Karrie Fransman is something of a regular fixture when it comes to the annual Broken Frontier Awards. Her debut full-length work The House that Groaned was nominated in our 2012 Awards for Best Graphic Novel and last year she won the Best One-Shot Award for her short comic Over Under Sideways Down which was published by the Red Cross for Refugee Week. An enviable record of three nominations and two wins for a single artist in just four years.
Fransman’s second full-length book Death of the Artist – our Broken Frontier Best Graphic Novel Award winner – was perhaps something of an enigma to many in 2015. Ostensibly it was an account of a group of old university friends (including Fransman herself) trying to recapture their youth and creativity on a break in the Peak District, and the dark turn of events that envelops them during those days. In terms of presentation, though, it was a far more layered piece of work than its premise suggested. (You can read my full review here.)
Billed as a book by “Karrie Fransman and friends”, its teasing narrative structure seemed to fool a number of reviewers last year. Each individual chapter was supposedly the work of a different creator amongst that group of uni chums, presented in different mediums to give the illusion of events as seen through the various characters’ eyes. In reality Fransman herself was sole author, providing a series of chapters that embraced illustration, photography, collage, watercolour and digital art to bring us into the mindsets of that diverse group of protagonists.
When I interviewed Fransman on her career earlier this year at Broken Frontier here she summed up her excitement about the possibilities of comics as a form saying “I think what excites me the most about the medium is how young and open it is. Unlike cinema, photography or fine art, comics are still being defined. And it’s a medium which is open for any of us to define it. There are very few barriers to entry when it comes to comics – you don’t need money to make them or any formal education… There are still so many untapped opportunities to play with the medium!”
That philosophy is readily apparent in Death of the Artist, a book that fully exploits the language and very mechanics of comics to showcase the astonishing narrative potential of sequential art. Less a case of experimentation and more a committed manifesto in celebration of the art form, Death of the Artist is a challenging but always absorbing book that also reflects on our youthful aspirations and reminds us of the manner in which time’s passage can replace our hope-filled dreams with a resigned pragmatism.
Almost nihilistic in its bleakness yet oddly relatable, Fransman’s most divisive work is also her greatest achievement in comics to date. One that was justly recognised by the BF staff and readership in another incredibly strong category this year.
Death of the Artist was published by Jonathan Cape. For more on Karrie Fransman’s work check out her site here and follow her on Twitter here.