Eddie Argos, singer/songwriter of British rock band Art Brut, is no stranger to the world of comic books. His band’s third album, “Art Brut vs. Satan,” featured a celebratory tune called “DC Comics and a Chocolate Milkshake”. The group’s next album, 2011’s “Brilliant! Tragic!”, featured cover art by Young Avengers/Phonogram artist Jamie McKelvie – and as a companion piece to the record, the group assembled a full-length comic, featuring work from an assortment of their favorite indie comic creators. And Argos even has an entire side project, Spoiler Alert, dedicated to recording songs about superheroes.
Now, for his latest undertaking, he has collaborated with writer Amy Mason and folk musician Jim Moray on a multimedia project called “The Islanders,” which tells the true story of his and Mason’s teenage holiday to the Isle Of Wight, and the toll it took on their romance. Once aspect of the project is a low-fi stage musical that has just opened to rave reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival; the other is a full-length graphic novel, which is now available for purchase (with an accompanying soundtrack recording).
And while I haven’t seen the live performance, the material works wonderfully in comic form. Mason handles the majority of the writing, Argos adds additional material, and what emerges is a tale told from two wildly differing perspectives, each participant recalling the same events in a wildly differing fashion. Argos’ idealistic romanticism is the polar opposite to Mason’s deadpan realism, and their voices fit in perfect counterpoint to create the feeling of a time, a place, and young lovers pulling apart. Some of the text unfolds in straight-ahead prose, some in comic panels, and some in song lyrics, with occasional breaks in the action for the authors to intersperse postcards addressed back in time to their younger selves (a narrative device that could turn out awfully, and instead plays as quite charming). And the proceedings unfold with no undue fanfare or melodrama, no retroactive self-importance is imbued into the text – it’s an honest and straightforward depiction of two people’s realities, framed in youthful dreams and objective recollection.
Steven Horry handles the illustration, and works in a crisp, sharp style that conveys essential information while leaving space to fill in your own fine details. Faces convey silent emotions, gestures speak volumes; the scattered moments when clouds part and color bursts through the black-and-white-and-greywash of the English summertime pack a powerful punch. And the typesetting and design (also by Horry) tie up the edges and fill in the gaps; not simply working to tell the story, but adding atmosphere and layers of understanding.
The soundtrack is fantastic: nine songs, two previously recorded by Art Brut (in wildly different arrangements), seven completely new. The texture is mostly acoustic, and Argos’ trademark speak-sung vocals have a range of feeling that listeners who’ve only heard Art Brut’s uptempo singles might not anticipate – there’s a laid-back, wistful vibe to it all, a blend of ecstatic and melancholic that captures in music all the myriad emotions at play in this story.
This creative team have accomplished a difficult task: evoking the callow and impractical sensations of being young and in love, giving an endearingly unvarnished look at how two people can be holding hands, traveling as a couple, and still be miles apart from one another.