Review by Win Wiacek
Comics are cheap and primal: easy to create, disseminate and understand. That’s why (after music) they are the most subversive and effective form of revolutionary art. Welcome Home fits comfortably into the category, as creators Clarrie and Blanche Pope concoct a contemporary soap opera cast to carry their observations about the way society is heading and the disturbing questions that path leaves unaddressed and unanswered. The sisters draw from and reference personal experience whilst cunningly employing humour and pathos to hone their scalpel-like investigations, trusting to the familiarity of shared context to make their point.
Have you wondered what and who occupied your space before you did? Don’t you dread the fading of your memories and the loss of the places that punctuated your time on earth? And who hasn’t had a mate or relative who was more trouble than worth?
Having both been young, squatters and care home workers, the creators weave a rowdily rousing, frighteningly authentic yet engagingly upbeat yarn of activism. It rides piggyback on modern need and ingrained privation that begins when a disparate band of acquaintances and old friends break into an empty flat. It’s in a condemned tower block, where tenant families wait powerlessly for rehoming and the building’s demolition. The squatters range from die-hard believers in a cause to friends and lovers who can’t afford rent, united in a mission to rouse the entire block and organize resistance to the destruction of homes and a community that only needs a little financial care and attention.
Sadly, before the final page comes, romance, passion (so NOT the same thing), ambition, confusion and the distractions of everyday life are going to play hob with their good intentions and grand dreams.
The story is told primarily through the actions of Rain, a professional care worker who can’t make ends meet despite being worked to death with compulsory extra shifts at the Fairview home built as part of the original housing estate. Its post-privatisation owners Who Care and on-site manager Julie are positively Dickensian in their blindly self-indulgent hypocrisy. At least by talking to residents like dementia-afflicted Dottie/Doris – whose vacant flat they now illicitly occupy – Rain gradually builds up a potent picture of the generational community the imminent demolition will finally end. Ultimately, the young/old bond will also allow the fraught and confused protagonist to sort out her own feelings and stop looking for love in all the wrong places.
Shortlisted for the Myriad First Graphic Novel Prize, Welcome Home is bleak yet beguiling. It encompasses urban dissolution, societal safety nets, relationship triangles, generational cultural continuity, dementia and the disempowerment of the old, young, different, nonconformist and poor. It’s peppered with ferociously barbed faux ads drenched in the contemporary Thought Speak used by Local Councils, Cabinet Ministers, social engineers and gentrifying property companies who constantly find nonsensically bland and comforting ways to restate you’re the wrong colour, too poor, and love the wrong sort to live here anymore.
Welcome Home is an enticingly introspective and painfully universal saga that should appeal to anyone who ever had a moment of monetary despair and emotional outrage at what we’ve allowed ourselves to become. It will not appeal at all to many of the societal predators listed at the end of the last paragraph, but they should be made to read it too. Or maybe hit with it: It’s a free country, after all, if you’re prepared to accept the consequences of your actions…