Saturday, 24 March 2007

The Singer, Not the Song

The Singer Not The Song is a very odd western, in which priest John Mills tries to persuade bandit Dirk Bogarde to give up his evil ways and join the Christian communion. Dirk seems to be wavering, but it seems clear that it is a personal attraction to the priest, not a spiritual attraction to the gospel, that tempts him: he wants to embrace little Johnny, not the Church.

Which brings me to Posy Simmonds, only without the tumbleweed and leather-trousered eroticism.

Simmonds is a very skilful comics creator, whose work has been appearing in The Guardian newspaper since 1977. The Guardian is currently serialising her latest book, Tamara Drewe . I was reminded of her by an online poll for favourite woman comics writer, being held by Loren at One Diverse Comic Book Nation , and by a two-page spread on her book Gemma Bovery in Paul Gravett’s Graphic Novels: Stories To Change Your Life .

Gravett rightly praises Simmonds’ craft, noting her skill at using different voices, and her precise observation of social mores. Unfortunately, what she observes is the life of the self-absorbed upper middle classes, agonising over second marriages and second homes. This was fine in her one-page gag strips, but these people become intolerable over long stretches. Worse, Simmonds’ two major sustained narratives are arch retellings of novels I didn’t like in the first place, Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (no doubt a breakthrough in its time in the realistic portayal of individual psychology, but rather tiresome now) and Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy, an author I have never forgiven for blighting my schooldays with enforced reading of his poetry.

So, for me, appreciating Posy Simmonds is very much a case of the singer, not the song, and I have to choose carefully from her (graphic) albums. Here is an extract from my favourite, Literary Life, in which the spirit of Jane Austen considers returning to the world to bask in her current celebrity:

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