Review: A Castle in England / by Jamie Rhodes

A Castle in EnglandA Castle in England by Jamie Rhodes
Illustrated by: Isaac Lenkiewicz, Briony May Smith, Will Exley, and Isabel Greenberg.
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There is so much potential in this title, from the concept showcasing the history of the residences of a single castle (I love histories); the artist contributions (showcasing 5 different creators/whose styles matched beautifully the historical context they each represented); to the unusual peach and tan colour palette (which I actually thought was quite splendid). I was pretty excited about it — but it fell so very flat. Where could this have faltered?

The biggest detriment to this comic was the commission status of it: paid for by the National Trust and Arts Council England. A commissioned work where money issued furthers the idea of arts and history. This isn’t a bad thing, but in the context of comic books and graphic novels greatly affects the creation process and henceforth, the reading experience. It was not written for the public, but FOR its commissioners.

As a Canadian I often pick up comic books commissioned by the Canadian Arts Council. And this same sentiment holds true. But at least in these instances, they are telling the story of my country, and they are expressing it with a Canadian sensibility. These works are more innately understood when it is your own country paying for it. But this isn’t. It’s foreign to me. And any potential subtle “cultural-isms” are lost on me.

The reading experience of this is like a friend returning from vacation and I’m now stuck watching a slide show of the experience. Looking at a photo of people standing around. Having to listen to an explanation of what is happening not in the picture, but behind the camera. This is not a good time.

Each of the five stories that make up this book require extensive explanation to be understood. The illustration isn’t doing it’s job. One of the first questions I ask myself when I’m evaluating sequential art works is “If I take away the text, can I understand this?” The answer is a fervent “no”. And this work has FIVE sets of text: The family tree to start, a quote at the beginning of each story to set the mood, the text represented in the comic to give the characters speech, the brief history of the events to give context to the story, and the brief history of the family history currently residing at the castle to explain the action.

All but the family tree and quote at the beginning are essential to understanding this work. Remove any of the others, and this work crumbles into nonsensical gibberish.

If you think about it in the reverse… “If I take away the art, can I understand this?” The answer is definitely “yes”. But who would want to read the scant historical summary that remains?

There are so many good things about this comic, but the fact that the art requires instruction at this intense of a level is a problem.

And then… to rub salt in that wound…

The formatting of this text! Each story has the text handwritten in the style of the art/artist (wonderful). The histories unfortunately do not follow in the same style. Instead they are presented using a small textbook-like font on blank white pages (from a graphic novel stand point is incredibly boring to look at), each paragraph numbered (for no apparent reason but to perplex me greatly) with one small illustration from the preceding comic (for no apparent reason but to remind me that the summary has some relationship to the previous story). It just didn’t make sense, and didn’t match in the slightest the graphic portion of the work.

If you want to read a work that gets it right, I’d recommend going for 750 Years in Paris by Vincent Mahé instead.

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