The Nao of Brown: Glyn Dillon

NaoofBrown-620x853Are you sick of hearing me talk about TCAF yet? No? Oh good. I still have stories to tell.  This story is about how I never get to enjoy all the amazing comics on display there because I am too busy following Japanese people around. I love following the Japanese people around; they are always nice people, we have a good time. But you know, I work for a comics festival because, well, I love comics. And I don’t really get to check out many comics during a comics festival that is basically one giant party of all the things I like. The best I can usually manage is a quick dash to tables belonging to friends to pick up their latest works, and then dash back to my role as OFFICIAL INTERPRETER. (I think it looks better in caps. More officious.)

And this year, in my capacity as OFFICIAL INTERPRETER (it’s growing on you, isn’t it?), I got to join a bus full of artists on a trip to Niagara Falls. Basically, terrorists could have crippled the European art comics scene by taking out our bus. And perhaps they tried, but they missed the target of the engine and instead inflicted a mortal blow on the air-conditioning system. We sweated all the way there and back! The there was not so bad, being morning and overcast, but the back gave everyone dark pit circles. One of the more hilariously vocal grumblers about this situation was Glyn Dillon, who I got the chance to chat with at one point while the Japanese entourage were focussed on a particularly attention-hungry squirrel. We chatted about his book and I remembered reviews I had read of it and the nagging sensation that it was something I meant to read. 

Then on the last day of the festival, with five minutes before the official end, I found myself free and I raced around the venue searching for the French artists. Because the one thing I really, really wanted from this TCAF was David B.’s latest in English signed by the man himself. Because when am I ever going to get that chance again? And when I found David B., I realized that Self-Made Hero must be doing many things right. On one side of the famed French artist was famed Swiss artist Frederik Peeters and on the other, famed British artist Glyn Dillon. So I assembly-lined them and had them all drawing in books for me with seconds to spare before the library security kicked us all out of the venue.

So first: if you get the chance to get any of these fantastic creators to draw in your book, you totally should. Second: If you get the chance to buy The Nao of Brown signed or not, you totally should. Because: pretty! So pretty! So many pretty pages! Seriously, the entire book basically is done in watercolors and washes. No matter what page you open to, you will find a panel that you will wish was a painting you could hang on your wall. Every face is so expressive, and I am still amazed at how much Dillon can convey with a single line. Plus, the pacing, the panelling, the connections and interjections, it’s all so incredibly lovely and wonderful. Even if the story was utter crap, I would still be glad I bought the book.

But of course, the story is not utter crap. Which just makes me even gladder that I had those five minutes before everyone packed up their tables. Nao is half-Japanese, half “proper Paddington girl”, and on her way back to London from a trip to Japan to visit her father. (And I am appreciative of the attention to detail in Japan. No fake kanji copied from a website; the mass of information behind the cab driver’s seat is faithfully reproduced.) It’s quickly apparent that she has some kind of mental illness (OCD, as it turns out), and has violent fantasies which she rates out of ten.


Obsessed with a certain Japanese anime, she ends up working at a grown-up toy store (not a sex toy store, an expensive-figurines-that-only-grown-ups-can-afford store) run by an old university friend. And there she meets a philosophical, drunken washing machine repairman who resembles one of the characters in this anime. So naturally she pursues him.

Nao and Gregory

Which makes it sound like this is a love story. Which it’s not really. It’s more of a learn-to-love-yourself story. Nao is scared of herself, scared of what she’ll do, of what she’s capable of, and that fear and her illness paralyze her in a lot of ways. And she’s trying to come to some kind of understanding with herself, about the many different parts of her. She feels British, but she knows she’s seen as the exotic other too often. She goes to this Buddhist centre because she finds some kind of peace in the meditations and calligraphy, but doesn’t actually think of herself as a Buddhist. She wants to be good, but worries she is in fact a monster. I don’t have a mental illness, so maybe I can’t speak to this, but I did feel that the representation of Nao’s struggle with hers was honest and real.

The only real issue I have with the book is the ending. It felt too much like a neat little bow. And I am not particularly fond of books that tie things up in neat little bows. Especially when everything that preceded it really defied anything resembling neatness. But it is an ending, and it does tie things up in an idealistic closure kind of way. So if you are a closure kind of person, consider yourself lucky. Personally, I would’ve enjoyed the story so much more if the epilogue-style pages had not been tacked on. Let a startling ending be an ending.

But I am not going to complain too seriously about any book which takes red as its dominant colour. And as a woman with a certain passion for coats, I covet the red one Nao wears. Let’s end this on a shallow note.


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