Review: Nelson edited by Rob Davies and Woodrow Phoenix

I want to start by saying that Nelson, a Black Slate Books publication edited by Rob Davies and Woodrow Phoenix, is an interesting idea, but I don’t want to come across as too negative on this point. I enjoyed it quite a lot, although the format has some limits. There isn’t really a plot, but there is an idea. That idea is that, through a series of short comics written and drawn by different UK comics artists, a picture of a life could emerge. Each of the fifty-four contributors contributes a year, from 1968 to 2011, with an additional February 29th every leap year.

While I wouldn’t say the quality fluctuates, often the interest can. Also, as there was a five-page limit for each of the contributors, some of the parts feel too short, and limited in scope, despite the life-long scope of the whole endeavour. There are themes which span her entire life, some of which shift into the background and some which emerge much later on. Characters come and go, and while I recommend reading it quite slowly (to get an idea of the time passing) it is also a good idea to keep checking back or making sure you remember who is who.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the comic is the portrait of the eras through which it spans. Nel grows up in the 70s, goes to college in the 80s, and is a mature(-ish) adult in the early 00s. This part is one of the more interesting for me, because some of the historical events which I can remember have their place in the story. For the earlier sections it is interesting to see how attitudes change, and how the social history of Britain could have affected an individual.

The biggest problem is perhaps the lack of a story. Themes are picked up by some artists, dropped by others, and can disappear completely. Of course, over forty-four years this can only be expected. Events of a person’s childhood both may and may not continue to affect their lives forever afterwards. Friends grow apart, and come back together.

As I began: it is interesting. It is affecting and effective, too. With a little more time I think I will want to explore these artists a little more (those who I don’t already know, as I love Bad machinery). Definitely worth a look!

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