The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon

I’ve developed a fairly decent sense of restraint in my old age. Despite my ardent love of comics I will wait until a series is collected in trade paperback, or until I can find it at the library, or obtain it from my galley service. It’s not often that I glance through a book and immediately buy it because I must own it; but this is one of those books.

I had heard good things about it, of course, which is why I picked it up from the shelf in the first place. I knew that it had something to do with Buddhism, and that it had won lots of awards last year; but I hadn’t really properly seen it. And so last night, when I should have been working on my own comics, I devoured this one instead, and am better for it.

The Nao of Brown is the story of a young woman called Nao Brown; she is half-Japanese, half-British, and lives in London with a friend who is a nurse. Nao is a graphic designer in a bit of a downswing, recently dumped by her boyfriend and sacked from the job he had gotten her. She runs into an old friend from school who offers her a job in a geeky toy store that specializes in the kind of Japanese, anime-themed merchandise that Nao loves and knows about.

Nao has a Buddhist meditation practice and other strategies to help her combat her obsessive-compulsive disorder, which causes her to imagine violent things happening to others, especially those who are smaller than her (eg., children). Perhaps that is why she falls in love with Gregory, a burly appliance repairman who knows about Buddhism and Latin; but Gregory has issues of his own.

The Nao of Brown is not a perfect book, but it is so well-realized, from script to art to design. Like Blankets, Essex County, or Fun Home, it is an accomplished auteur piece that I would readily recommend to new readers or veterans alike.

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Comics by Sam Alden

Sam Alden is the real deal. I first noticed his work sometime last year, when a link to his comic Eighth Grade made the rounds. Unfortunately I don’t keep up with Tumblr as much as I should, so it was only recently that I caught up on the wealth of material he has online, including standouts like The Farmer’s Dilemma, which made its print debut at this year’s Angouleme festival.

Alden has a good command of brush and ink illustration and a fine colour sense, but what strikes me about his work is how he combines these traditional tools with the fluidity of an infinite canvas. He seems to be fascinated with the forms of the natural world and man’s (or at least his own) relationship with them. I admire his technical skill as well as his willingness to explore his emotions.

For a guy in his early 20s, Alden has built an impressive body of work with the aesthetic and approach of a fine artist who happens to make comics. I hope we get to keep him for a while.