Book One: Secrets (2006)
by Lee ThackerDAVE SIM:
(from the introduction to One For Sorrow Book One, December 2005)
I couldn't quite believe it when Lee Thacker referred (quite casually and in various spots) to his 800-page graphic novel in another publication of his which he sent me (My Year, a daily diary he was keeping in comics form): his completed 800-page graphic novel One For Sorrow. In commenting on the initial work, I -- in an equally casual fashion -- mentioned that I was interested in reading it and wondered if he was willing to trade for a copy. He has to produce them on a photocopier individually so it seemed a little presumptuous to just ask him to assemble one for me gratis. They arrived -- eight hand-bound volumes of 100 pages each -- a couple of days into Ramadan. I read the first handful of pages and realized it was distinctly not Ramadan reading material and put it aside. And then I never got around to picking up the first one again until Ramadan had been over for a number of weeks. On the one hand unforgivable but on the other hand, hey, it is an 800-page graphic novel.
I motored through it in about a week of reading in between getting my regular work done. It wasn't oppressive in the sense of being completely amateurish. Reading 800 pages of amateur material would really be pushing the limits of endurance. Lee's artwork exists on an interesting borderline between amateur and professional. Mostly he reminds me of early Jaime Hernandez and Adrian Tomine both in terms of his subject matter and in terms of his drawing style which is a very difficult style to master. You do the face in a mere handful of lines and how it comes out depends on any number of variables. Overall there's improvement but it is fitful. A handful of pages that compete with the best that Jaime and Adrian bring to their work and then flattening out (intentionally?) into something more iconic that owes more to Charles Burns. It makes full use of icons, One For Sorrow does.
The story is its greatest strength. To whatever extent it isn't locked into a pure "eye candy" motif the story is going to have to be strong enough to carry the reader through and One For Sorrow certainly is. With most early attempts at a graphic novel, you're going to get a lot of traditional story and storytelling devices with a few good moments here and there. The situation with my own reading of One For Sorrow was the reverse. The whole thing is incredibly inventive and engaging with a mere handful of sequences that I would characterize as traditional. That's no mean trick the first time out of the gate. The story is told out of sequence (the Prologue comes almost at the end -- you can't get much further out of order -- or more inventive -- than that) and there any number of moments where I would think "Nope, he's lost the thread" and have to remind myself that this is an unpublished creator, I have to lower my expectations, etc. And virtually every time -- not all the time -- but virtually every time it would turn out that he was being intentionally confusing -- losing the reader in a general sense rather than me specifically -- and then the events would start falling into place again. I get it, I get it. And the Need To Know What Happens Next was pretty much relentless from the first twenty pages onward. It was only when I was done reading the book that I read his annotations and found out that in his youth, he had gone from reading the Fantastic Four to reading Cerebus to reading Love & Rockets to reading Howard Chaykin's Big Black Kiss in a very short space of time. That explains a great deal when you are discussing a germinating graphic novelist and what that would lead him to attempt.
What would be a good litmus test of whether or not you would want to buy your own copy of One For Sorrow? I'd say buy the first one and if you can stand not knowing what happens next when you come to the end of the first 100 pages, then I've missed my guess and you'll only be out the 8 quid (roughly 16 dollars American). There were a number of times in the course of my reading when I had to reassure myself "It's all here -- beginning, middle and end." Had he sent me only, say, the first five volumes as a work in progress I would've been sweating bullets partway through the fifth one. I say this by way of warning because if your reaction is the same as mine or roughly the same as mine and you order, say, the first two and come to the end you're probably going to try and phone Lee and get him to act the rest out over the phone or get him to FedEx the other six volumes to you and imagine how much that's going to cost?
When he writes in his notes for Book Three "The Big Issue": `Matt Silvie at Fantagraphics corresponded with me for some time and eventually wrote a very flattering review in The Comics Journal [issue 205] This caught the attention of a handful of people, including British Small Press legend Paul Gravett. He phoned me out of the blue one day asking if I'd be interested in contributing to `CRISP' a now defunct annual `comics happening' in London. I sent him some pages for the exhibition and Kirstie and I got soaked running through London one weekend trying to find the gallery. It was small, nobody was there, and my stuff was displayed downstairs with no explanation of who I was or what the story was about. The pages had been spray mounted onto thick card and hung on the wall. They weren't even in glass frames! I was gutted. But it was a thrill all the same. That was my only moment of fame during the entire time it took to complete this project. No wonder I became reticent to carry on in later years'.
There is really something in that. If it's extremely unlikely that someone would finish an 800-page graphic novel in the first place it seems (at least!) doubly unlikely once the lack of reaction is factored in. Kirstie, his long-time girlfriend, was virtually his only reader throughout.
So, anyway, fair warning. If you want the whole thing it will cost you roughly $128 US and I'm pretty sure that if you read the first one you'll pay it, uncomplainingly. I could have been a real "smarty- boots" and just suggested that you all buy the first one KNOWING that the $16 initiation would lead directly to the $128 investment but I'm being as up-front as I can. And look at it this way -- each copy will be put together by hand and autographed by Lee himself. And what do you suppose those will be going for in twenty years time when One For Sorrow finally gets the wider distribution it deserves?