Smelling a Rat

Writer / Artist
Smelling a Rat
Smelling a Rat graphic novel review
  • UK publisher / ISBN: Jonathan Cape - 0-224-07388-5
  • Release date: 2005
  • UPC: 9780224073882
  • Contains adult content?: yes
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no
  • CATEGORIES: Humour

Paul Wright’s cover illustration suggests a children’s book rather than a graphic novel, and Smelling a Rat rolls out in the style of a children’s story, perhaps one heavily influenced by Raymond Briggs.

It concerns young Trevor Gristle, perennially ignored by family and without friends, so constantly dreaming, largely about superheroes, whom he tries to emulate. On one tour through the night streets of Merton he sees a flash of light in the sky and returns home with a seven foot tall talking rat. Wright funnels in fair bit of British sitcom tradition, such as Trevor’s family being rather puzzled with the rat, but more concerned about what the grandparents will think when they visit. Father Reg works on the local newspaper, but thinks it best to keep the rat quiet while continuing to investigate a cat litter shortage.

Smelling a Rat has connection points with Alan Moore’s work on The Bojeffries Saga, also satirising British middle class values, but with a greater injection of absurdity and restricting the monster content to one giant rat. It’s a constantly hungry and extremely self-entitled rat with a large vocabulary, but at the centre of a broad based comedy that makes a few observations over several scenes, but never really goes anywhere.

Wright’s illustration is the saving grace, loose, bright and imaginative with a great talent for the creation of homely looking people and plain ridiculous panels. It conveys the intended humour far better than the shaggy dog story passing for a plot. That seems propelled by Wright figuring out what he wants to draw, and if it’s a large propeller plane, a football match or an opera performance, in it goes. It ends when Wright runs out of ideas.

What’s left is a book worth flicking through for the funny drawings, Wright’s sole comic work, but his far more accomplished marine paintings can be seen here.