A gorgeously illustrated and charmingly pure tale of imagination and creativity, Richard Swan’s In a Flat Land will make you smile and contemplate your daily life at pretty much the same time. Gentle line drawings and a very limited colour palate create something that echoes the charm of the greatest of children’s illustrated writing…
Richard Swan’s website, The Moon Underground, is a beautiful and mystical wealth of art and stories that will warm hearts and reconnect you with your inner child. His work celebrates wonder and tenderness with an enchanting grace that’s hard to find in books for adults and children alike. In a Flat Land is his first long comic, available in its entirety online, and comprises the tale of young boy, a flat cap, an old mill tower and a bit of childlike discovery. With the exception of four lines of poetry (and the title) the book has no dialogue, the only words present on the pages are onomatopoeic – splash, sploosh, doosh, gaboosh…. Nonetheless, the story flows organically and clearly. It’s simple enough to be captured by illustration alone, yet dreamlike enough to be more than a simple panel-by-panel progression of events.
Despite an initial minimalistic impression – clean black lines on a white background, separate square or rectangular panels, little or no shading – the artwork is surprisingly rich and detailed, delicate vistas of grassy sand dunes and shore, or delicate flowers and trees, the breath of life Swan squeezes into two colours is astonishing. Even the panels themselves, whilst being square and one-dimensional, give remarkable definition and form to not just the pace but also the mood of the story. The layout and line drawing give the illusion of, well, flatness. Not a bad flatness, rather a flatness that mirrors the nature of the book’s title. A flatness behind which great depth hides, unwilling to revel in a too straightforward manner. Although later on in the story a little colour does start to creep its way in, in the form of the soft yellow of dried corn. By the last pages of the book the green of grass stains and the blues of the open sky are also starting to make their way onto the pages.
As earlier mentioned, the story is one of childlike imagination. This is not a children’s book per se (although it could be enjoyed by children) it is more a book for the child within each of us. The child within us who may have forgotten that once upon a time an empty can could be a helicopter, or a milk cartoon a house. A young boy, drawn in a classical picture book style with a permanent expression of inquisitiveness, goes out exploring on his own and finds an unlikely friend after chancing upon a disused mill tower. A series of unusual events later, and a knock on the door proves that this friend might not be so unlikely after all. In a Flat Land is a lovely story, impeccably drawn and hopefully a sign of things to come from one Richard Swan.
Richard Swan (W/A) • Self-published, available in full online here