Nick Hayes’ Rime of the Modern Mariner is, as the title suggests, something of a graphic retelling of Coleridge’s famous poem – albeit by way of Dr Seuss’ The Lorax. Where Coleridge’s mariner stopped a wedding guest (and held him with ‘his glittering eye’), Hayes’ mariner sits on a park bench besides a recently divorced rakish sort with an empty eyed Modigliani face and before we know it we are ‘on a ship across the sea / to the ports of old Japan’. Our mariner has a ‘hankering for dominoes made of whalebone’ and manages to persuade a seaman to make some money on the side. Bored, he takes potshots at various bits of flotsam before settling on a distant bird. Barely has his bullet brought the albatross to earth before the engine of the ship dies and the crew turns on him:
You killed the lucky albatross, you contravened the sea, and by the morals of the mariner punished all are we!
Before you can say ‘I am the Lorax and I speak for the trees,’ our mariner is surrounded by a ‘wash of polystyrene’,
Tupperware and bottletops
Bottled bleach and tyres
The detritus of a careless kind
A scattered funeral pyre.
From ‘a Medusa’s head of nylon nets… a clotted, ragged knot… acrylic, foam and polymers that still refuse to rot’ to ‘a cumulonimbus darkening cloud [that] blocked the bright sun’s rays’ Hayes takes us on a terrible journey to the heart of the modern rot (which feels, at times, a little like Alan Moore’s own hymn to a spiritual past, Promethea) – swirling beneath a frozen sea filled with the newly dead.
Hayes is obviously a clever gent – not only has he fashioned a poetic retelling of Coleridge’s most famous work, he has also adorned it with beautiful and stark duotone images of the world gone mad and added in a contemporary twist on the end – Coleridge’s wedding guest
went like one that hath been stunned,
And is of sense forlorn:
A sadder and a wiser man
He rose the morrow morn.
Haye’s city dwelling divorcee
Quickly hurried on
To a world detached of consequence…
Where he would not live for long.
It’s quite a piece of work. The book is obviously the loving product of a great deal of time and thought and effort. It looks sumptuous, it’s frequently clever and acerbic and it repays repeated readings. If there is something slightly forced at times (Hayes is not as playful as Dr Seuss and I couldn’t help but feel he would learn a lot from studying at the temple of Seuss before he embarks on his second book) it’s easily forgiven when you consider the amount of effort involved to produce such a piece of work.
Any Cop?: All told, if you are of the ‘I’m a grown up but I’m not averse to seeing what’s going on in the world of graphic novels’ you could do a lot worse than dabble with Hayes’ debut.