The great appeal of Alex Potts’s A Quiet Disaster is that on the one hand not very much actually occurs and yet, conversely, it’s in that same triviality of happenstance and routine that whole worlds of stress and despair are opened up to its protagonist, the rather unambitious and apathetic Philip. Potts provides us with a somewhat passive everyperson in his central character; a listless, dispirited loner whose sole aim on his day off work is to find something worthwhile with which to occupy his time. It’s his abject failure to do so – and the small calamities that befall him on his meanderings – that account for the quiet disaster of the book’s title.
Philip is one of those people for whom the relief of realising that a noticeable aroma of dog excrement is not coming from the soles of his own shoes is a pivotal achievement in life (see below!). In the best part of 30 pages Potts allows us to observe this aimless wanderer on his directionless and doomed quest for recreational fulfilment as he mooches around the streets and lanes of his local environs. Whether it’s sitting at the front seat on the top of a double decker bus so he can pretend to be the driver, ruminating on roadkill, or getting caught in a downpour in the local park, Philip’s reality revolves around the resignedly mundane and the utterly inconsequential.
But it’s precisely because the existential angst of these few hours we share with him is so recognisably trifling that Potts draws the reader so fully into Philip’s story. He’s not exactly a character we can empathise with – he’s far too indolent for that – but he is someone whose plight will have familiar echoes of our own worst moments of lethargy and spiritual lassitude. As Philip’s valuable leisure time continues to degenerate into a mess of hopeless indecision and weary acquiescence, it’s the odd phenomenon of his sporadic encounters with spectacle-wearing dogs that remains the one thing that gives this dreary day some rather bizarre colour…
This is the first longer-form comic I’ve read from Alex Potts whose work in anthologies like The Comix Reader and To Arms! I’ve covered before in this column over the years. Potts is a cartoonist with an expressive and impressive emotional range. It’s this ability to communicate his characters’ personalities through their body language that is so capably demonstrated in the physicality of the slouching Philip, with his often pained and perplexed visage adding an entire extra layer to our impression of him. The consistent rhythm of the nine-panel grid that Potts adopts also adds a sense of conformity and inescapability that gives his misadventures a kind of humdrum inevitability.
For a comic that essentially eschews anything approaching a traditional narrative there’s something endearingly old school about the presentational techniques that Potts uses. That inexplicably out of fashion convention of the thought bubble is utilised throughout, emphasising the solitary nature of Philip’s social subsistence, and backing this up we have the voice of an unseen narrator giving an amusingly downbeat commentary on the petty minutiae of his tribulations.
A Quiet Disaster is a comic that pointedly goes nowhere and fails to reach a destination with an unconcerned and deliberate candour. A catalogue of pointless events, social ineptitude and pyrrhic victories – fronted by a leading player who could almost be an anti-hero if only he could be bothered to summon up the effort – this is a beguilingly nihilistic piece of idiosyncratic storytelling from Alex Potts, and (as if I really need to say this once again in 2014) yet another well considered publishing choice in this breakout year for Avery Hill Publishing.
Alex Potts will be at the Avery Hill Publishing Winter Party at London’s Gosh! Comics this Friday 5th December. Full details here.
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