Review by Win Wiacek
The world is filled with amazing women passing largely unnoticed by loud, shouty males with their hands on the tillers of history and the media, but seldom the kettle or shopping bags. This amazing tale is broadly based on one of them.
It comes to us from an equally intriguing source. Gareth Brookes is a capital-A Artist, printmaker, textile creator and educator who began literally crafting comics in 2015 with his astounding and disturbing epic The Black Project.
With A Thousand Coloured Castles, Royal College of Art graduate Brookes seals a growing reputation for challenging and rewarding graphic narratives of the artisanal kind. Brookes is a deep and slyly humorous thinker with his roots in the Littlest of Englands and a skewed eye to storytelling. He creates this captivating hardback tome solely from dark wit and wax crayons, resulting in a truly tactile and absurdly otherworldly viewing experience.
Myriam is in her declining years: married to a set-in-his-ways old know-it-all curmudgeon, as seen in most traditionally happy families and captured on paper by Raymond Briggs and TV sitcoms by Richard Wilson. Fred spends most of his time complaining about everything, which is why it takes a very long time for him to notice that Myriam’s eyesight is fading. It takes even longer for him to grasp that she’s increasingly subject to wild, abstract and utterly convincing hallucinations. These vivid visions and shapes baffle and bewilder even as they light up her drab, interminable existence.
Of more concern to Fred is the wife’s increasing fascination with the overgrown, unkempt back garden next door. He’s happy to moan about it in private but doesn’t want to engage in potential suburban hostilities with the woman living there. Myriam, however, keeps seeing a strange bedraggled little boy trapped there, even though everybody knows that’s not possible. All except her toddler grandson Jack, who’s always happy to see things her way.
The situation leads into a multi-layered observation of social norms and aberrant behaviours, supposition and expectation, declining faculties and domestic evil that is truly magical to behold and impossible to predict. Despite her condition, Myriam proves she knows what’s what and what’s right as events spiral to an inevitable conclusion and answers are shockingly forthcoming.
Gentle, genteel and utterly beguiling, this is a masterpiece of British fantasy understatement with a potent underpinning of quietly desperate lives truly lived.