Review by Ben Kooyman
Awkwood is the graphic novel debut of creator Jase Harper, a veteran artist with ten years of experience in animation and illustrating. The book centres on Liam, a shy twenty-something musician with a crippling fear of performing who numbs his anxiety with drugs and liquor. When he goes for treatment with Dr Anthony Bingham at his island clinic, he ends up unleashing his “inner bad” in towering physical form and must stop it from endangering himself and others.
Harper’s book is a thoughtful and engaging blend of grunge slacker fable with 1950s-style B-grade monster movie shenanigans. Its dramatisation of fear and self-destruction, and its personification via Liam’s monstrous inner bad of the stranglehold that anxiety and self-doubt exert on a person’s creativity, life, and wellbeing, will resonate with a wide readership. Lest I give the impression that Awkwood is a downer, let me also assure you that the book is a lot of fun: the inner bad is both grotesque and adorable, and there are plenty of witty incidents and inventive storytelling touches. Imagine The Babadook directed by Edgar Wright, or Charles Burns’ Black Hole crossed with Archie, and you’ll get the gist. Harper’s art throughout is perky, clean, and often striking, with rich, inky blacks.
If there is any gripe to be had with Awkwood, it’s that the book is at times guilty of over-explaining and spelling things out. At a number of junctures the book’s rich subtext becomes obvious text and exposition, particularly in the second and third chapters, where characters verbalise the story’s themes rather than letting them work their magic in the background. The material would be just as strong, if not stronger, if Harper had refrained a bit from this impulse to spell things out and let the central allegory and anthropomorphism speak for itself. Ultimately, I think most readers would be able and happy to connect those dots.
Regardless of this minor qualm, this is a strong and impressive graphic novel debut. It’s witty and thoughtful and thematically resonant, and marks Harper as a talent worth watching.
Awkwood is available from Milkshadow Books:http://www.milkshadowbooks.com/products/awkwood/