A couple of years back my wife Debbie reviewed David Lester's non-graphic novel The Gruesome Acts of Capitalism. It wasn't kind.
Imagine my surprise then when I was contacted by Mr. Lester about a month or so ago, asking if I'd be interested in reviewing The Listener, his new graphic novel from Arbeiter Ring Press. I don't know if he'd forgotten her review, hadn't heard of her review, or just didn't care. I'd like to think it was that last one. It's gutsy and gives me some credit that Debbie and I don't think with the same brain. Yes, we have a lot in common, but we have disagreed on a book or two.
The Listener isn't like any graphic novel I've read before. The artwork in particular isn't consistently styled. It runs from cartoony to sketchy to painty (you can tell my years at art school paid off, eh?). Some drawings are realistic, some are more abstract. But, given that the story revolves around an artist revisiting her reasons for becoming an artist in the first place (I think), the changes are appropriate and added to my interest in the story.
The story itself is not exactly pin-downable. It begins with a protester falling to his death after climbing a sculpture. Wrestling with confusion, guilt, and sadness the sculptor takes off to Europe. There, she coincidentally, or fatalistically, meets a couple that educates her about the events leading to the 1933 election of Hitler. However the plot gets a little hazy along the line and propaganda, spin-doctoring, brutality, dictatorships, and too many other themes start stumbling over one another. At least that's after one reading. The other possibility, and one I'm willing to accept, is that there is a genuine thesis in there somewhere. It's an artistic book, without a doubt, and I don't believe that Lester chose his points randomly. Whether or not it is intentionally abstract or poorly tied together will require more time. Much more time.