architects do not have the monopoly on dreams
Sometimes something you look at, or read, cuts just too close to the bone. It ends up being that, either, you cannot begin to write about the work*, or you can look for only a limited time before association takes over and you have to put the book down. The latter is the case with Howard Hardiman’s illustrated book Cute but Sad (also referred to in the We Are Words and Pictures post on this blog as ‘the badger book‘).
There are two parallel stories, on opposite sides of the page, each maybe a dream, maybe a reality. A badger living the solitary life in a caravan and a family of badgers lives in a nice warm burrow. You are taken through the days and routines of each and see the loving relationship of the badgers in the burrow. Everything and nothing happens and the days are filled. The illustrations are beautifully and simply drawn, with tight lines and no colour. Less is definitely more here, as you are drawn into the brutally stripped down worlds of the creatures. Repetitive drawing of the interiors focuses the reader to look at what changes from page to page: the lives of the badgers themselves. Claustrophobic settings (even claustrophobic exteriors!) reinforce this sense of introversion. As the repetition goes on, and nothing much happens, we begin to reflect on what we see and the function of the allegory kicks in: we think of other stories. This is the emotional kick that the badger book seems to possess- and it is very difficult to avoid.
Cute but Sad’s images stick in the mind, possibly because of their simplicity and the simplicity of the tale. This simplicity shouldn’t be confused with naivety. It’s hard to say something which is ostensibly about cute and cuddly animals has a strong intellectual basis, but it’s there, I think. With this kind of thinking underpinning his work (in a very much ‘no hands’ kind of way), there is much more to look forward to from Cute but Sad.
The badger book will be available from Howard himself at Comiket, held as part of the Comica Festival at the ICA this next Sunday, alongside a range of his other works. I urge you to give him your money.
* That would be Keiron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s Phonogram, a comic which seems to be a bit too real at times. This publication will have to make do with review through the medium of soft toy-making, more on which later.