Sunday, March 30, 2014

REVIEW: Incomplete Works by Dylan Horrocks

Above: Incomplete Works by Dylan Horrocks. Copyright Dylan Horrocks 2014.

Here at Earth's End, the work of Dylan Horrocks hardly needs an introduction: celebrated author of Hicksville, Eisner Award winner, New Zealand comics ambassador extraordinaire. And yet, outside of a copy of Hicksville, gathering a sizable collection of his comics is tough going - tracking down early issues of Pickle, a few mini-comics here and there, or clippings from decade old back issues of the NZ Listener. So this collection comes as a great relief to local readers and collectors everywhere. Thanks to the arm-twisting from VUP publisher Fergus Barrowman, we now have a handsome collection of some of Horrocks' rarest work to add to the growing bookshelf of classic New Zealand graphic novels, and it's a fine addition.

Above: A page from 'Little Death' (1986) by Dylan Horrocks. Copyright Dylan Horrocks 2014.

This collection of stories spans Dylan's comics career, from early efforts in 1986, to recent diary comics in 2012. Together these stories form a visual diary of sorts, or a 'stealth autobiography', as the events of Dylan's own life are never far from the surface. The earliest entry, 'Little Death' reflects on Auckland's cafe/bar scene from 1986, in which our protagonist spies a woman across the room, much like Dylan did while drawing this strip, where he met his future wife Terry (there are echoes of this meeting in other strips, like 'Summoning'). 

The thin line weaved between Dylan's fiction and personal life has always been a real strength in his work, and I feel it's that layer of truth behind the fiction that strikes a chord with readers. 'Captain Cook's Comic Cuts' (1994) may well convince you that Cook had a sideline in cartooning because Horrocks' essay feels so genuine, acting as a sort of prelude to Hicksville it takes you on a detour to a world where comics played a more important part in our national history - and why not?

Above: A page from  'The Last Fox Story' (1990) by Dylan Horrocks. Copyright Dylan Horrocks 2014.

Other stories are more openly autobiographical, as 'The Last Fox Story' (1990) takes us inside one of Dylan's biggest turning points, as he struggles to reconcile his relationship to comics while living in England. The reproduction of the mini-comic format (two small spreads a page) feels both intimate and appropriately claustrophobic, as Dylan works through a phobia of comics and rediscovers his own creative voice as a cartoonist. This mini comic became the first issue of Pickle, which in turn lead to the comic series that gave birth to Hicksville. In a very real way his current career is built on the catharsis of this story, and anyone who has gone through a creative or personal crisis can appreciate just how special this story is.

We also get see his cartooning style mature and grow throughout the collection, into the assured creative voice we know today, currently hard at work on his forth-coming second graphic novel, Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen - due out later this year, but serialized weekly over at his website HERE.

Above: A page from  'A Cartoonist's Diary' (2012) by Dylan Horrocks. Copyright Dylan Horrocks 2014.

As it's published locally by VUPIncomplete Works is also a particularly kiwi collection, featuring strips like The State of Things and Maungarei, with points of reference that would probably be lost on foreign readers. There are also helpful author notes at the back of the book to put these stories into context. It's a minor quibble, but I'd have liked to have seen these formatted with the stories to avoid flipping back to read them after each entry - but this would take away from the diary feel of the reading experience, so it's a forgivable trade-off.

This collection is a great road map of Horrocks' comics career to date, and I'm sure I'll be adding plenty more of his works to my bookshelf in the future.

As an added bonus, you can also listen to my audio review of the book on National Radio's Nights show.

If you are in Auckland, there will be a launch event for the book this Tuesday evening at the Auckland Central City Library, 44-46 Lorne St, Auckland Central, from 6pm-7pm. Dylan will be discussing the collection with cartoonist and author Sarah Laing. So come along to purchase a signed copy and enjoy drinks and nibbles! For more details you can join the Facebook event page HERE.

Incomplete Works by Dylan Horrocks is published by Victoria University Press, RRP $35NZ and is available in bookstores now!

- AK!

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