Over the course of the last few days on Twitter you may well have seen an explosion of interest in the comics of Anna Readman. Attention that only goes to underline how right we were to include the Leeds-based artist as one of this year’s Broken Frontier ‘Six Small Press Creators to Watch‘!
When we announced Anna as one of this year’s championed number last month I said of her work “Every illustration is full of hidden details that positively insist the reader lingers over each image, absorbing every last element of their often unsettling but enticing qualities” and also that “an occasionally playfully meta flourish to her comics underlines her acute understanding of comics as a unique medium.”
Those qualities are very much in evidence in Readman’s short comic Strangers in Everyland: Scenes from Cormac McCarthy’s ‘Suttree’, a 12-page adaptation of sequences from McCarthy’s 1979 novel. Suttree was written over a 20-year period and infuses elements of autobiography in its tale of the once privileged titular character who gives up his life of comfort for an existence as a Tennessee River fisherman, and the characters he encounters thereafter.
If you’re unfamiliar with the novel think of this more as an opportunity to disover Readman’s innate understanding of the unique storytelling tools available to her via the comics page, as she not so much adapts as translates McCarthy’s narrative from one form to another. One of the elements of her art that instantly caught my attention last year is her ability to say as much in one, single, dramatic image as she does in her involved and bustling sequential pages. Check out the comic’s atmospheric cover above that speaks to us of self-imposed solitude or the discreet visul metaphor on the title page with its meta representation of the creative process.
Each segment of the comic is drawn from a few lines of McCarthy’s original prose and illustrates not just a sequence from the book but also Readman’s command of the differing inflections of the language of the form; from the opening set-up of the first two-pages with its river-set and almost nihilistic reflections on the human condition to the near visual poetry of the following prison scene that immediately pulls us in with its motifs of lives ruined and sundered (above left), Readman proves herself adept at that purest form of comics storytelling; an ability to communicate the deepest emotion and theme graphically without undue accompanying exposition.
Redman’s art embodies a curious, almost contradictory mixture of the realistic and the distorted which is perfectly suited to the more grotesque and bizarre portions of Suttree. The detailed and elaborate double-page spread that we featured in our ‘Six to Watch’ announcement (below) for example or the depiction of the distinctively eccentric sexual procilvities of supporting character Harrogate. Similarly a nightmarish dream sequence (above right) is captured with a sense of overwhelming helplessness with Readman’s lettering adding extra layers of foreboding doom to the proceedings.
If the reader is aware of the source material then they will obviously appreciate Readman’s realisation of these key sections on a more immediate level (particularly the pathos of its finale which is also included here). But for those coming to Readman’s practice for the very first time Strangers in Everyland is a chance to see one of the most promising emerging talents I have ever covered in all the years I’ve been writing ‘Small Pressganged’ at Broken Frontier and be able to say you were there at the very beginning. I have no doubt you’re going to be hearing a lot more about her in the months and years to come.
For more on the work of Anna Readman visit her site here. You can download a PDF of Strangers in Everyland from Gumtree here or read it on her site here. You can also follow Anna on Twitter and Instagram.
For regular updates on all things small press follow Andy Oliver on Twitter here.
Review by Andy Oliver