I have been a huge fan of the graphic novel since buying Offspringette a copy of Art Spiegelman's Maus many years ago and sneaking a quick preview of it myself. I'd got it all wrong and quite thought the 'graphic' meant something else entirely. My own copy of Maus wasn't far behind and I quickly fell in love with the melding of my 1950s and 60s childhood love of the comic with the more serious adult story. Sometimes fun, sometimes a way of recounting life's less palatable and difficult events.
Scanning the graphic novel shelf I see more books which do just that, Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, Cancer Vixen by Marisa Acocella Marchetto to mention but two.
Posy Simmonds was always going to do something brilliant and different and I must be the only person on the planet who didn't really clock the long-running 110 episodes in The Guardian of Tamara Drewe. But that's all to the good because, having read this interview with Posy Simmonds and realising I had to read the book, I sensed that this might be an even better experience for not having followed the column, a chance to approach it fresh and uninformed.
Not only that but I walked in on an event at Port Eliot this summer where the recent film version of the book was being discussed, and with someone who seemed very important in front of a huge and very appreciative audience, but I didn't have a programme nor a clue who he was.
I took a picture anyway because he was sure to be famous.
Truth will out, I'm embarrassed to admit that I really wanted to get a good seat for the Fisherman's Friends who were on next so I sat and listened. This by the way for the uninitiated is how Port Eliot works, you have a ticket for the whole day or weekend and pitch in and out of whatever you want for as long as you want, which is how I came to hear distinguished and much-revered film director Stephen Frears talking about his latest film Tamara Drewe.
So Tamara Drewe, the book, opens with a circled advert in a newspaper...
and one of Stonefield's owners, the nicely plump and matronly Beth, married to the suave, sveldt, full-of-himself but ageing celebrated novelist Nicholas Hardiman (yes, I did want to poke his eyes out) is collecting one of her residents from the station. Glen, an also-ran lecturer and thus far a failed novelist, books in for long stays to hunker down, be waited on hand and foot and get his masterpiece written, a sort of literary lookalike for Jim Royle of Royle Family fame if I dare be so bold, and with a similar penchant for trips to the toilet.
Beth the doormat, Nick the philanderer and I mustn't forget handsome,sensitive gardener Andy, and enter the ravishingly beautiful columnist Tamara Drewe wearing the shortest pair of shorts revealing the legs up to her armpits.
Here's Beth's take on it all in discussion with her daughter Lulu who is writing a dissertation on the Taliban..
'I found those shorts really irritating! So obvious!'
'What's irritating Mum?'
Dressing like a sex object...sucking up to male fantasies.'
'But you wore Hot Pants.'
'No I never did Lulu! I never went around with half my buttocks hanging out like that... I mean why do it?
'To annoy people like you...'
' Anyway, wearing tights things in this weather...she'll get thrush...'
Tamara not a local... from a family of incomers as we'd say in these parts, beautiful since the nose job, 'bit of a hooter' on her before that and now living in this rural community having moved into her recently deceased mother's house.
I have to add in the local youth which Posy Simmons has captured to their very essence, Casey and Jody who sit in the old bus shelter welded to their mobiles and bemoaning life in this 'boring bumhole of a village', where everything that goes well is 'omigod', and excitement is an upgrade on the mobile or the thought of 'doing it' with a rock star.
It is by turns hilarious, sad, and deeply perceptive of twenty-first century life and of course magnificently depicted as Tamara wreaks havoc amongst the local men making some Hardy-esque tragedy inevitable.
The unique quality of Posy Simmons illustration needs no illumination from me, they are recognisably hers and the colours are everything as they subtly steer the book through its many different moods and seasons, the gentle greens of summer give way to the mellowness of autumn and the icy hues of winter. Simultaneously the plot thickens and darkens, the character's facial expressions and postures shift, tiny elements of difference that didn't go unnoticed as I read because something three-dimensional happens to my reading brain as I read a graphic novel.
I was constantly looking for those elements of Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd, and they are all there for those who are familiar with the novel making the book something of a triumph here, Penny Perrick writing in the Sunday Times suggests,
'Posy Simmons is a true child of Hogarth, her accomplished cartoons a merciless commentary on the way we live now.'
Alphabetically Simmons sits right next to Spiegelman on my nicely ordered graphic novel shelf, which feels quite right too and now scroll down for gifts.
In the absence of our prize draw chum I just thought we'd better get right back on the prize-draw horse as quickly as we could or I'd never do another one....