My new found forays into the world of the comic saw me looking for something to follow up the marvellous Daytripper so I popped into OK Comics to see what they would recommend next. I came out clutching the Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon. As I don’t know much about the comic world I’m fortunate to be guided by the marvellous people at OK Comics and, although the stories and depictions obviously differ, one thing that is consistently striking to me about the form is the ability of the artists to display multi layered and complex characters and emotions that morph and shift from one pane to the next and this was beautifully portrayed via the character of Nao Brown. At one point in the book Gregory Pope quotes Herman Hesse thus “Words do not express thoughts very well, everything immediately becomes a little different, a little distorted, a little foolish” and this quote seems particularly apt for the way the Nao of Brown pictorially deals with thought and emotions.
Nao is half Japanese half English and we pick up the story as she arrives back in England from a trip to visit her alcoholic father in Japan. She is an artist who has ideas for creating toys but has recently lost her job so begins working in her friend Steve’s Japanese toy shop. Steve is infatuated with Nao but this appears to go fairly unnoticed by Nao who instead tries to fix him up with her flatmate. Nao has a form of obsessive compulsive disorder where she imagines causing extreme harm to herself or those around her each example of which she scores out of 10. So for example she finds herself in a state of panic after she is sat near the emergency exit on a plane as she imagines throwing herself out of the plane (9 out of 10); snapping the neck of a taxi driver (8 out of 10); smashing a beer glass into the face of her date (3 out of 10). This obsession is really well portrayed in the book as one moment all is fine then in the next pane Kaboom ! as her imagination takes over. The result for Nao is that she has become fearful of letting these imaginations take over her real life so she struggles with relationships, is scared of ever having children in case she hurts them and does not want to be left alone in any situation that might bring on anxiety and certainly does not want to be alone around any potentially dangerous implement especially pens and the knife draw in the kitchen !
In order to help deal with some of these compulsions Nao seeks peace at her local Buddhist centre where she also draws Enzos which is the Japanese word for circle but are also a zen symbol of enlightenment. Circles and the sound and symbol of O or oh are everywhere in the book, in the Enzo drawings, the face of the ipod, saucers, clock faces, washing machine doors, the rounded face of Nao’s favourite cartoon character, the mix tape with all songs starting with O, Nao Brown as you pronounce it creates the O sound. All of this is more than mere coincidence and I think it’s all to do with the idea of completing the circle or cycle of life to find enlightenment.
Nao meets Gregory who repairs washing machines and effectively fixes their broken cycles, is he the character to repair Nao to fix her cycle allowing her to reach fulfilment and enlightenment in her life ? Nao falls for Gregory who she thinks looks like the Nothing from her favourite cartoons but Gregory while being able to quote Buddhist teachings also appears to struggle with relationships and turns to drinking too much when anxious. You later learn what he has been through and that he can perhaps use his knowledge and experience to help others as he tries to help Nao battle her demons.
Running through the book alongside Nao’s is an allegorical story of Pictor who is half man and half tree and there are similarities between Pictor and Nao. Both end up in a happy place but go through unhappiness or do bad things before they get there the writer appears to be saying that within the cycle of life our experiences lead us to where we end up and there will inevitable by good and bad along they way but neither one or the other defines us they simply help to shape us into what we are. Doing something bad does not necessarily make you a bad person and doing something good does not mean that you do not possess the potential for badness. As human beings we all possess the capacity for both sides it’s how we handle that dichotomy that will define us. As Gregory says to Nao “there is good and bad in all of us, no one is all one or all the other, there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so”
I did find the ending slightly strange, I enjoyed the build up and dramatic moments but found the section where it simply skipped forward somewhat at odds to what had gone before, however I suspect that this lies with me and not the writer as it is clear when reading this that every single element of the book has been meticulously thought through so the ending will have been as well, I’m just not sure I’ve fully appreciated it yet.
Overall this is a stunning work of art and literature. Read it and search for your own peace.