I’ve noticed a subtle shift in the tone of British small press creator Sean Azzopardi’s slice-of-life comics work over the last year or two. Gone are the thinly disguised avatars who used to stand in for him in his semi-autobiographical small press offerings and, similarly, the self-deprecating tone that used to be something of a hallmark of his narrative voice has been replaced with a more reflective authorial presence.
In early 2013 I reviewed Same Day Return here, a similar collection of personal anecdotes that concluded with, if not an epiphany, then certainly a sense of moving on and embracing the future. That feeling of a more pensive Azzopardi continues in Rain on Glass. The subject matter moves from experiences that can be in turn wistful, harrowing and nostalgic but they seem to be viewed more contemplatively, with the cushion of the passage of time acting as a buffer.
Some of the strips on offer here have also appeared in other collections. The first story, for example, was one of the entries in the last edition of David O’Connell’s ink + PAPER, of which I said here at BF “Sean Azzopardi, surely now the established guv’nor of that anecdotal strand of UK autobiographical comics, contributes ‘Orange and Black’ a very personal slice-of-lifer. The way this short flits backwards and forwards in time adds to the sense of displacement at its core as Azzopardi retraces a point in his late teens were he was shuffled between homes. His choice of almost scattered panel layouts also underlines the story’s theme of dislocation.”
That loose panel arrangement is also utilised in Rain on Glass’s third story ‘On Tour with the Mary Chain’ tracing Azzopardi and a friend’s time as teenagers following the Jesus and Mary Chain on the road for a few days. It’s a charmingly observed set piece that captures a sense of boyish adventure, given an extra layer of pub story brilliance by a chance encounter with the band themselves in a late night cafe.
The story that resonated the most with me, however, was ‘Present Shopping’. On a superficial level it’s a very basic account of the sort of incident that most of us can recount from our childhood: a senseless encounter with unknown bullies who perpetrate an act of violence on a much younger Sean and his boyhood pal simply because they feel like it. What makes this so memorable is its pacing; a gradual build-up to the brutal main event that brings back memories of those long, summer days of our youth, chatting about classroom politics, dog poo and arguing the merits of Ray Clemence or Peter Shilton as the better England goalkeeper. It means that when the strip is finally punctuated by a random act of aggression we feel the injustice and the anger all the more keenly because Azzopardi has framed events in evocative terms of reference that we all recognise from our pasts. There is a sublime double-pager (shown below) midway through depicting the disorientation caused by a blow to the head that is probably my favourite thing ever drawn by Sean!
Once again I find myself saluting the raw but engaging honesty of Sean Azzopardi’s autobiographical comics. There’s such confidence to his storytelling in Rain on Glass as he revisits the past from a distance that it’s hard to believe that this is the same creator who had made professed insecurity an integral part of his narratives for so long. And I have never seen his art quite so free flowing, so open to constant experimentation, so unrestricted in its presentation. There are few artists who have featured in ‘Small Pressganged’ as frequently as Azzopardi over the last two and a half years and there’s a reason for that. Rain on Glass is the perfect opportunity for latecomers to sample the work of one of our very best homegrown slice-of-lifers.