I have, unfortunately, been somewhat disappointed by the graphic output from Random House this year. Despite the fact that they are absolutely leading the way in the UK with a great combination of big names and new writers (they are really putting their weight behind new writers which I want to support, I do), the books they have published to date in 2012 – with the exception of Guy Delisle’s latest, the excellent Jerusalem – have all somewhat missed the mark. Simone Lia’s Please God Find Me a Husband, Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother?, The Wrong Place by Brecht Evans, The Vicar Woman by Emma Rendel, The House that Groaned by Karrie Fransman… Whilst all of these books have things to recommend them, none of them quite deliver the satisfaction that a great graphic novel should. So when Joff Winterhart’s Days of the Bagnold Summer landed, I was, I have to admit, somewhat reluctant to crack it open. Thankfully, my reluctance was ill-placed: Days of the Bagnold Summer could well be the best graphic debut of 2012.
What is it that makes Days of the Bagnold Summer such a pleasure? Like all great graphic novels it’s a commingling of distinctive and interesting art with compelling characters filtered through the perspective of a wry and affecting voice. On the surface, it’s a slight book. What we have here are a series of strips (think Peanuts rewritten by Alan Bennett) in which a teenage son interacts with his mother. The son is a downbeat metalhead given to disparaging the dumpy, put upon bag of potatoes that is his mum and looking up to his strange friend Ky. The art is scratchy, black and white, unadorned (when mum does the washing up, we see her in outline, the sink, nothing else). The interaction is sympathetic – we like and dislike both son and mum at different points in the book, we understand their motivation, we can see why they clash and, more rarely, what draws them together. All of the disparate elements work and complement one another.
Days of the Bagnold Summer is a book that will make you chuckle and ponder. Chuckling and pondering are no bad things. It is also a book that will work on you and draw you back for another re-read, another chuckle, another ponder. From start to finish, it’s a pleasure of a peculiar kind. Joff Winterhart is a writer we will be keeping a close eye on in the future. He is also a writer that we think you graphic novel types should be hurrying to check out.
Any Cop?: Days of the Bagnold Summer is that oft-spoken of and rarely realised beast: a genuinely enthralling debut.