Matthew Dooley won the Observer / Jonathan Cape / Comica Graphic Short Story Prize in 2016, and has published two books of short graphic works (or should that be two short books of short graphic works?) entitled Meanderings and The Practical Implications of Immortality, both of which are a treat in the vein of, say, Tom Gauld or Stephen Collins. Flake is his first full length graphic novel.
This is primarily the story of Howard, an ice cream man who plies his dad’s route day after day, and runs into trouble when Tony, his half-brother (who was never formally acknowledged by their dad, being the product of an affair), an ice cream empire building sort, starts to encroach upon Howard’s route. Howard politely asks him to back off and Tony begrudgingly agrees (but his word is as to nothing and before you know it a low key mayhem starts to ensue). As you’d probably expect, the low key mayhem leads to a quiet crisis – and Dooley is deft at employing a Chris Ware-like sense of ennui – but you kind of know from the get go that everything will work out in the end.
Flake is principally comedic, comedic in the way that Magnus Mills is comedic or Wallace and Gromit. There is a peculiar sense of Englishness at work here. You could imagine a fifty year old Norman Wisdom playing Howard in the film (if there was a way to get a 50 year old Norman Wisdom in a film). But the colour palette is straight out of the Nick Drnaso playbook – Flake looks not dissimilar to Sabrina in its colour choices, but Dooley lacks Drnaso’s latent savagery. You sense he wants to give his characters and possibly his readers hope. Hope matters, right? But there is a flaw, and it lies directly in the full glare of that Drnaso comparison: there are a couple of chapters, intended we think to flesh out the characters, that instead feel like dawdling or digression. If Dooley were to take another page out of the Drnaso playbook, it would be to make each and every frame work as hard as it can.
Flake feels like an Ealing comedy of the Alexander Mackendrick school. And whilst Mackendrick was responsible for such classics as The Man in the White Suit, he was also responsible for that spikey cat of a film, The Sweet Smell of Success. Dooley, we sense, has both a Man in the White Suit and a Sweet Smell of Success in him. Lots of potential in other words. We will watch to see what he does next with baited breath.
Any Cop?: Firmly in the promising debut camp, and quite possibly our favourite graphic novel of 2020 so far.