A Man of Certain Talents by Douglas Noble

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A Man of Certain Talents
By Douglas Noble
Strip for Me

There’s a real pleasure in finding something you enjoy, only to discover that it’s got a sizable back catalogue attached. I had such an experience recently with Rufus Wainwright, hearing his latest album on the jukebox, loving it, and then finding all is previous albums on sale in town. And I’ve just done the same with Douglas Noble. Hats off to you Mr. Noble; when people accusingly challenge me that all comics are for intellectual retards and bed wetters, all failed relationships and whimsy, I can add this to my arsenal of come backs; “yeah but have you seen this?”

The art first; in less competent, considered hands, this style of art, with its massive nods to film noir would be riddled with cliché, but Noble keeps it sparse, only showing us what we need to see. I thought he’d done a good image of a coastal landscape, only to realise on a second reading it was a close up of a key. My only gripe with the book is the text. “Ruined” might be too strong a word, but the typed text doesn’t sit right with me, it jars against the art. The narrative reads like a journal of a man piecing together remnants of a broken memory and handwritten text would have suited this better. But that’s it, just the one fault in a book I’ve been repeatedly returning to.

It’s not the quality or style of his drawing that’s made me re-read it four or five times this weekend, more the decisions he’s made about what to show us and what to leave out. It reads like a synopsis for an interesting film. When you read things like, “you are a man with no past, with no family. I require you to act as my agent.” And, “anything I wanted could be mine, I was assured. Women, alcohol, whatever. I only wanted sleep”, my innate skepticism kept expecting some blood here, a corpse there. Maybe a rape or two thrown in for good measure, again because of the art but also the voice he gives his narrator. But it treads nowhere near that very beaten track.

Our faceless protagonist is given a list of seemingly meaningless tasks, which take him across Europe, “a good turn, a locked door, a solitary child.” He carries these out, a tad reluctantly but he has nothing else to do. He finds a child on a beach who’s scream “…must have beam heard around the world. Turning heads and breaking glass. Birds startled into unexpected flight by the sound. Dreams interrupted…new tides lapped against unfamiliar coasts”. Having finished his tasks he passes out in a churchyard where he wakes up, two years having past. This time he’s in New York, searching for answers from his employer. A tip off takes him to Scotland where he finds a skull by a lake and a castle.

It all plays along at a restrained, understated pace which shows Noble to be a creator with a talent for narrative. He’s not in a rush to get anywhere by the end of the 20 black and white pages. He credits the reader with some intelligence and gives them space and time to come to their own conclusions. Did I know what was going on all the time? Not really. At about the third reading things fell into place however and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I’m leaving it out on the side table for when my playwrite friend comes round in a bit. He’s not as narrow minded about comics as some, and I know he’ll this book.

–Oliver East

4 Comments to “A Man of Certain Talents by Douglas Noble”

  1. Gary | April 24th, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    This was a truly special find, it definitely rewards a revist. I was reminded in some ways of La Jetee, the film by Chris Marker.

  2. Bill | April 24th, 2008 at 5:04 pm

    Anything that gets a nod towards Chris Marker is almost guaranteed to not only be good, but almost essential. I will hunt for it now.

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