Repetition mode engaged. As I have said on numerous occasions previously at Broken Frontier (probably to the point of tedium), Gareth A Hopkins is one of a small group of UK comics creators that includes names like Peony Gent, Olivia Sullivan, Miranda Smart and J Webster Sharp whose abstract practice continues to genuinely push the medium in unique new directions. Hopkins’ recent anthology of stories Explosive Sweet Freezer Razors was nominated in last year’s Broken Frontier Awards in the Best One-Shot Anthology category and collects a number of his short comics from recent years alongside rarer work and new material.
Some of the stories in Explosive Sweet Freezer Razors have previously been reviewed here at Broken Frontier then, including my reviews of A Hill to Cry Home and The Bones of the Sea, and Tom Murphy’s analysis of Nothing. For those unfamiliar with Hopkins’ work his experimental abstract narratives blend freeform, impressionistic, visual symbolism with often stream-of-consciousness commentary. It can loosely be defined as graphic poetry, and to quote myself from previous BF articles represents “a strand of sequential art where interaction, immersion and interpretation become the same symbiotic process.”
‘A Hill to Cry Home’ (above) is a sound starting point for capturing the essence of Hopkins’ style. When I wrote about it back in 2019 I described it as “a ghost story; one that has a knowing conversational approach, with its unseen narrator delineating the discrete classifications of spiritual entities before reminding us through one disturbing experience of the very worst kind – the ghosts that are always around us, exuding malevolent resentment, channelling the ever present psychic residue, and projecting it back at us.”
‘The Bones of the Sea’ also got Broken Frontier coverage at the end of 2019. I said of it then that “What is so eerie about The Bones of the Sea is the manner in which Hopkins mirrors the seeming minutiae of his own life (sitting in a car park waiting for his son’s after-school drama club to finish, making packed lunches with his kids, ungraciously putting down his son’s claims of superior knowledge of Marvel comics) with the secondary, almost nihilistic, narrative thread meditating on millennia of fossilised sea life, their lives forgotten and irrelevant and their decaying remains a reminder of the impermanence of existence.”
And just to give a final nod back to previous BF reviews our Tom Murphy said of ‘Nothing’ in 2020 that “Against a series of swirling, dynamic pages, the bulk of the text comprises 66 numbered sections, many as short as a single sentence. Each of them presents a simple action or a thought from a character’s consciousness: the sort of invasive little brainworms that can pop up at any time of the day or night – some mundane, some profound and some heartbreaking. The general tone is one of ennui, regret and isolation, but the book also glistens with nuggets of humour; Phil’s concern about the possible role of MS Word if computers take over the world made me chuckle out loud, while Fatima’s conclusion on ‘promote your art here’ Twitter threads will prompt a knowing nod. Then, for its closing section, the book shifts to a more direct, declarative style, in a series of dazzling double-page spreads that puts Hopkins’ iterative process front and centre.”
Placed together in Explosive Sweet Freezer Razors this procession of Hopkins’ work transcends the realm of the experimental and crosses the border into the visionary. His use of obscure lyrical and stream-of-consciousness text with swirling, indistinct shapes and seemingly randomly flowing imagery becomes hypnotic in its delivery; the reader reinterpreting the source or making new discoveries with each new reading.
In ‘The Hum’ we are given distorted impressions of a family weekend at home in splinters of experience that are somehow concurrently both elusive and tangible. ‘Not this House’ is a short comic where the occasional sightings of the anthropomorphic in the abstract give this story of the relationship between a ghost and the house it haunts an extra unsettling edge. Sometimes there is no need for additional commentary as in the psychogeography of ‘Children of the Valley’ (above) where organic patterns are interacted with on an unspoken, indefinable level as we experience rather than “read” the page, letting its imagery gently wash over and engulf us rather than attempting to analyse or dissect its use of white space and kaleidoscopic visuals.
Two of the strongest entries in the collection are the “autobio” of ‘Thunders’ (above), a tale of a week at home without the family where the mundane experiences of a haircut and attempting a vegan diet are juxtaposed with possible alien abduction, as the linear shifts into repetition, distortion and redundancy. And ‘Moon Puke’ (below), perhaps the most fascinating tale with a hint of the weird darkness of Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children to it in its astral projection account of the lonely Jonathan’s connection to the energy of the car parks that have defined his life.
Explosive Sweet Freezer Razors is a tour-de-force of alternative comics practice from Gareth A Hopkins. Proof positive that we are only beginning to understand the places that comics as a form can take us.
Gareth A Hopkins (W/A) with Erik Blagsvedt • Self-published, £15.00
Review by Andy Oliver