Thursday, 8 December 2011


It’s impossible for me to be entirely objective about The Rinse, as its artist is an old and valued friend. We’ve had a brief conversation about the book; now it’s time to take a proper look.

First things first: this is a very good-looking book. I’ll say again that it’s impossible to be entirely objective, but the visuals on the book are quite lovely. Marc Laming (the artist, about whom it’s etc etc) is inking his own pencils and while his previous work, inked by others, wasn’t what you’d call sloppy, it has an added depth here that can only be accounted for by the fact that what you’re seeing is what he wants you to see. There’s no intermediary artist/inker coming between you the reader and him the artist.

This is important in a book like The Rinse, with its cast of characters that could very easily become visually homogenised and lose their individual identities. That this doesn’t happen, even in sequences which are set in dimly-lit rooms, is a credit both to Laming[1] and to the colourist, Darrin Moore (whose parents were probably big fans of Bewitched, judging by his name’s spelling. This is a Good Thing, as the world can never have too many references to Elizabeth Montgomery).

So do I have a problem with this book at all? Yes I do, and that is that The Rinse is a comicbook that reads like a book, and moreover a book that was intended to be denser than the four-issue miniseries format allowed. Gary Phillips, the writer, is an established novelist, has written a graphic novel for Vertigo and, judging from The Rinse, has plenty of experience of plotting and characterisation, neither of which are a negative in this case. Characters have strong individual characteristics and the plot is good and tight.

But the book in its entirety, the story as an whole and the individual scenes between characters, seem to have a slightly uneven air, rushed in places, leisurely in others and at times just plain remiss. It’s fun, for instance, to see the bad guy has a phobia, but we have no idea why and it’s not really brought to our attention until it’s foregrounded in the last part of the story. We see that the two heavies who spent most of the four issues chasing the hero around have an air of Mr Wint and Mr Kidd about them, but given how their particular story ends, it would have been good to see some greater backstory or exploration of why they were working together in the first place, and of what kept them together.

The most obvious fault is that there are great chunks of exposition dropped into the story every so often, and that’s why the overall feel is of a narrative that would have been better serviced with more space to explore backstory, develop characters, and show rather than tell some of those details which are brought out via having a character stand and talk at another one.

Don’t get the wrong idea; this is a very good book indeed. It’s very much suited more to the trade paperback format than to pamphlets/floppies; Phillips has written a long-form story rather than a serial, so no recaps or any of the other standard ‘this-happened-last-issue’ comicbook tropes. In trade it’ll be easier to keep tabs on which character is doing what to which other character – somebody with a fleeting walk-on in issue one plays a major part in issue four, for example, and the casual reader in floppy format may not retain the knowledge of who and what that somebody is.

I’ll say again, as this review may well seem to be accentuating the negatives: I recommend The Rinse highly. I’d have done so without any prior knowledge of Laming. I do so with no prior knowledge of Phillips (though I do now intend to hunt down his novels). It’s a damn good comic, one of the many damn good comics that Boom! Studios are quietly slipping out these days (it stuns me that the two comics I’ve enjoyed most in the last few months have been this and Snarked! – a kids book!). If I was giving marks it’d get 7/10, borderline 8.

And for what it’s worth, I think it’d make a damn good film.

[1] It’s remarkably disquieting to refer to someone you know well by their surname. Reminds one of the Raj, don’tcha know. 

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

It's A Wonderful Life, Possibly

I’m standing at the cooker, watching butter slowly melting. The solids are separating, drifting off into a milky gold puddle in the bottom of the pan. On the worktop there are two white china bowls. One contains dark muscovado sugar, the other equal amounts of golden syrup and black treacle. There are a number of jars set beside them; ground ginger, cinnamon, ground cloves. Bicarbonate of soda, a carton of whole milk, a couple of eggs.

Soon, the butter will be liquid and the muscovado will be added, then the two will be stirred until they combine. Next, the syrup and the treacle, and the warmth from the low heat the pan is on will bring them together into a reflectionless dark pool. Looking down into the pan is like gazing into a well; I’m tempted to toss in a small stone and count the seconds until I hear the splash.

In go the spices, along with a few hillocked teaspoons of chopped fresh ginger, and the bicarb. The milk, with the eggs beaten in, lightens the darkness, bringing it down to a caramel duskiness. I stir it all into a bowl of flour, and scrape every last drop into the paper-lined, thickly-buttered cake tin.

Half an hour later, the kitchen begins to change. It’s warmer, more comforting. The smell of the cake is drifting up and around, filling the kitchen and gently moving out, exploring every room in the house.

It’s then that I realise this hasn’t simply been making a cake. This has been the beginning of Christmas. This is the moment when today stops being just another cold day and instead becomes full of soppy, sentimental tradition. It’s the moment I used to anticipate hopefully when I was young, the moment when the bite in the air isn’t just chill, but is suddenly loaded with the promise of winter; not just Christmas itself but the whole snowy, scarfy, wrapped-up-well and staying in by the fireside joy of this most beautiful of seasons. From today until sometime next March or April, the sky will be blue and breath will be white; the sound of your footsteps will for a time be crunchy and muffled by snow. Everything will be better, just that slight amount more exciting, simply because of the time of year.

I’ve missed this moment. It hasn’t been felt for too long, suffocated under everyday worries and the heavily worn cynicism of adulthood. Feeling it now, after a year filled with loss and confusion and sorrow, fills me with something that isn’t hope, isn’t the happiness that has been absent for most of this year, but is instead a sense of renewal and fresh beginnings. The harvest is late, but at last it’s coming.

Tomorrow I will begin planning and purchasing for the holiday weekend, talking to my family, deciding among ourselves who’ll be cooking what, where we’ll be on which day. The next few weeks will be as they usually are; stressful at times, joyous at others, probably culminating in a desperate hunt for a red cabbage on Christmas Eve.

But right now, as I take the tray of gingerbread from the oven, feeling the burst of heat against my legs, seeing the dark brown curvature of the cake, knowing that tomorrow it will have gained a shine and a stickiness and that each mouthful will glow slightly with ginger followed by the depth and darkness of treacle, I can only fall, slowly, willingly, into December’s soft, romantic embrace.