“Blew our socks off” – The New World by Chris Reynolds

Sometimes you need a shove. There is after all so much. Isn’t there? So much. New books to read, old books to re-read. Not to mention music, films, theatre, TV. And there are even people who expect to get a look-in too. As a result, sometimes you need a shove. Sometimes a hand has to emerge from the melee to point you in the right direction. That is exactly what happened with The New World, a collection of Chris Reynold’s graphic work, published by the New York Review of Comics, and packaged in a stylish and eye-catching design from Seth. Ah, you might say. Seth. We like him, don’t we? We do. We liked his Palookaville. We liked his George Sprott. We enjoyed Seth’s Dominion. We’ve got a hearty kick out of everything by him we’ve read. We like Seth to such a degree that were Seth to take us, ever so gently, as we expect he would, by the arm, and point out another writer, in a respectful hushed tone, we would widen our eyes, ever so slightly, remove the short pencil with the chewed end from the inside pocket of our tweed waistcoat and make a note, in our notebook of things we should pay attention to. We were not previously aware of Chris Reynolds, but now, thanks to Seth and the New York Review of Comics, we are. Thanks are indeed due.

Subtitled ‘Comics from Mauritania’, Chris Reynolds’ comics are set neither upon the boat nor in the country of the same name. Mauritania is one of the mysteries of Chris Reynolds. What we have, instead, are a group of 17 or so graphic short stories and one longer novella, set within a world that feels recognisably local (Reynolds is himself Welsh so the stories may be set in a version of Wales but they could just as easily function as pretty much any rural outpost in the United Kingdom) – if admittedly very much off to one side of the world we know. In his designer’s note at the close of the book, Seth notes that, “The main reason these comics are so vital is that there is a mystery at the centre of the them.” To begin with, the mystery centres on just what is happening and the dream-like way one instance proceeds to the next. In ‘The Dial’, for instance, which opens the book, a man returns home (after being away in a war) to find his parents gone. He calls a friend and they arrange to meet but on his way to the rendezvous, he spies a chapel (called The Dial) that he’s not noticed before and stops off. Enticed from the chapel with talk of an “interesting pie”, we learn that there is mining going on right near his house and, in talking to the man responsible, we hear more about “the precepts of the Dial”, particularly, “We are a force of great gentleness.” 30 or so pages later our narrator is busy flying around the countryside and we wonder if we’ve been in the company of a dead man, a la Love Vigilantes.

It’s all very strange and puzzling but bizarrely compelling. Reynolds’ stark black and white frames stop you in your tracks. Time and again you find yourself thinking: just what is it exactly that I’m looking at? There are hints of religions and alien threats and also that we are possibly far, far into the future (one page refers back to what happened to stores in 2087). “The world is full of empty houses.” There are curious figures, such as Monitor (a man with a crash helmet upon his head and the letter M), and a young boy influence by Monitor (who wears a crash helmet with II inscribed upon it), but there are also men and women going about their business much as people go about their business in the world you and I are probably familiar with. The largest story in the book, the aforementioned novella ‘Mauritania’, concerns a strange piece of corporate espionage that recalled ‘Ghosts’, the second story from Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy (in that it largely concerns spying in plain sight, with each side more or less aware of the other side’s activity). Reynold’s world is haunted by echoes of the world that graces the news in which people worry over the death of the high street and bemoan how technology has made us all strangers to one another.

It’s as strange in its own way as, say, The Prisoner or Twin Peaks, and just as both of those shows couldn’t be more different from one another so The New World is different from them. It’s strange in its own peculiar and unique way. It’s also mesmerising and hypnotic. You want to read it again once you’re done, and pore over its strangeness. You want to read more even as you’re nervous because there doesn’t seem to be a map. Part of you wants Seth to say, if you like this collection, then your next stop should be… Torus? Storm Train Seven? You What? Jenny in Stringtown? But we sense Seth is keen on people following their own path, making their own mistakes and mis-steps, their own discoveries and revelations, finding their own answers to questions. Maybe this is the best place to start. Whatsoever, we’ve started our own tricksy way through Chris Reynolds. We look forward to travelling backwards and forwards from this point on. We heartily encourage you to tentatively dive in too.

Any Cop?: Periodically books find their way to Bookmunch’s maw that we don’t expect and they blow our collective socks off. This is very definitely of that variety.

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