By Jim Broadbent & DIX (Fantagraphics Books)
Sequential graphic narrative is arguably the most effective and all-encompassing art form we possess, able to depict the most colossal spectacles and conflicts involving entire populations or the most obscure, internalised, micro-expressive emotional minutiae of a single character (human or otherwise) with equal bombast or subtlety.
Itâ€™s also a medium capable of the both broadest brushstrokes and forensic incisiveness, whether the creative intention is big belly laughs, moral outrage or heartbreaking empathy. The only thing that comes close to its infinite variety is acting.
Jim Broadbent is an actor. Heâ€™s won Oscars and BAFTAs and Emmys and more, and youâ€™ve seen or heard him in stuff as varied as Brazil and Black Adder, Iris and Moulin Rouge, Harry Potter and Game of Thrones, King Lear and Teletubbies. He has a keen understanding of human foibles, motivations and how life shapes actions.
He once had an idea for a film after being inspired by Pieter Bruegel The Elderâ€™s painting Dulle Griet but couldnâ€™t find the necessary finance. Another avenue presented itself when he began reading DIXâ€™s mordant cartoon strip Roll Up! Roll Up! in The Guardian newspaperâ€¦
DIX began his artistic career at British comics publisher Fleetway before moving into grown up political and satirical cartooning with the co-creation of legendary magazine Purr. Since then he graduated to the big time with Roll Up! Roll Up! and recently released the graphic novel KLAXON with collaborator Si Spencer.
When actor met illustrator a kindred sentiment was confirmed and they began turning that Bruegel-triggered idea into a moody masterwork of isolation, privation and misery endured. Set long, long ago in the bleak marshes and salt flats of Broadbentâ€™s Norfolk childhood, the result is Dull Margaret: a pocket-baroque in the grand grotesque tradition and a cautionary tale of Faustian consequences.
In the flat, drear wastes where mud flats meet the sea, a worn-down woman of indeterminate vintage lives alone, combing the mires for interesting articles and catching eels to sell in the local town market. She is bluff, determined, utterly alone and almost certainly a bit madâ€¦
Lost in her own head too much, she ekes out a drear existence in a bleak and unrelentingly austere locale. Even her too-infrequent interactions with her customers only lead to humiliation, disappointment and even robbery/assaultâ€¦
Eventually, itâ€™s all too much and Margaret fulfils the promise of her fetid appearance by trying her hand at a bit of witchcraft. As always, itâ€™s a cack-handed affair and the muddy crone isnâ€™t sure if sheâ€™s accomplished anythingâ€¦
Two favours she asked of the unheeding unknown: untold riches and a friend to love, but sheâ€™s prepared to settle for either or lose bothâ€¦
And then something happens when a barge is stranded on the mud flatsâ€¦
Hope, aspiration, greed and loneliness are all viewed through a world-weary lens as a series of events unfold with confounding inexorability, but always the grey mire of her days is pulling Margaret back and downâ€¦
Enticing and loathly, this sorry soggy fable abounds with rich mordant humour and powerfully seductive sentiment, all compellingly realised by DIXâ€™s muted palette and amorphous, soft-edged designs. Dull Margaret is a dark delight of character and circumstance to beguile readers who have had their fill of shallow flash and dazzle.
Dull Margaret is Â© 2018 Jim Broadbent & Dix. This edition Â© 2018 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.
Dull Margaret is published on 17th July 2018 and available for pre-order. Copies are available now from selected retailers.
For those in London, Jim Broadbent and DIX will be attending events (and presumably signing copies and prints) at Gosh Comics on Wednesday 27th June and Waterstones Piccadilly on Thursday 28th June.