The House that Groaned


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The House that Groaned


  • Words: Karrie Fransman
  • Art: Karrie Fransman
  • Inks: Karrie Fransman
  • Colors: Karrie Fransman
  • Publisher: Square Peg
  • Price: £14.99
  • Release Date: Jan 5, 2012

Replete with understated yet observant social commentary, The House that Groaned is an exceptional first-time graphic novel.

Welcome to house number 141, on the appropriately named Rottin Road, home to six very different tenants with six disparate, but occasionally intersecting, lives. Into this creaking, dilapidated residence comes new occupant Barbara, a young woman who is quickly established as the reader’s perspective on this eerie dwelling and its melancholic inhabitants.

And what a collection of ghoulish, macabre and disturbed individuals they are. There’s Brian, a young man with an obsessional sexual desire for the diseased and the ailing; Matt the photographic re-toucher with issues about personal contact; pensioner Mrs. Durbach who has become so inconsequential to those around her that she blends into the background of every panel she appears in; Janet the fanatical dieter fixated on calories and her own personal battle of the bulge; and the voluptuous Marion whose self-indulgent decadence is reflected in her orgies of gastronomic excess.  

As the story progresses we begin to learn, in a series of flashbacks, the often shocking events that shaped the lives of our cast and brought them to this place. And therein is the crux of writer/artist Karrie Fransman’s tale. Beyond the peeling veneer of an unsettling story about a decaying house and its damaged denizens is a deeper and more layered analysis of identity and body image; a dark examination of what we were, what we become, and how our lives shape us both physically and mentally.  It’s this stark consideration of not just how we define ourselves, but how we let others define us, that makes The House that Groaned such an uncomfortable, yet perceptive, read.

Fransman’s art on The House that Groaned is rendered largely in greyish-blue hues, with her characters presented in highly stylised form. There’s something of a hint of grotesquely exaggerated porcelain dolls to their visualisation. This may, or may not, deliberately tie in with the book’s die-cut cover which allows the reader to look in to the rooms of each of the characters and can be opened in much the same way as one would open a doll’s house front to get a fuller view of the building’s interiors. Readers may wish to check out the The House that Groaned website to see this same effect recreated digitally.

The further one reads, the more the house becomes itself as much a character as those who live in it; its physicality and structure blending into the strip and often becoming part of the panel-to-panel sequential storytelling. Indeed, Fransman is acutely adept at exploiting, and sometimes subverting, the conventions of the comic strip form with a masterful ease throughout. Her inventive use of sound effects and speech balloons to move the narrative forward is particularly effective.

There’s an ominous, foreboding sense throughout this story; a feeling of a disastrous crescendo building as the character’s individual plotlines and troubles move towards their denouement. Fransman doesn’t disappoint and, although the ending feels inevitable, the journey towards that climactic finale is full of twists and surprises along the way.

Replete with understated yet observant social commentary -- dressed up in the trappings of black comedy, surreal  pathos and often downbeat drama --The House that Groaned is an exceptional first-time graphic novel. Karrie Fransman is a name to carefully watch in the ever burgeoning U.K. indie graphic novel scene.

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  • Kstewart

    Kstewart Aug 2, 2012 at 11:04am

    Fantastic! And I loved the exhibition at Orbital too!

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Aug 2, 2012 at 2:55pm

    It's a great book. One of my favourite graphic novels this year. And Karrie's Orbital exhibition was well worth a visit. Top stuff!

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