BF Awards 2012 - Best Debut: The Tale of Brin & Bent and Minno Marylebone

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This year’s Broken Frontier Best Debut Award was arguably the most intriguing of all the categories on the ballot. It comprised five quite remarkable breakout graphic novels from emerging major talents published by the likes of Jonathan Cape, Blank Slate Books and Nobrow Press; all fine purveyors of challenging, experimental and literary sequential art.

From the brilliantly realised social awkwardness of Joff Winterhart’s Days of the Bagnold Summer to the endearing slacker comedy of Louis Roskosch’s The Adventures of Leeroy and Popo; from The Silver Darlings Will Morris’s dreamy coming-of-age tale set against the backdrop of the 1960s Scottish fishing industry through to Laurie J Proud’s bitingly dark and surreal collection of short stories in Peepholes, this was a staggeringly strong line-up of exceptional debut work. Proof positive that the British graphic novel has never been in such robust health, and a joyous celebration of all the things that comics can and should be outside of grown men in tights punching each other.

The title that the Broken Frontier staff and readership eventually settled on as its Best Debut winner, though, was the macabre yet liberating The Tale of Brin & Bent and Minno Marylebone from the team of writer Ravi Thornton and artist Andy Hixon. This haunting story tells of Brin and Bent, two socially inadequate and twisted individuals who work as pool keepers at The House for the Grossly Infirm where they spend their time sadistically abusing and spying upon the residents. Unknown to them both, however, the pool is visited at night by Minno Marylebone, a child of almost otherworldly pureness. What follows when the polarised forces of this angel-like innocence and these embodiments of corruption finally meet is central to this powerfully evocative graphic novel.

This is a story of pronounced and deliberate contradictions; a tale of both monstrous depravity and manifest redemption. Thornton’s careful use of language is economical and yet beautifully paced and structured throughout, precise and elegant in its delivery. Hixon’s often frightening visuals, in turn, can shift from revelling in the grotesque and the distorted to astounding us with eerie scenes of the most ethereal splendour. It’s one of those creative partnerships that feel almost telepathically in tune in terms of intent and purpose. 

The Tale of Brin & Bent and Minno Marylebone is a far more expansive entity than just a graphic novel though. To experience it in its fullest sense is to cross the boundaries from the printed page and open up your senses to a true transmedia narrative phenomenon. The indispensable accompanying soundtrack to the book composed by Othon (available on Ravi Thornton's website) opens up entire new dimensions to the story and, having been fortunate enough to attend the first performance reading of the GN at the opening night of last year’s Comica Festival I can vouch for the spine-tingling wonder that the audience sat in as this boundary challenging work shifted so effectively into another form of presentation. Those who read my Broken Frontier interview with Ravi Thornton, Andy Hixon and Othon last year here may even remember talk of a proposed ballet app as well!

Transcending its physicality as a printed object, Minno Marylebone is a project you don’t so much read as immerse yourself in. Daring, disturbing and awe-inspiring, Thornton and Hixon’s opening entry into the world of graphic novels is an experience you simply should not ignore and, in a field of quite extraordinary nominated work this year, a most deserving winner of our 2012 Best Debut Award.

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