The medium of comics, as any aficionado is aware, constantly plays with our perceptions of time. It asks us to make inferences about time’s passage between pages and scenes, to fill in the gaps between panels, and manipulates our own relationship with the page, inviting us to speed up our interactions in charged sequences or dwell on more meditative images in quieter ones. Here at Broken Frontier we’re always interested in work that recognises those special qualities of the form and look to exploit their narrative potential. Alex Newton’s Single Point of Failure is one such self-published offering; a 60-plus page story set in an alternative timeline with a teasing storytelling structure.
Single Point of Failure is also one of those difficult comics to discuss because its very premise is rooted in the audience’s experience of discovering and interpreting each scene on a first hand basis. Ostensibly it follows the journey of one single letter from source to destination but that’s an inadequate synopsis of the turns that Newton’s unconventionally structured tale takes. Each chapter takes place at a chronological point before its predecessor meaning we join the story in its concluding moments with the delivery of the missive. What adds to the intrigue is the way in which in hindsight (or perhaps foresight depending on your perspective!) new light is cast on particular story elements in each section as we travel back in time and slowly piece together these displaced events.
Newton also asks us to find our own truths in the thematic layers of Single Point of Failure. This is a humanity whose technological progress has taken a very different path to our own and yet ironically it’s a world that feels so recognisable precisely because of those differences. Some will no doubt react to it on an allegorical level. But there’s also an interesting and subtle commentary on faith and the evolution of religious belief that can be gleaned from its pages, alongside a parallel exploration of where our reliance on technology can lead us. Ultimately, though, it’s the centuries-spanning reverse narrative delivery that ensures Single Point of Failure stands out as such a fascinating experiment in non-linear story craft.
Given the opportunities it provides it always surprises me how relatively rare the landscape format is in comics. Newton makes effective use of those dimensions to give a sense of scale, different eras in time, and the epic journey the characters take. Single Point of Failure toys with how we react to the page to considered effect and speaks to the reader as much about their own processes of comics comprehension, analysis and evaluation as it does about the themes of the story. By forcing us to use very different interpretive skills in our relationship with the page Alex Newton underlines again just how complex the mechanics and language of comics are.
Review by Andy Oliver