Every once in a while a graphic novel comes along that shows just what this medium can do. Though the combination of words and pictures titles like Maus, The Watchmen, and Fun Home extend the comic medium, give it the depth of reference and heart of a conventional novel, while utilising the conventions of sequential art to embody an extremely personal voice.
Nelson is one such comic, so brave and ambitious in its scope that it ought not to work, but it does. I have to admit I was quite blown away by it. Nelson is a fictional biography like no other. The premise is simple, it is the story of one life, told through ‘a day in the life’ of each year from 1968 to present, the twist is that it’s told by 54 different artists, and the contributors page reads like a who’s who of the UK comic scene.
Like I said, it sounds like it shouldn’t work, but under the guidance of two strong editors with just the right amount of give, there was scope for each individual’s input while telling one (fictional) individual’s tale. Editors Rob Davis and Woodrow Phoenix have done an impressive job, as the story is somehow consistent rather than random like a game of consequences.Phoenix’ afterword explains in part how this was possible. There were certain key ‘life points’ that the editors wished to have included, personal keystones like having a missing twin, or deciding not to have children, and having worked as a designer in the 90’s, but also more general historical points that most people can relate to – do you remember the lunar landing? The first call you ever made on a mobile phone? Did you dig Blur or Oasis? All of these things combined with each artists’ personal feelings about the year and events they are covering add up to a very rich and believable life story of one Nel Baker. Yes, the titular Nelson is a girl, and she is an artist with attitude. A true comics heroine. Oh, and I like her hair 😉
Many of favourite comic creators living and working in the UK make an appearance, but I’ve also discovered lots of new amazing artists as a result of this book. A strong travelling colour palette helps to tie all of this seeming disparate work together into one beautiful book. Some of my favourite sections come from Gary Northfield, Sarah MacIntyre, Sean Longcroft, Luke Pearson, Jonathan Edwards, Ade Salmon, Warren Pleece, Simon Gane, Jon Mc Naught , JAKE, Rodger Landridge, and Garen Ewing, to name only a few!
To be honest Nelson is up there with my all time top ten. There is so much to see, and so many little references to pick up on I think I will be going back to re-read this one many times. Well worth checking out, particularly if like me you are intrigued by memoir and biography in comic form or otherwise.