The lives of travelling show people come under the spotlight in creator Abbey Massey’s look at 24 hours of a working circus.
I ‘m (sort of) returning to the Comica Festival Comiket stash today to give some spotlight time to another creator whose work is new to our ‘Small Pressganged’ coverage here at Broken Frontier. Abbey Massey’s One Day Only probably falls somewhere between comics and zines; perhaps more illustrated narrative than, strictly speaking, sequential art in the way we have come to define what goes on within the confines of a comic strip. But, like Katie Craven’s Angus & Felix reviewed here yesterday, it’s work that I have returned to a number of times since acquiring it. Always a good sign that there’s something worthwhile going on between any given publication’s covers…
In the interests of transparency I have to admit that I initially missed Abbey’s work at Comiket but, in that post-fair social interactivity that organically flows from such events, I chanced upon a friend’s copy and was impressed enough to order my own shortly after. Comprising twelve double-page spreads, One Day Only traces the working life of a travelling circus over the space of its 24-hour visit to one small isolated town. Through a succession of silent images we witness the troupe’s arrival, the setting up of the show, elements of the performance itself through to the dismantling of the big top and the subsequent re-running of the entire cycle again at the next town.
What is particularly evocative about Massey’s illustration is the way in which it so acutely captures the range of emotional states associated with such an undertaking, often from very differing perspectives. A vast sprawling rural landscape stretching out in front of us early on underlines the transitory life the circus convoy leads; a rootless existence and monotonous, infrangible routine, the tedium of which is further underscored by the circular nature of the narrative.
As One Day Only progresses Massey continues to manipulate the audience’s reactions with that same deft, but never overbearing, touch in a series of illustrative snapshots. There’s a sense of awe and wonder, for example, in her depiction of the cathedral-like big top’s interiors as we take our place in the audience. Just a couple of pages later, though, that’s replaced with a near poignancy as the spectacle comes to an end and the punters desert the arena. By the time we get to the circus staff dismantling the show in the dark, and preparing to move on, the colour has been stripped away completely, signifying that the magic is over for the locals and that humdrum, ordered existence has begun again for the travellers.
What is particularly effective here is the way that Massey’s art strips everything back to a core functionality, providing an emotional economy to the visuals that ensures the reader is fully invested in the gamut of sensations to be experienced in these pages. Whether it’s the townspeople’s excitement at the hustle and bustle of the circus coming to town or, conversely, that sense of endless, inescapable repetition that the workers perceive, Massey is adept at making you feel a part of the world she is imagining.
One Day Only needs to be considered in a slightly different manner to much of the small press material I review here on a regular basis. Twelve images over 24 pages means that you need to approach each page as a narrative in itself, absorbing the atmosphere and immersing yourself in the moment. Strikingly expressive work though and, once again, testament to the fact that every Comica Festival Comiket I attend provides me with an exciting new wave of creative talent to promote here in ‘Small Pressganged’!