ADVANCE REVIEW! Babble will go on sale in December 2012.
Language is a chimera. Language is a tool. Language is an abstract thing Language makes our lives richer and language divides us. Language is essential and sometimes the most important words are unsaid. And as William S. Burroughs told us (and Laurie Anderson reminded us), language is a virus.
Babble, the new graphic novel from Com.x, is all about communications and language and the ways that words can kill and destroy and infect and sometimes get in the way of communicating rather than helping. It's an ambitious and exciting graphic novel that is entertaining and interesting but which falls a little bit short of its considerable aspirations.
Carrie Hartnoll is a smart woman who's kind of lost in her life in England. One day a chance encounter with an ex-boyfriend changers her life completely. It turns out that Carrie's ex-paramour was leading an effort to decode the very first language that was used — the Biblical language that existed before the Tower of Babble that was washed away in the Great Flood. But his attempts to resurrect the language have horrifying implications — implications that could destroy all of modern human civilization.
This graphic novel is told with two sometimes overlapping timelines, cleverly separated from each other through the use of different coloring for each section. In flashback scenes we get the calm exposition told in black and white with blue shading, while in the present, Carrie is on the run, chased by people whose backgrounds we don't know. In the current day scenes scenes, the coloring is in an oversaturated orange, which accentuates the drama of the moments. And sometimes the scenes in the past and the present seem to talk to each other, echoing phrases, body poses and other elements through the story. It's a clever construction, easy to follow, and this bifurcated structure adds drama to the book.
I think Lee Robson is trying to deliver a book that's a bit of a meditation on communications in this book — on the way that people sometimes communicate and sometimes don't communicate with each other. In the flashback scenes, Robson pays a lot of attention to Carrie's communications with her friends and coworkers, emphasizing how each different type of communication is dramatically different from the other. One relationship is built mainly on lies and self-interest, one is a real friendship, one is tinged with tremendous resentment, and there is even a plot thread that involves Carrie and her team decoding the writings of a dead man.
The dialogue feels realistic and much care has been presented to them. But that attention also leads to a section of the book that feels wordy at times. The current-day section of the book is mostly dialogue-free, causing the reader to fly through those pages at a rapid clip. Then the reader hits the flashback scenes and the story slows down dramatically. For instance, page 32, a current day page, has 34 words. Then page 33 has 125 words. That's a big difference and is an experience not too different from slamming on your brakes when driving. This rhythm caused me to feel a bit of lurching between the two parts of the story. Perhaps this book would have benefitted from a few additional pages to spread out the dialogue more and give the book more of an even feel from page to page.
Those talky pages also overwhelm the art a bit. I know that Bryan Coyle is being asked to draw basically talking heads scenes in the modern pages, but there are some pages where he literally just has a chance to draw heads and torsos floating on the edges of pages, with the pages overwhelmed a bit by the amount of dialogue on them.
Still, this weakness doesn't overwhelm the book and of course it does seem logical that since language is a theme of this story, readers are given lots of language to consume. It's pretty obvious that Coyle uses models for his art, and that helps him deliver well-drawn faces that display their emotions well. But I also really enjoyed his work on the more action packed scenes that don't depend as much on human interaction — he has a good sense of moment and energy in those sorts of scenes.
Babble is a promising graphic novel from Com.x. It has its flaws, but the ambitious spirit and hard work by the creators results in an entertaining book.
Find out more about Babble at babblecomic.com.