Now here’s something a bit special, two of my major loves combined a graphic novel made with embroidery. I became aware of this book when I joked online about creating a comic in embroidery then someone told me it was already being done! Fast forward and the book is now an award-winning title from Myriad Editions UK. Here’s what I thought of Gareth Brookes’ ‘The Black Project’
OK first off, I should probably address that this is a very dark little tale and it won’t be for everyone. It has that special kind of childhood creepy that makes people compare it to Bank’s ‘Wasp Factory’- and it does travel into that well-worn area of socially retarded teens hiding porn mags in the woods. (Is this a real thing? It’s turned up in quite a few comics I’ve read). But what it does have going for it is a very unusual premise executed in a very unusual way- and a black humour that stops it from tipping over into horror territory completely.
It’s actually very compelling, and I laughed a lot more than I thought I would, considering the grim details! Written in the first person, Richard is cripplingly introverted and is as compulsively driven as Frankenstein to create a girlfriend that he can talk to, and er… other things. If this sounds cute I assure you it’s not. Each home-made girlfriend is more technically ambitious than the last, their conceptions punctuated by family deaths and trauma. However I can’t decide if the ending is genuinely sweet or somehow a cop-out. I’ll let you read the book and decide that for yourself.
I really want to talk about the use of embroidery in this book. Firstly The Black Project will get a certain degree of attention simply due to the perceived gender inversion, embroidery is (lazily) considered a ‘female domestic art by the population at large. This notion is acknowledged in the book, it’s Richard’s mum that teaches him to sew. (One of his more advanced ‘girlfriends’ benefits from this sewing expertise). And most of the examples of embroidery in the book are actually in the form of doily like framing devices, but often presented against black. Evoking twee domesticity, juxtaposed against the grim subject matter. The other 50 percent or more of the art work is created in linocut printing, again featuring black heavily.
It’s interesting to note the effect of both the lino cut and the embroidery in this work: Creases from the embroidery hoop are not ironed out, and sometimes the reverse side is shown. Typically clean comic book lines are not as easily rendered in stitch or lino print. There is no crisp clean black and white line-work of a conventional comic, instead the print is greyed and the paper matt not glossy. The artwork like the story, dark and handmade. Quiet horror in domesticity, hewn by a child’s crude hand. The medium is the message.
Ultimately I really enjoyed this book. The production is innovative, the dark humour made me laugh, and the ending humanises our protagonist. More than anything this book stretches the parameters of what comics can be. It’s also inspired me to think more about embroidery outside the hoop. If you’re in any way interested in alternative comics, and or contemporary textile crafts I urge you to look this one out. And check out the pics from the exhibition and book launch here. Wow!
Available through amazon just click the image link below: