Psychogeographical comics are perhaps more widely acknowledged for their autobiographical explorations of the intersections between place, time and memory. But there are other strands to this area of graphic narrative, not least of which is a kind of psychogeographical horror; an acknowledgment that while our intimate links to our environments may elicit feelings of deep familiarity and connection we may conversely also feel a sense of alienation and oppression from their stark and foreboding reality.
David Allison’s Not Because of the People, a collection of his LGH Comics, fits very much into this second category. Indeed I was reminded immediately of some of the more oblique work of Douglas Noble when delving into its pages (an interesting point given that my further investigations of the project led to a similar observation from noted UK comics writer Kieron Gillen). Combining illustration and photography, Not Because of the People compiles four interlocking comics that Allison neatly describes as “haunted stories for haunted times, stories full of images that seem abstract until they step out beside you at the bus stop and ask you the time.”
Set on a 1950s housing estate called Looking Glass Heights, Not Because of the People takes us on a tour of this eerie environment and introduces us to some of its few residents. To describe this comic as brooding would be a colossally inadequate understatement. Allison evokes a sense of the impersonal and the imposing throughout with tales told often from individual perspectives but with rarely anything but stark, bleak architecture shown. We’re told the flats have resisted all efforts to demolish them, stairways can lead nowhere, and that the apartments move location at night, as if they are a malevolent entity in their own right. Whether that is metaphor for their twisting, labyrinthine confines or hints of something supernatural is left to the reader’s own imagination and interpretation.
And that’s a recurring motif in Not Because of the People. In the detached tales of Looking Glass Heights and its residents, atmosphere is more important than explanation, claustrophobia trumps clarity, and the emphasis is on the experience of events rather than their elucidation. Themes of isolation, abandonment and inevitability feel rife, and the book lurches back and forth from sequential art to graphic poetry, with Allison always hinting at the unseen stories that surround the depicted ones; familiar truths springing forward in unlikely fashion from abstract underpinnings.
Not Because of the People is one of those occasional comics that remind even those of us who consider ourselves reasonably well versed with the potential of the form that we have barely begun to fully appreciate all the things that comics can be. A recommended acquisition for readers who like something a little more challenging to their comics consumption.
David Allison (W/A) • Self-published, £8.50
Review by Andy Oliver