REVIEW: Seven Days in Berlin

Earlier this year I reviewed Nine Lines of Metro, a travelogue by cartoonist Neil Slorance chronicling his holiday in Barcelona, and gushed about how it was a lovely comic full of charm and heart.  Seven Days in Berlin is a sort-of sequel to that book, featuring Neil’s trip to Berlin to stay with Lisa, the girl he had a romantic moment with in Barcelona.  Does this second travelogue succeed in recapturing the magic of the first?

I’m pleased to say that yes, Seven Days in Berlin is every bit as good as Nine Lines of Metro, perhaps even better.  As was the case with the last travelogue, there’s a real sense of immediacy about the comic (it was released in November 2012, telling the story of what happened on October 2012) that makes it feel more personal.  The fact that Neil Slorance writes, draws, hand-letters and publishes the books himself heightens this sense of intimacy between creator and reader.  Indeed, the biggest strength of these travelogues remains Neil himself.  And I don’t just mean in terms of his distinctive art style – so simple, yet capable of capturing great little emotional beats – but in terms of how immensely likeable a presence he becomes within the perimeters of the story.  As our narrator and lead character, he very quickly becomes someone we can relate to and who we are emotionally invested in.

As a travelogue, the comic paints an interesting portrait of Berlin.  The big touristy aspects of the city are largely overlooked in favour of its more quirky, unusual elements.  According to Neil, you don’t get to know the character of a city by visiting the famous hotspots, but by getting lost and wandering around the back alleys, by going to parties and hanging out with the people who live there.  Slorance’s offbeat stylings mean that the whole thing isn’t necessarily straight-faced recollection of fact either.  There are some instances of fun embellishment, such as when Neil has a shamanic conversation with  a smiling giant tortoise.

On a deeper level, I think Seven Days in Berlin works even better as a love story.  Much as is the case with his approach to travelogues, Slorance doesn’t go for the obvious beats.  There are no grand, passionate kisses against some windswept, scenic German backdrop.  But it’s in the little moments, such as Neil waking up in the middle of the night and remembering how nice it is to have someone sleeping next to him, that their relationship becomes so tangible and endearing.  It’s such a lovely wee romance, and much of the comic is about seeing that relationship blossom, seeing two people connect in a natural, everyday way that would make even the stoniest of hearts believe in The Power of Love.  But then all of a sudden things take a bittersweet shift and, combined with the heartbreaking imagery of the last leaf falling from an autumn tree, we come to realise that this hasn’t been a story about two people coming together, but rather about two people saying goodbye, perhaps for good.  And once again I found myself taken aback by how this sweet, cartoony little book could leave me with a lump in my throat.  I mean, I know Neil in real life, but I forgot that and found myself wanting to shout “GO TO SOUTH AMERICA WITH HER, NEIL!” at Neil Slorance, the character.

I just love these books, and hope they become a recurring series.  We should send Neil off on holiday to interesting places so he can make comics about them!  They’re not quite like anything else in the Glasgow indie scene, and even in the wider comic market, I believe that the combination of the travelogue format with the adorable, emotionally evocative art style is distinctive enough for Neil to carve his own little niche.  Seven Days in Berlin is a delightful comic from a consistently enjoyable creator, and it comes with my seal of approval.

SevenDaysinBerlin1

Seven Days in Berlin is available to buy here, or you can buy both travelogues together here.

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