Exploring our relationship with the natural world is a regular staple of Gill Hatcher’s comics and zine work. Hatcher, of course, is the founder of the acclaimed Scottish creative collective Team Girl Comic whose eponymous anthology has published eleven issues to date. Her debut graphic novel The Beginner’s Guide to Being Outside – following a city-dwelling 14-year-old gradually discovering the wonder of the Scottish Highlands – was published by Avery Hill in 2014 and was deservedly nominated for both a Scottish Independent Comic Book Alliance Award and a British Comic Award a couple of years back. It was also one of my annual ‘Ten UK Small Press Comics You Need to Own!‘ for 2014.
The Seagull Appreciation Society is another entry in her burgeoning back catalogue of work with a wildlife link and was also nominated for a SICBA last year. Pitched at a younger audience, and printed in a true minicomic format in terms of physical presentation, it seeks to communicate the realities of the effects of climate change on seabirds in an accessible and easily understandable package.
Our host on this mini-adventure is Basil the Budgie, a talking avian chum clearly designed to appeal to the comic’s target demographic. His involvement begins shortly after his owner expresses her opinion that the swooping, defecating, food-stealing seagull population needs reducing. As Basil sagely points out, however, human-made environmental problems are already doing just that.
Taking her on a tour of the seashore community Basil underlines just how astonishing these creatures are and shows her the fascinating ways in which nature has adapted birds like guillemots, kittiwakes and puffins to their environments. He also reveals the consequences of climate change on their dwindling food stocks and the repercussions that has had for all seabird populations.
The 16 pages of The Seagull Appreciation Society are a concise but informative introduction for the book’s core readership into an involved topic that has the potential to confuse a younger reader. To facilitate their understanding of the points being examined Hatcher carefully uses the visual language of comics to break those issues down into understandable and easily digestible parts; a relatively complex idea is communicated with admirable and forthright clarity.
For such a small object in terms of physicality, each page of the comic is crammed full of details and snippets of info that draw the reader in and invite them to pore over every bustling image. Check out the flowing sense of slapstick motion to some of the early sequences of seagull mischief below for an example of Hatcher’s confident and flowing pacing.
This is a cleverly structured book with Hatcher initially setting up the seagulls as irksome pests before going on to remind us that their nuisance value in our lives is absolutely inconsequential in comparison to humankind’s devastating impact on them as a species. It provides an effective mirroring of scenarios, underscoring our arrogance in the way that we perceive our position in the natural world.
The Seagull Appreciation Society speaks to its audience on their own terms but without ever patronising them, and it does so with a ready and engaging use of humour that ensures proceedings never degenerate into a procession of dry facts and exposition. Gill Hatcher has created a comic with a vital and important message here that will instantly capture the imaginations of those it is targeted towards.
Gill Hatcher is also a contributor to the Broken Frontier Small Press Yearbook available for pre-order here priced £6.00 plus postage. The Yearbook launches at London’s Gosh! Comics on April 29th. Full details here.
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