No Man's Land: Blexbolex Returns to Nobrow Press

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This month sees respected altcomics publisher Nobrow Press come full circle and return to the world of Blexbolex’s Dogcrime, one of their earliest offerings, with his long-awaited No Man’s Land. Available now, the book is also officially launched at the East London Comics and Arts Festival on the 17th June. Broken Frontier takes a look between the covers of this surreal journey through one man’s mind and provides a peek at some of the interior pages of this 140-page graphic novel…

I first came across the work of French illustrator Blexbolex in Nobrow Press's English language translation of Dogcrime: his short illustrated story combining surreal shades of the classic era of Noir cinema with beautifully stylised imagery, and sparingly employing just three spot colours throughout. It sparked a fascination with his work that has led to me investigating more of his bizarre brand of storytelling via Nobrow's Abecederia through to his gorgeously presented children's books Seasons and People with their deceptively simple, yet remarkably efficient, visual definitions of the worlds they depict.

His latest book, No Man’s Land, is a sequel to the aforementioned Dogcrime, apparently set within the protagonist’s fractured psyche in the brief moments after him putting a gun to his head and pulling the trigger at its climax. Please don’t be concerned, however, if it appears I’ve just crossed the lines and entered the realms of Spoilerville because Blexbolex’s graphic novels don’t play by the same rules as other creators’ work. When you reject a conventional narrative to the degree that he does, and work not so much in a stream-of-consciousness as a several-tributaries-of-consciousness kind of way, then the specifics of plot elements become far less important than the manner in which they are presented. For the same reason those who have not read Dogcrime need not fret – everything you need to enjoy No Man's Land is contained within its covers.

That the book starts with the protagonist killing himself and then embarking on a psychological voyage of discovery should give you something of an idea of the unconventional foray into the sphere of the fantastic that you take when you pick up a copy of No Man’s Land. As his mind seems to reject his inevitable demise our detective hero is catapulted into a series of ever more nonsensical and absurd situations. Initially he finds himself inexplicably incarcerated aboard a submarine by a strange, hybrid creature known as Banks, whose nature becomes more apparent later in the book. From there we are taken on a tour of a number of nightmare landscapes and worlds within worlds as the character finds himself trapped on ghost ships, lost in weird jungle terrains, attacked by sharks that hunt through the cracks between floorboards and forced to fight in a deliberately futile war.


As the layers of lunacy become ever more pronounced, so too does the playful and ingenious commentary on metatextuality and the nature of storytelling that Blexbolex injects into his narration. Indeed, by the end of the book the lines have blurred to such a degree that it’s no longer clear where the observations the author is making about his central character end and those he is making about the audience and their reading of the book begin.


From that description you quickly get a feel of how No Man’s Land defiantly eludes easy categorisation. For myself it was a glorious patchwork pastiche containing elements of Kafka’s The Trial, de Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater, Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5, with just a hint of the cyclical nature of classic 1945 Ealing Studios film Dead of Night. (Indeed an essential second read-through explains some head-scratching puzzlers early on in the narrative and adds a subtle cogency to the proceedings.) Such is its nature, however, that I suspect each individual reader will come away from No Man’s Land feeling it evoked a completely different set of personal literary and pop cultural favourites. And for a book that goes to such lengths to shrewdly analyse the nature of genre fiction that is, of course, an entirely appropriate by-product.


Now, without wishing to get sidetracked on questions of definition I think that, while it’s entirely accurate to call No Man’s Land a graphic novel, whether it’s actually a comic strip is open to debate. Each page is a single image with accompanying text below and I’m sure for some “illustrated novella” would be as fitting a term. But, semantics aside, No Man’s Land categorically sums up for me Nobrow’s championing of the physical over digital, of the tactile over the ephemeral, and of the sheer beauty that the synthesis of art and words can achieve.

And as for that art – that beautiful, near addictive art with its semi-silhouetted figures and brilliantly economic use of colour – it’s almost a self-contradiction in the way that it so adeptly brings clarity to the dreamlike and wraps up the bizarre and outlandish in the trappings of simplicity and minimalism. Nobrow have published some exquisite books and minicomics to date – you only have to look at their back catalogue to see that – but No Man’s Land surely has to be one of the most visually stunning items in their output so far. And, trust me, that really is high praise indeed.


No Man's Land is a book that you shouldn't have to read in isolation. It demands discussion, begs for group dissection, and positively pleads for you to find fellow travellers through Blexbolex's eerie, haunting three-colour landscapes to speak of your shared experiences with. To journey within its pages is to travel into the heart of madness itself.  

But what a magnificently constructed madness it is!

No Man’s Land is available from Nobrow Press priced £19.00 in the U.K., €23.00 in the rest of Europe and $21.95 for U.S. readers. Blexbolex will also be appearing at ELCAF on the 17th June.

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