelli's art stuns here; she has a clear, clean style that resides between the geometric and almost visceral- and by that I mean I often associate a sense of tactile-ness in the way she renders things- generally natural elements, like the fluffiness of a cloud. All else will be still and calm but that cloud will look like if you touch it, wisps of cotton will cling to your fingers. The problem I have always had with more formalistic art -or what I deem as such: precise, geometric styles- is that it closes off entry for the reader. Chris Ware's comics, for example, while undeniably beautiful, intricate and skilled don't allow you to imprint or connect with them at all- it's all Ware maintaining control and dictating another sad story. Bagnarelli shares an ability with Jon McNaught to convey a shifting tautology of stillness that can suggest tension and serenity equally, the straightness of her lines and shapes offset by the softer facets of her colouring and the traditionally expressive. Even on the very first page you get the two sides to Bagnarelli's style in the framing top and bottom wide panels: the first ruled, geometric, linear; the second with fluffy, almost furry candy-flossed trees.

It's a truly gorgeous book: the fine-lined vistas here, the dappled leaves, sun-drenched scenes that encapsulate the heat of summer- she conveys light beautifully, sun-light reflected in water, streaking through the trees. Her colour palette is beautiful; in a book set ocean-side she never once uses blue or yellow, sticking instead to a largely purple/pink/red scheme that manages to be less harsh, more contained. The most impressive thing about Fish is the careful weighting and thought obvious in each component and yet bought together seamlessly; artless in execution to create something which is neither answer nor question, but existent in its complexity and subtlety, and the richer for it.