Love on the Isle of Dogs
Created by Jude Cowan Montague.
Published by Friends of Alice Publishing.
197 pages - Black and White Comics and Prose.
LOVE ON THE ISLE OF DOGS is a true story about my marriage to a man who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. It's a poetic tale told in pictures.
I have settled down to read this over coffee at an outside cafe in a square in London. I was kindly sent a preview copy of this new graphic memoir by Jude herself who contacted me by Twitter. I’ll say from the outset that I found the reading experience both frustrating and involving. I will attempt to explain why.
Let’s start with the cover. It is a simple scratchy and seemingly instinctual image of Jude herself. This time in colour, as the interior art is black and white, and shows the bright yellow of her hair, the blue of her dress and the visual shortcut of a baby in her arms. Jude stands on a dark and murky background and I anticipate something emotional and insightful on the inside. The title is bold and eye-catching and overall I enjoyed the simplicity and iconography in it’s and the cover’s overall design.
There is no doubt at all as I read onwards that this is a heartfelt account of Jude’s life, her husband, a child and a home. For those without the important geographical grasp this is a tale that is situated in The Isle of Dogs in central East London. An area I worked in the late nineties and a place embattled by the encroachment of big industry, the usual fat cat banking bastards and ridiculously expensive rentals. It is an area that has changed much since the seventies and can be seen as a mirror for what has and is happening elsewhere in too expensive to live in London without a millionaires bank account.
The initial part of the memoir is in comic form. Or for the Hampstead hipsters what is often described as a graphic sequential form - if you prefer? And so we find the area that I found frustrating. The art seems to mimic the drawings of children the type that parents pin to the front of the fridge. I’m not being cruel here as you can see above. What they have in good intentions is completely wiped away by the rushed and badly drawn figures and scenery. Initially at my first glance i presupposed that these images were part of a flashback to junior school or the drawings made by a child. They are not a momentary visual shortcut but rather fill the comic section. If I wasn’t reading this for a review I would have put the book aside.
This book is of course a memoir a book that is personal and so should obviously be a reflection of the creator. But Jude’s art does not communicate the story and is far too abstract and without the required personality. In basic terms it looks rushed and without skill. It’s also worth noting from a graphic design POV that the pages look like they have just been copied onto the bright white paper stock without any attempt to blend or visually join the bright framing with the dirty uncorrected scan. Of course this may be intentional and art is always subjective but for this reviewer whose review you are reading it is far from successful.
I’ve watched a couple of online videos of Jude talking about and showing her process. She makes use of a large page and a brush dipped into ink. The smudges of ink to me would be a good starting point. The child/baby imagery as below for example. But these pages need more. They need a depth that I’m not seeing. A comic page is not something so slight. It needs more.
As I say, this is purely my opinion and the eyes of others may see something else. Sure it can be seen as experimental. Comics are of course allowed to experiment and I always welcome that as a reading experience. But I am at a loss to discern what this particular book achieves. Have we had enough of this underdone style? Does it do a disservice to the more accomplished line-work that this book may sit next to on a book sellers shelf?
I wonder if this and I are part of an elaborate artistic prank. Am I part of this mischievous act.
The last quarter of this book is autobiographical prose which I read that with much more interest. I didn’t feel the frustration I had felt earlier. This seemed to communicate with me more successfully. It held me with its moments of reality.
‘When I found a star, it fell into my hand. But it burnt me, so I let it go.’
I felt that this was more of a direct pipeline into the mind of the creator. This was the aforementioned insight I was in search for. I’ve watched Jude’s online poetry readings and found that they have much of what I am seeing in the prose. A frankness of the realities of urban living and the rollercoasters of relationships but mixed with the romantic and fantastical. You feel the often very painful life in each paragraph. Jude shapes this prose with quick and exceptionally well crafted paragraphs. Each opening angles to see lives from a different place.
‘The evenings grew dark and he grew more worried. He’d sit in the darkness. I’d surprise him when I turned on the light.’
Jude also makes some brilliant use of dialogue. It occurs to me that this could have formed the basis for a more traditional and coherent comics script. Maybe with someone more able to carry off the sequentials.
‘Who are you?
WHO ARE YOU!’
So what did I walk away with? I certainly have an impression of Jude and emotionally I connected with her life. But in total honesty this was due to the prose a lot more than the comic. There is something here. Something that’s should have, in my opinion, been developed artistically differently. Comics have their own special language and I didn’t feel the movement or the people. It needed more thought put into the passage of time and sense of place than I was getting. The prose was dynamic and practical yet also showed an eye to the magical and the life of the interior. I could have read that all day.
We should as always value all art. Part of this wasn’t for me but for you that may be an altogether different bucket of apples and pears.
You can find more about Jude by visiting her website here https://www.judecowanmontague.com/love-on-the-isle-of-dogs
Many thanks for reading.