on 28 November 2011
Nelson, edited by Rob Davis and Woodrow Phoenix
A collaboration between 54 British comic artists has produced a surprisingly cohesive and heartfelt novel
[...], Friday 18 November 2011 11.00 GMT
This is a wonderful idea: Rob Davis, the artist and writer whose excellent graphic novel adaptation of Don Quixote came out earlier this year, and Woodrow Phoenix, the man who created the acclaimed Rumble Strip, have got together with the team at Blank Slate Books to produce a beautiful and unexpectedly powerful volume, showcasing no less than 54 of the most talented British comics artists around. Even better, all the profits from the first 4,000 copies of Nelson will go to Shelter, the housing and homelessness charity. If you're interested in discovering new voices (though I should say that Posy Simmonds also performs a cherishable cameo), and want to do a little bit of good in the process, then this is for you.
Nelson is a collaboration, by which I mean that those involved have produced one long novel, rather than a series of short stories. Davis's idea - and it's a good one - was to ask each of those who agreed to take part (they were rounded up via Twitter) to tell the story of a single day in a different year in the life of the character they would create together: a woman named Nelson, after her father's favourite pub, who was, they decided, born in 1968 (there being more artists than years, a couple have done different days in the same year). The result is much more than an elaborate game of consequences. Davis and Phoenix, as editors, obviously kept a close eye on the narrative. Though the vision and style of each artist is different, the baton is respectfully received, the story consistent and knowing. Yes, you will need to concentrate: the physical appearance of Nelson, her friends and family sometimes changes dramatically from year to year. But her essence remains the same. She is a clever, funny, difficult woman and, as she grows up, the reader worries for her. Will she ever be happy? Will she ever allow herself to be loved? Or will the painful legacy of her lost twin and her absent father - who may, she discovers, have ended up on the streets - finally crush her?
I loved this book. I liked the collision of styles and moods, from the Charles Burns-like attitude of Adam Cadwell and Faz Choudhury to the silent-movie simplicity of Jon McNaught and Kristyna Baczynski (though it also seems wrong to pick out names in such a galaxy of stars; the book has no weak links). But more than this, I liked the story. Nelson is only a year older than me, so the nostalgic bits - her Space Hopper, her passion for Duran Duran, her delight at the invention of the fax machine - were direct mailshots. I remember wondering how my family would survive the coming nuclear winter (Nelson's father obtains a "Protect and Survive" manual from the local post office), just as I remember I-Spy books on long journeys, and the Topper nestling alluringly between Twinkle, Mandy and the Beezer at the newsagent. The book has a heartfelt quality - a stark truthfulness - that you would never have predicted, given the circumstances in which it was born. These 54 artists have between them cleverly pinned a life to the page: optimism turning first to disappointment, and then, finally, to a new and rising contentment.
on 24 November 2011
Hats off to Rob Davis and Woodrow Phoenix, who have skilfully woven the work of 54 of Britain's most talented artists and writers into the life of a single character, Nel Baker.
If you are looking for a snapshot of the best in British comics art, then look no further. The attention to detail and story in this book does not disappoint.
on 9 January 2012
Nelson is Rob Davis' and Woodrow Phoenix' ground-breaking collaborative project, inspired by attending a recent English Comic Book Convention and the range of talent they saw on display. Taking more than 50 English and British-based Cartoonists, Artists, Webcartoonists, Illustrators & Graphic Designers that result in the wide sampling of talent on display in this excellent graphic novel.
The book tells the story of Nel, a British girl (woman) through the styles of the 54 creatives involved. Each creator turns in between 1 and 5 pages, using them to chronicle an event or a moment in Nel's life. The neat twist, or added effect, in the book is that each event is in a seperate year of her life, following Nel from birth, through childhood, a roving, reckless very British adolescence and on to... well, no spoilers.
