Commissioned by the Durham Book Festival, Cree is a short, self-contained graphic novel that presents a snapshot of life within the Just for Women centre in Stanley, County Durham, “an independent community based service,” as Una herself explains in the afterword, “run by women, for women, offering bespoke services, support, advice and education.” It would be really easy for this book to just be worthy, to shine a light on honest, decent, hard working women doing a great job in their local community. It would be enough. Nobody could criticise. But Una does a lot more than that.
It begins with a full page image of a woman. It could be a version of the author herself. We see her from the side. She turns to face us, looks out, connects with the reader. And then she sets off. Makes her way to the bus stop. We see colour for the first time: the brightness of her hair, the rampant green of the countryside. We move into the sky, see the world as a map, as motorway intersections, as patches of colour. There is a melange of styles: outlines, abstracts, Mondrian-like blocks of colour. There’s an audaciousness here. A sense of confidence when it comes to pacing. Eventually we arrive at Be-Creative, an emporium every bit as majestic as Mr Magorium’s, and the pages open up, accordion-like, to create a mighty six page wide spread that reveals this world in its entirety.
What then follows is merely a glimpse into this world: a group of women working together, talking and laughing, painting and sewing and worrying and counselling and listening and sharing. All of which may sound – like we said at the start of this review – just a little bit worthy. But it is Una’s unfettered joy that transforms the book, Una’s art and Una’s choice of colour and Una’s eye, where it settles, what it chooses to memorialise.
This is not a book that looks on with judgement. This is not a book that wishes to dive in to everything that is wrong with the world. This is not a book that has been brought low by the experience of a hard life – although the knocks and trials are undoubtedly acknowledged. What Cree does in the end is make you appreciate what you have, appreciate who you know, and appreciate that there are still people in the world who look out for others. Anything that can deliver on those three fronts is doing something powerful.
Any Cop?: It’s a small book, and quiet in its own way, but it’s also stirring and passionate and interested in the world it has chosen to interact with – and it gets a big thumb’s up from us.