Rob Davis is probably most familiar to the majority of graphic novel readers in the UK as the man responsible for Self Made Hero’s adaptation of Don Quixote – his latest original work, The Motherless Oven, might have some people re-evaluating the slot they currently have Davis in in their minds.
Like Farel Dalrymples’ The Wrenchies, The Motherless Oven is set in a world that sits slightly to the side of our own. Our hero, for want of a better word, is Scarper Lee, a young Noel Gallagher lookalike from some angles, who, we learn, is a couple of weeks away from his deathday. Your deathday can come at any time, poor Scarper is just unfortunate that it’s happening whilst he’s still at school. Deathday aside, this is a world that can experience sudden knife storms (like rain, only kitchen knives rain from the sky). Oh yeah and your mum and dad are probably machines of some sort. Scarper’s mum lives under the stairs; his dad, a vast brass monstrosity, lives in the shed out back. There are weather clocks and small household gods that you talk into who retain what you say and then repeat it back to you at various intervals. What else? Well, there are bands, bands that have posters and marketing and what have you, but who spend their evenings chasing after machines and causing mayhem and there are police who take the form of an old lady in a jalopy who follows you at about five miles an hour, put-putting along until she eventually wears you down. If all of this feels a bit much – in truth, it is a bit much. There is definitely a sense of ‘shall I throw the kitchen sink in as well’ at the beginning of the book and I read with a sense of ‘come on, now, settle down a bit will you?’
After Scarper’s dad disappears, he sets off in pursuit, with Vera Pike (hot new girl who is a bit weird and seems to have latched onto Scarper to try and save him from his deathday) and Castro (a strange lad with a dial that is used to keep his mad mutterings to a minimum) – and The Motherless Oven starts to read like a collision between Kasuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and, of all things, The Wizard of Oz (in that they travel about, in a sort of quest-y way, looking for Scarper’s dad but also taking in various strange elements of this world in which they find themselves). Plot-wise, when you acclimate to the environment of Davis’ world, you do get swept up in the narrative – and there are enough twists, action points and curious devices (such as the way in which their quest appears to be covered in poster form) to keep you reading. Art-wise, Davis is strong on facial expressions and good with detail, whether that detail is of crowded shelves within a room or a horde of police descending on our unfortunate trio.
Certainly by the climax (without giving too much away, if you go into The Motherless Oven expecting the kind of climax Dan Rhodes likes to write in novels like Timoleon Vieta Come Home and Gold, you won’t be too shocked – even though there are shocks to be had), you can’t help but wonder (and also slightly, secretly, hope) that The Motherless Oven might just be the first book in a slightly longer work. Fingers crossed eh?
Any Cop?: The kind of book that the words ‘original’ and ‘unsettling’ (and occasionally ‘infuriating’) were designed for. File under: promising British graphic novelist steps up.