With Glasgow Comic Con approaching, I’m really on a kick for local indy comics right now. I’m of the opinion that Glasgow’s comic scene is as rich and diverse as anywhere, and there is a real wealth of all kinds of talent to be found here. As proof that comics can take all kind of forms, take the subject of this review: Nine Lines of Metro, written and drawn by Jonbot VS Martha artist Neil Slorance. This is a comic travelogue. It might seem like an unusual choice for a comic, but as I’ll explain in my review, it actually works really well. As I’ve said repeatedly before, comics are a medium, not a genre.
Nine Lines of Metro covers Neil’s recent trip to Barcelona. And by recent, I mean VERY recent: he returned home on 31st May 2012, and I was able to buy the finished comic on the shelves of my local A1 Comics now at the end of June, less than a month later. That’s one of the most impressive things about comics: how direct and current they can be, and in this comic in particular it lends vividness and immediacy to these captured moments in time.
When done well, a travelogue gives you a tangible sense of place, and in that sense the comic medium in fact lends itself very well to the format. Perhaps even more than a photo, Slorance’s drawings of the various landmarks and locales he visited show us not just the places, but his experience of them, making this an all-the-more personal journey rather than just a tourist brochure. I’ve mentioned before how simplistic Slorance’s artwork is, he himself calls it “childish”, but somehow even with this rudimentary linework, you really do get a palpable sense of Barcelona, or the Barcelona experienced be Neil Slorance, at least.
That “childishness” also reflects in the writing, with an opening of, “hello, I made this book while on holiday at the end of may 12: I hope you like it.” With the short sentences, and the almost entirely functional account of his experiences, it almost reads like a primary school report: “My summer holiday.” This only becomes a problem when the writing occasionally slips into primary school grammar, with commas, periods and even capital letters at the start of sentences and names falling by the wayside. Apart from these hiccups, ever, I think this is a deliberate device, as though the book initially seems very simplistic – “This happened on the first day of my holiday, then this happened on the second day of my holiday,” etc, etc – over the course of its modest 22 pages Nine Lines of Metro unfurls hidden depths, and surprising poignancy.
This is embarrassing to admit, but when I got to the end of the book, I had a lump in my throat, and I didn’t know why. Looking back through it again, perhaps it’s because I find Neil’s experiences relatable. I recognise that feeling of being down on yourself, and needing to get away to somewhere else to come out of your shell and be the you that you want to be a little more. Or perhaps it’s because the ostensibly happy story of Neil’s great holiday to visit his friend Morv is laced with a subtle sadness, as all holidays have to end and eventually you have to go back home. Neil smiling as he says farewell to Marv, and that smile gradually fading over the course of his time in the departure lounge and transition into the plane leaving Barcelona in the last page is really understated, so much so it might not even have been deliberate and I’m reading something that’s not there, but I found it to be quite powerful. Or perhaps it’s just because this is such a nice, touching book. Though the brief moment of connection with Lisa at the festival is perhaps the standout sequence of the comic, ultimately this is a platonic love story between Neil and Morv, an unashamed celebration of how great it is to have a friend that you’ll always be close to, no matter how far away they are.
If you were to see Nine Lines of Metro on the shelf, you might be inclined to overlook it. A rudimentary skim through the interiors might make you scoff at the roughness and apparent lack of detail. But you’d be wrong. This is actually a beautiful wee book. Inspiring, too. It makes me tempted to try doing my own comic travelogue the next time I travel somewhere. Though I doubt I’d be able to do it as masterfully as Neil Slorance does here. Highly recommended.
Nine Lines of Metro is available to buy locally in Glasgow, or from Neil’s Etsy store.