Review by Ian Keogh
Brothers Rowan and Tulip, although he’d prefer to be called Danny, have grown up with their unconventional mother on a remote Scottish island. Rowan’s joy is growing vegetables, while Danny learned to cook when a French chef became sick of London and moved as far away as he could within the UK. To their mother’s disapproval, the brothers inherit a considerable amount of money from her deceased sister’s family, and after an exploratory visit, they decide to move to England. Danny wants to open a restaurant, while Rowan is content to live in the inherited property and provide the restaurant’s vegetables.
There’s an abundance of charm to James Albon’s flat expressionism, and to his admirably upbeat world. It’s an unconventional artistic journey, with the rural isolation of Scotland a complete contrast to a vibrantly busy spread of London, all life squashed onto two pages, yet both rendered carefully in watercolours. A succession of spreads are scattered all the way through The Delicacy, so often bringing to mind other artists, but definitively Albon’s compositions. These nods range from Mairi Hedderwick’s Katie Morag books, to Francis Bacon for a glorious pair of gruesome diners.
Albon’s a leisurely storyteller, keen to explain stages of a process, and at times almost producing a primer of the steps necessary to run a restaurant. That approach makes it all the more shocking when danger is introduced, an existential threat to everything that’s been achieved. However, an even bigger threat awaits, one from within. In terms of the general path Danny and Rowan’s journey echoes Animal Farm, but with unpredictable turns, some very surprising in what becomes a man to monster transformation.
Yet Albon has laid the groundwork for his transformation well. Pegasus, once Sarah Green, is mother to the two main characters, a festering bundle of bile when it comes to life on the mainland, and avid advocate of alternative methods of living and health. An insight into her true character cleverly cements an inevitable journey to the final pages. In other cases Albon’s verité storytelling confounds expectations. There’s a linear plot, but what under other hands would become dramatic flashpoints pass without consequences. That’s just noting narrative method, not diminishing a page-turning exploration of avarice and regret in a graphic novel living up to its title.