The snapshot, compilation-tape, family-album, anthology nature of this collection is so essential to its power and its British nature that it has to be mentioned. You see a few pages from each year, seeing just a little moment, and through incidental dialogue you get to experience the overall shape of her life passing by. It's a powerful way to tell the story, giving the reader a lot of credit, trusting you to be smart enough to follow along in its path.
There is so much to enjoy here. I mention family-albums as part of its style because the book is all about family and like any family there are highs and lows, laughs and tears. This is one of the sweetest graphic novels I have ever read and so much more cohesive in theme and tone than you would imagine from it's exquisite-corpse style story-telling. Buy it, its amazing. And some of the book's profits are going to charity, so you can feel good about a purchase you will get so much out of.
on 11 December 2011
I like supporting charitable productions - Shelter get a donation - and also wanted to see a range of contemporary artistic styles in the UK today .....Nelson (or perhaps this should be Nel-Son)certainly fills that brief. Take 54 artists, get them to bring together a cohesive whole. Impossible you say. Nay, say I. Eisner's Spirit Jam in the 70s did it. Gaiman did it with the Sandman, sort of. The fact that 54 artists have different takes on one life makes this a really interesting book to study as a comic artist (I'm not!). But all of this sounds clinical and educational. I have neglected to convince you the story itself works! IT DOES! I actually found myself mulling over Nel's life and her tragic circumstances, whilst hanging around in the shops waiting to pay. She has left an impression on me, (can I say my life without sounding too pretentious?)and that to me is a mark of good literature. A piece of this narrative will be with me forever. I intend to go and re-read this now. Buy it, but if you're not convinced, search on the Net for other reveiws and you'll see it works
on 4 December 2012
Words cannot express how much I have fallen in love the Nelson. The concept, originally conjured on Twitter, of taking some of Britain's best comics makers and shoving them all into one book covering the life of a person from birth through growing up, with each artist taking one day in each year, was amazing enough to begin with.
The brilliant thing is that editors Woodrow Phoenix and Rob Davis got it just right. The character of Nel is so well rounded she comes to life of every page, disproving the 'too many cooks' rule when it comes to this book. Every single artist and writer (and most of them are both) does a bang up job of making the story matter to you.
In short Nelson is a little bit of comics magic that will convince anyone, whether they love comics or not, that this genre is worth diving into and getting thoroughly lost in. I utterly love Nelson and, whoever you are, so will you. Buy it, read it, love it to bits.
on 21 January 2012
As a comics fan of around four decades I'm a few years older than the protagonist and I can honestly say this is the best comic creation I've read in years. Got it as an unexpected xmas present leafed through and expected something disjointed and well meaning as so many comic creator anthologies have been before. How wrong I was, this story really lives. Nel is still out there growing older with me, I can wish her only the best.
on 20 December 2011
This is a work of pure, touching, candid, involving, thought-provoking genius. A wild and ambitious idea that has worked perfectly. Highly recommended!
on 16 February 2013
Almost as good as Love and Rockets.
No, infact it is every bit as good.
In other words, it is a masterpiece.
on 19 May 2016
Great graphic novel, written in different styles as biography. Recalled feel of different years but not nostalgic.
This is an outstanding graphic novel, visual storytelling at its very best in a peculiarly British which is best appreciated by the oldies who grew up parallel to Nel.
The idea of such a wide range of artists working one project sounds like a non-starter but it works well. It really, really does. It could be because there is a shared experience, a common centre of social gravity, which knits the concept together. That and a brilliant editorial hand, sadly a rare thing these days.
Having said that, there are two flaws which compromise the book towards the end: 9/11 and 7/7. Although the first is now firmly embedded in contemporary mythology, a "where were you when it happened" moment like the death of Princess(?) Diana, it's a intrusion that dampens the momentum of Nel's rise and fall and rise, a deus ex machina that steals our attention for just a little too long. The 7/7 episode, like a mix tape made after a night out and half a bottle of scotch when you got home, has already lost most of it's edge, a suspension of disbelief too far.
Apart from that, Nelson is as near perfect a graphic novel you're going to read.