First of all: wow. You pick up Square Eyes and you flick through to check out what the art is like and you say: wow. You saw wow and wow and wow and wow and wow and wow until people mistake you for a person doing a Kate Bush impression. Square Eyes looks amazing. It might well be the best looking graphic novel of the year. It looks modern and audacious and experimental without being woozy and hallucinogenic. You flick through and you can’t always tell what is going on but you see different colour palettes and intricate detail and abstractions and palimpsests and technologies, wordless industrial backdrops and giddy neon infusions and screens and, towards the end, double page colour symphonies that recall nothing so much as the climax of 2001. Like we say: wow and wow and wow. You turn back to the book’s version of the biblio page (which is itself arranged in a vaguely Chris Ware sort of way) and you see: Art by Anna Mill. You think: massive gold star for Anna Mill. The art in this book is (to steal from Shaun of the Dead) a slice of fried gold. I ain’t seen nothing like it before and I imagine we won’t see its like again this year. Absolutely exemplary. We kid you not when we say you should buy this book on the strength of the art alone. It’s dazzling. The range is mind boggling. 18 sample pages below taken from throughout the book, largely at random.
We reviewed Tumult recently, John Harris Dunning & Michael Kennedy’s interesting debut, a book that also has terrific art in (although not in the same league as what is on show here in Square Eyes), and we concluded that the art overshadowed the narrative. The story in Square Eyes does not suffer as a result of the art (arguably the art is the story) but neither is it as gut-punchingly visceral – this is the kind of narrative you are expected to work out for yourself, narrative that doesn’t give you obvious answers, narrative you sometimes have to parse. Fans of William Gibson take note: this is a book firmly in your ball park.
This is the story of Fin, a young woman who has invented something. But something has gone wrong when we meet her. She has lost all of her connections and she’s off the system. In case you’re wondering, we’re in the future (but perhaps only just). The world is drab. Black and white. Boarded off. Dilapidated. The city, however – a place that won’t welcome you if you are not connected – is colourful, vibrant, full of digital overlays. (Imagine technology being able to take a drab surface and prettify it so all you see if loveliness despite the fact that the ‘reality’ of things is ugly. That is where we are in Square Eyes.) Fin has a sort of amnesia (which, we know, is becoming something of a lazy, literary trope but we’ll forgive it when it comes adorned in fireworks like this) and can’t remember how she has come to find herself in the state she is in. “Something has changed,” she says, “But… I don’t quite get what.” She’s trying to get back to the last place she remembers. But then she finds someone else appears to be occupying her life, pretending to be her, taking credit for her achievements. We glimpse what she might have invented (the ability to form virtual objects using an interface that exists between your brain and reality), pick up on her lack of interest in money, see others taking an interest, wanting a piece of what she’s done. As Fin explores, trying to get to the bottom of things, we also start to see people being hoovered up off the streets, the book tentatively exploring the idea of human brains as receptacles for storage, as if people are nothing more nor less than sophisticated USBs. Like with William Gibson, there are questions of clarity (I don’t think I could tell you precisely what happens at the end of the book, despite having studied the pages a number of times, but I’m not put off by that – I’ll persevere). Square Eyes is worth a certain amount of effort.
In conclusion: I don’t know if the MacArthur Foundation have ever given money to a graphic novelist to pursue their work but somebody should ensure that Anna Mill does not have to worry about money. She should be given stacks of cash to enable her to concentrate on whatever she does next. (On a purely artistic level, Square Eyes is like the Beatles’ debuted with Revolver – if Square Eyes is Anna Mill’s Revolver, we can’t wait for her White Album.) Which isn’t to do Luke Jones a disservice – he shares the billing on the book, the story is written by him and Mill together, and that contributes greatly to the experience of the book (we’ve all read great looking books let down by weak story telling – the story telling here is not weak, it carries its load). A collaboration is a collaboration and this book is a stunning reflection of what the two of them can accomplish.
Any Cop?: A proper scorcher of a debut. Impressive on a number of levels. Tough, modern, edgy and satisfyingly audacious. Graphic novel aficionados will not want to miss this.