Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Nao of Brown

by Glyn Dillon

I really don't understand how Glyn Dillon's 2012 graphic novel, The Nao of Brown, didn't receive a lot more attention and acclaim than it did, and how it's not getting recognized as one the best graphic novels of this decade.

Nao Brown is a young mixed race British woman whose father, an alcoholic, lives in Japan.  When the book opens, she has just returned to London from visiting him, and is feeling a little bit lost.  She has no boyfriend or job, and aside from a great cache of anime and manga-themed toys and memorabilia, has come back from her trip with little to show for herself.

Dillon slowly lets us get to know Nao, her interest in Buddhism, and the depth of her love for Japanese culture.  After running into an old friend, she gets hired at his toy shop, which specializes in all the things Nao loves.  While things are looking up for her, the reader begins to piece together that Nao is not just a little bit eccentric; she's actually somewhat disturbed.  It seems that whenever she interacts with people, she can't stop herself from imagining killing them in increasingly spectacular and unique ways.  She has a mantra she chants when the images become too much for her, but aside from her flatmate, a nurse, she keeps this stuff to herself.

As the book continues, Nao meets (and manipulates into meeting again) a washing machine repairman who reminds her of a character in her favourite anime.  They begin to date, just as Nao also gets closer to her friend and boss, Steve.

The book really examines the effects of Nao's mental illness on her relationships, in a thoughtful and respectful way.  Dillon does a terrific job of showing how different people react to her, as they begin to realize that she is dealing with something they didn't know about.  It's especially interesting to see Nao try to hide a big part of herself from her boyfriend.

The story is interrupted by the story of Pictor, a character in one of Nao's favourite Japanese series.  Pictor is a young man who is part human and part tree, and who lives in a forest playing a music box and herding sheep.  He frequently helps military commanders out of the forest in exchange for their youngest daughter's hand in marriage.  His pages are beautifully rendered in large panels.

Actually, the entire book is beautiful.  Dillon's art is terrific, full of rich reds and evocative facial expressions.  The book is very nicely designed, with high quality paper.  I really enjoyed reading this book.

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