Here’s a book which as thrust into my hands by a basically-jigging Zainab Akhtar at The Lakes Festival last week. A 2009 entry to the Jonathan Cape graphic short story prize, ‘Some People’ is a four-page story from Luke Pearson which first put him on the radar of a larger audience. Although it didn’t win the main prize, it certainly stands as a notable work in the early career of a comic-maker who would go on to find great success with his ‘Hilda’ series over at NoBrow.
Since it came out, it’s picked up quite a cult following from readers, making it onto sociology courses and weaving a little path into the most surprising of locations. One of which, now is my house. I’ve not been particularly aware of Pearson as a comics writer and artist, so this was my first experience of his work – and it was a positive one. The basic premise here is that Pearson follows a small group of people within a neighbourhood, as they grow up and old and back down again to emphasise the interconnectedness of everything.
It starts with that bloke on the cover above, for example, before tracking into the future to see another character age over time, meet their grandchild, follow her age over time, then track back a few years to watch one of her friends grow younger, that sort of thing. Things chronologically reach out in different ways throughout, before getting us right back where we started. It’s a neat concept, and one that plays out about as much as you’d want it to. Had this been longer than four pages, the technique of showing a character age or de-age would likely grow a little wearying, but here Pearson keeps use of the concept to a minimum.
Each time we see somebody’s perspective of another character, we jump into the mindset of THAT ‘judged’ character, meaning the comic is hugely concerned with the idea of perception and identity. With each move into the past or future, Pearson makes it clear that nobody is immediately defined by sheer force of will – people have made choices about their personality and character, and those come from their surroundings and their interactions with others. This immediate interest means the comic does towards the end become a little predictable, as Pearson’s idea means that each character we see does a 180 degree flip when we see them age or de-age.
But this is only a four-page comic, and Pearson’s pre-planning of the structure of those four pages manages to relieve any concerns of predictability. He utilises a detailed panel layout on each page which throws off the reader and forces them to follow the story at the pace he intends – there’s no inadvertent jumping ahead at play here, and the intricate nature of his art and sequencing stops the reader from losing track of the narrative thread. Although, yes, every character who has a happy childhood has a sad adulthood and vice versa (to generalise unfairly), Pearson still makes that a compelling and thoughtful character study within these four pages.
It proves to be a smart concept for a comic, and proves to be an engaging piece of work.