HCZF MONTH! I have covered the work of Beatrice Mossman a couple of times before in this column at Broken Frontier with reviews of The Lure of the Flesh and the Hell-Hued anthology she edited, both of which were distinctly horror-themed. Mossman’s previous practice could sometimes be raw in places and occasionally overly ambitious in presentation but her interrogation of the form’s possibilities, particularly in regards to thinking about imaginative tactile approaches, showed huge potential. With her new comic Daddy, that promise is realised in one of the finest pieces of autobio comics I have ever reviewed in the near ten years I have been writing ‘Small Pressganged’ here at BF.
Daddy #1 is a collection of short comics that are both a coming-of-age story and a series of reflections on growing up without a father who died before Mossman was born. It’s split into three sections each titled with the name of a flower associated with funerals. What is so hauntingly immediate, though, is its physical dimensions. The comic is published as a coffin-shaped object; something that doesn’t necessarily translate to all of the sample pages here but will be fully appreciated when seen.
That sense of design is not limited to the comic’s dimensions, with sequential art sitting on bordered backgrounds that add to the aura of loss and emptiness which each page is steeped in. Mossman initially sets the scene with the circumstances of her father’s death (just a week after knowing about her conception) and the tragic misunderstanding that could have averted it. We follow the young Beatrice through her early childhood and a doll’s house where the father doll was forbidden entry, and observe her school years where her fatherless status almost defined her identity. What follows is a fascinating and absorbing series of vignettes that explore her quest to come to terms with her father’s absence and to understand a fundamental part of herself that, on the one hand, she is bonded to so intimately and yet, on the other, remains essentially unknowable.
One recurring motif is the Darth Vader “I am your father” scene as a metaphor for this search; a continuing need for connection that manifests itself in a reverence for a cast of her father’s hand, in regret that so few of his possessions survive, or in melancholy that so many years have passed that it’s no longer technically accurate to describe him as her “late father”. One particularly poignant scene sees her visiting her father’s grave to discover the inscription has worn away. As she leaves we see the inscription reappearing in a number of different styles and fonts, perhaps underlining all the different people he may have been and how attaining a true understanding of his identity has a certain intangibility to it.
Mossman’s art and visual storytelling are so much more confident here than I have ever seen previously as she exploits the atypical elongated frame of the page to great effect. It’s a deeply affecting account whether dealing with the perpetual sense of mourning and lack of closure that hangs over her well into adult life or the digressions her mind takes in wondering if her departed parent is sitting in judgement over her. The finale is the perfect coda to the story, bringing things if not quite full circle then certainly giving us at least a thematic resolution. The #1 designation promises further explorations of the subject. Publishers who promote the autobio side of comics need to take note of this because it’s a very special piece of storytelling indeed. You can find Beatrice Mossman in Hall One at Hackney Comic + Zine Fair.
Beatrice Mossman (W/A) • Self-published, £8.00
Find Beatrice Mossman’s online store here
Review by Andy Oliver