- Posted by Johanna on February 7, 2006 at 10:24 am
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- CREDITS: by Andi Watson
- PUBLISHER: Oni Press; $19.95 US
Breakfast After Noon tells the slice-of-life story of a British couple trying to deal with becoming unemployed. The Windsor Pottery, the town’s industry, has closed down, throwing Rob and Louise out of work. Not only are they worrying about everyday bills, but before the change, they’d been planning their wedding, adding another source of stress to their relationship.
Rob learns some basic economics as he comes to terms with the idea that he’s not getting his job back. No one had apparently pointed out to him the hypocrisy of wondering why he was fired while never buying the products that his factory made. His naive enthusiasm reasserts itself with his blithe assertion that he’ll just walk into another job, but this optimism doesn’t stand up well to real life. As everything starts snowballing — the wedding, plans for kids, friends, everyday tasks, no extra money for hobbies, Rob and Louise are growing further apart, whether they realize it or not.
The reader is faced with a tough question: is Louise overreacting by reading too much into Rob’s drepression, or is Rob not reading enough into his inability to contribute in any useful way to the wedding? Events also give the lie to the idea that it’s never too late to change your mind. Some decisions have consequences you just have to live with, which is an excellent lesson for someone about to be married who needs a kickstart into maturity. It’s much too easy to settle into a routine, whether or not it’s what you really want to be, or should be, doing.
As life goes on, the reader sees that the characters aren’t going back: Louise has completed a computer training course, while Rob sinks into a life of drinking and doing nothing. Worries about money have become second nature, with Louise having to choose between the wedding dress she wants and going on a honeymoon. With their growing disagreements, it may become academic anyway.
Rob’s feeling sorry for himself permeates the book. The role of the reader brilliantly parallels that of his friends; I’m disgusted by him at the same time I care for him and want to see him do better, but it’s his choice. I can’t affect what happens, much as I want to. (That I care so much demonstrates the depth of Watson’s artistry.) Although his friends are telling him the truth, he can’t hear it until he’s ready to figure it out for himself, and meanwhile, they’ve got to get on with their lives as well. Although he makes gestures, they’re foolhardy and romantic, not practical. There’s nothing wrong with romance, but that’s not what Louise needs. To indicate that he’s really grown up, he needs to demonstrate that he can pay as much attention to her as he pays to himself.
Watson’s unique style, characterized by grey-toned shading and thick line definition, continues to develop in leaps and bounds. It seems strange that so many emotions can be delineated with an oval, four lines, and two dots (for a face), but the characters run the reactive gamut. As a result, more of the story can be expressed non-verbally, and thus, more realistically.
Watson pays special attention to background detail, whether it’s a lived-in house, the detritus that accumulates in a car, or the rest of the neighborhood block. The story develops through small-scale scenes of everyday interaction: he drinks with his buddies, she does laundry. The single panel that most touched me was the one where, although Rob’s pulled together and quit waiting for someone else to take care of his life for him, he’s still sleeping with Louise’s picture on the pillow next to him.
The simple lines of the characters contrast well with the fussiness of the pottery they created and the detailed backgrounds. The casual gestures capture the motions of everyday life, and the shading gives depth physically and emotionally. Background montages indicate changes in mood while time passes. Even the dialogue-heavy sections remain interesting through expression and gesture.
Artistically, there’s a contrast between Watson’s simple line style and his use of detailed settings; one splash page, for example, is a domestic scene of Louise coming home to a cluttered living room. Conceptually, there’s a contrast as well. As the conflict between Rob and Louise moves into the open (becoming more distinct and thus polarized), the settings become more detailed, grounding the interaction between the two in the everyday. Shading is used to great effect, with the characters in shadow to indicate strong emotion. The technique is basic but powerful, supporting Watson’s strong use of character expression.
There are more connections in life than Rob had ever thought about, and you can see his eyes open (figuratively). His fiancee also points out, stunningly, that he’s been assuming all along that she wanted what he wanted. He’d never thought about what her work life was like; since he had his identity wrapped up in the factory, he assumed she did as well.
The characters’ attitudes illustrate a classic conflict: her practicality and adaptability contrast with his devotion and idealism. He sees her getting on with things as giving up and later, as growing away from him; she sees his dedication and the resulting depression as stubbornness and later, as laziness. As things progress, the characters behave in realistic ways, which makes reading the story bittersweet. They’re reacting the way most people do in similar situations — scarily so, at times — but I wish they could see themselves the way the reader does. Maybe then they wouldn’t be as trapped as they are.
This story, progressing in character development and events, is very thought-provoking. Aside from the interpersonal conflicts, there’s insight into the feelings of powerlessness in modern society, generational changes, the old vs. the young, and class differences based on money. Setting an significant concluding scene at a wedding is a welcome reminder that other’s lives go on around you — no one is the center of the universe.
The ending is ironic yet wonderful, really putting across the lesson that some of the most important jobs don’t get paid. It’s not your salary that determines your value, it’s the way you choose to live your life and the relationships you form with those close to you. Plus, it all wraps back to the same pottery. Breakfast After Noon is the kind of comic we should have more of — a mature presentation of realistic people facing everyday conflicts, learning and growing from their experiences, all expressed beautifully through combined art and text. It’s a must-read.