Reading RAMZEE’s first long-form book LDN I was struck by how his role with this anthology collection went beyond that of creator (he writes the multiple stories compiled herein and illustrates some of the content) and into the positions of not just curator but almost as producer as well. LDN is a series of tales from all four corners of London (and its bustling centre as well) that seeks to showcase the vibrancy and diversity of the capital city, and the everyday challenges for those who live there. Each entry has a different visual style from a variety of artists, with notable transitions into other narrative forms in places. The stories range from chirpy, fun tales that could stand alone as all-ages offerings to more serious and direct social commentary. What they all have in common, though, is the observational insights they give on post-millennial urban living.
Using a neat framing sequence that takes us to destinations on London’s transport network, LDN begins in the North with ‘Sammy’s Mitzvah’, written by RAMZEE with art by Lizzie Houldsworth. Here we get a dual perspective on events as sequences switch between traditional comics sequential storytelling to prose sections from sibling protagonists Sammy and Flick. The driving force for their misadventures is the news (just before Sammy’s Mitzvah) that their grandmother will not be buried next to their grandfather, having never officially converted to Judaism. This good-natured story is complemented by quirkily appealing cartooning from Houldsworth and sparky interplay between the two leads that truly captures their child’s eye view of the world.
The second story ‘Traps’ (opening with visual representations of classical Greek storytelling devices including the ever present Chorus, and later making nods to other dramatic inspirations) takes us to the West and the story of Nathan and Jess whose budding romance we know to be doomed from the outset. Indeed the many sidesteps and cutaway sequences here work extremely well in fleshing out the characters and some of the themes explored in a way that avoids the strictly linear, especially when they take on alternative structural forms. It’s a twisting tale that mixes the endearing and the brutal with atmospheric colouring from the ever reliable Sajan Rai. RAMZEE illustrates his own story here with expressive and stylised visual characterisation. While some of the other work in LDN is thoughtfully curated in matching artist to story there’s always an added sense of authenticity in terms of creative vision to a (mostly in this case) single creator offering.
The strongest story in LDN is undoubtedly our visit to East London in ‘Generation Skint’ where we meet recent graduate Ellie and the various flatmates who move through her life over the course of the months after leaving university. It’s a character piece that explores the reality of the London job landscape, that strange limbo period post-graduation, the peculiar social customs of a metropolis, and the harsh truths of the property market in London. What works so well here is the scrapbook approach to page structure – ostentatious lettering effects, photo montage, diagrammatic pages and lists combining to reflect the chaotic lives of the characters’ lives.
The two final stories are ‘Happy Together’ (below left) illustrated by Ilke Misirlioglu and ‘Mockingbird’ by Weili Wonka (below right). Misirlioglu’s art in the first is beautifully fragile, fitting the themes of prejudice, heartbreak and expectation in this short offering about relationships and identity. Similarly Wonka’s lively, energetic visuals in ‘Mockingbird’ are most appropriate for a tale that focuses on reclaiming your youth and the London social scene. LDN is rounded out by an intermission story satirising Boris Johnson, with art by Bridget Meyne; the kind of biting commentary that gets more relevant on a daily basis.
While there are the odd points where the social commentary means dialogue slips into exposition this is a collection that works both as a series of diverse viewpoints and perspectives on modern London, and as a showcase of the possibilities of alternating approaches to the comics page. Wrapped up in an eye-catching Abs Bailey cover it’s a recommended trip through the sprawling realities of London life.
RAMZEE (W), RAMZEE, Lizzie Houldsworth, Bridget Meyne, Ilke Misirlioglu, Weili Wonka (A), Sajan Rai, Dashiell Silva (C), Abs Bailey (CA) • Good Comics, £16.00
Review by Andy Oliver