One of the things I learnt a long time ago about Douglas Noble collaborations is that the reader should never make assumptions about the particular creative alchemy going on behind the scenes. Some of his creative partnerships with long-time co-creator Sean Azzopardi, for example, have been based on a process of interpretive narrative construction that, once revealed, is fascinating in its unlikely methodology. I Remain a Stranger, the sixteenth issue of his imprint Strip for Me’s A Pocket Chiller series of one-shot horror comics, is brought to us by Robert Wells (Back, Sack & Crack (& Brain), Malty Heave). Though the exact dynamics of their creative partnership here remain teasingly elusive, those familiar with the two creators will no doubt enjoy seeing traits of both their disparate styles coming together.
A Pocket Chiller looks to bring “new nightmares and strange visions from a world next to yours” to comics and as is evident from the issues we have reviewed so far at Broken Frontier its combination of rotating indie creators and experimental approaches to the page have produced some strikingly strange results to date. So much so that the series was nominated in the Broken Frontier Awards last year in the Best Periodical Series category.
I Remain a Stranger follows the story of Alanna Ryman, a character whose mysterious presence is emphasised by the tantalisingly contradictory way that Wells and Noble ensure that she is both centre of audience attention in every panel and yet also an effectively unseen protagonist. Alanna’s days revolve around pottering in her garden, nighttime walks and perusing the local news. But among her pedestrian and mundane routine there are constant hints that relate to something far darker. Why does she check the local newspaper for reports of her activities? What was the local tragedy of years ago and does it relate to an upcoming anniversary? What is growing in the dark? And why is Alanna messaging old schoolmates?
This collaboration between Wells and Noble, like many of the latter’s comics, is not shy about asking the reader to piece together its reveals and adopts an obliqueness in terms of narrative clarity that makes its mystery all the more enticing as a result. Alanna’s representation on the page further adds to this with its delineation of self both as an abstract and a focal point. But it’s one gradual formal technique that makes I Remain a Stranger such a clever use of the medium as page frames and panels slowly begin to converge and intermingle. To say more would be to give away too much but it’s an inspired piece of almost meta visual storytelling that elevates this issue far beyond just the creepy and unsettling.
Douglas Noble & Robert Wells • Strip for Me, £2.39
Review by Andy Oliver