Sunday, 22 February 2009

[147] Damnation, by David Wynne

Since I started going to Peckham Library when I moved to London a few months back, one book has stared out at me from the new comics rack. A small, unassuming graphic novel in an A6 pocket book size called Damnation, by David Wynne. For some reason I can't put my finger on right now, I never gave it a proper glance, even though its black, white and blood red cover tones, complete with a sketchy image of St Paul's Cathedral and an ornate ceremonial sword did impress itself of my mind.

The other day, I picked it up and flicked through. The comic takes place in a dystopic, mildly science fictional near-future, where the water levels have risen and civil order is imposed by private security firms and extreme religious organisations. Perceval Blake is a cynical misanthrope who, after following up a murder case, gets caught up in a conspiracy involving religious fanaticism and cloned armies of End Times-grade psychopaths.

It is a short, independent work, but its rough-around-the-edges imperfection gives Damnation a kind of freewheeling genius. The setting, a submerged London and slickly sarcastic and socially minded tone smacks of Warren Ellis, with the former recalling Freakangels. Blake, the film noir PI by way of Withnail & I and Phillip K. Dick, who lives in an out-of-action riverboat perched on the roof of Peckham Library (wow!), is like a mixture of Spider Jerusalem and John Constantine. However, these more than obvious influences are swept aside by Wynne's ballsy approach to the execution.

One major hook of the comic is mind reading; throughout the story, Blake takes a drug that gives him the power to see the thoughts of those around him. Wynne uses art spectacularly well to present these literally mind-bending sequences, as shards of brainwork pierce through the frames, interrupting the objective narrative flow with POV images - or as memories drip from the backgrounds and scenery around characters.

This is all contained in a consistent and effective black-and-white art style which maintains Wynne's sci-fi/pulp atmosphere well. At times the comic may get a little too 'talky', with frames dwarfed by speech bubbles, which don't sit well with the small format, but the book's cautionary themes of privatisation and freedom are communicated with a real vigour. This is obviously a labour of love; and, as with a lot of web-based, spare-time ventures, the fact that it is published and in book form is a triumph. The 115-ish page story is supplemented by an insightful little essay about Damnation's genesis and Wynne's growth as a writer and storyteller - it is humble and informative, two things I've grown to not expect in prefaces for graphic novels and trade paperbacks published by the big companies.

I picked Damnation off the library shelf, and walked towards the counter. As I handed it over, I noticed it didn't have a bar code inside, or indeed any of the usual stamps and inscriptions found in library books. The man at the desk was puzzled, and, after searching on the database, found the book wasn't even in the library catalogue. He mocked up an entry on the spot, as I smiled inwardly. Guerrilla promotion, perhaps?

For more information, check out David Wynne's WebComicsNation page here (where you can read Damnation in full, and order the book), or alternatively his personal page here.


David Wynne said...

Thank you SO much for reviewing my little book, and so kindly.

The story of how it ended up in Peckham library is a little complicated and will have to wait for another time.

One quick point- while Ellis is obviously an influence, the similarity with Freakangels is an unfortunate coincidence. It really freaked me out at the time, actually- the two strips started online within weeks of each other (although I'd been drawing Damnation for months before, of course) and I became acutely aware of the similarities pretty quickly. No-one's outright accused me of ripping Freakangels off (yet!) but I remain paranoid about it. Bloody synchronicity.

Anyway, thanks again for helping to spread the word! You may be interested to know that I'm actually going to be starting a regular webcomic next week, featuring Blake as the lead character... so maybe sometimes synchronicity isn't so bad!

Mike Leader said...

Hi David,

It was my pleasure to write a review, I enjoyed the book!

I'm glad no one has accused you of 'ripping off' Freakangels. It was obvious that it was more coincidence than anything.

I'd definitely like to hear the story about Peckham library if the opportunity ever arises. Looking forward to the new webcomic, too!