Friday January 4, 2013
The Nao Of Brown - Unique storyline with nice visuals
Worlds of Wonder
By SHARMILLA GANESAN
The story of a young woman suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder is told in a visually arresting manner.
THE Nao Of Brown by Glyn Dillon is one of the most gorgeous graphic novels I’ve seen. The lush watercoloured panels, elegant red-edged pages, delicately-realised facial expressions and deliberate merging of different illustrative techniques makes turning each page an act of discovery; these aren’t merely pictures to accompany a story, but rather, works of art in and of themselves.
The real genius of The Nao Of Brown, though, is that the illustrations do tell a story, vividly, and sometimes even without any words.
After all, a graphic novel’s main difference from a book is its reliance on the visual, and this is one great example.
Dillon’s rich visuals capture so many nuances of expression and body language that a single line of speech is often all that’s needed to express an entire internal monologue. His use of watercolours – translucent and subtle for exterior locations, brilliant and dramatic for intimate settings – is an inspired choice, the colours brightening or dimming according to the mood of the scene.
It is a technique that is particularly suited to the story of Nao Brown, a half-Japanese, half-English girl who spends as much time grappling with the events in her mind as she does with the ups and downs of the everyday. Artistic, introspective and utterly charming to almost everyone who meets her, Nao is also plagued by a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) that manifests as sudden murderous fantasies.
In stark contrast to the abstract nature of her condition, almost everything in Nao’s life is primarily visual. She works in an art toy shop, is obsessed with a fictional anime series called ichi, does Japanese calligraphy, and practises Buddhist meditation and visualisation techniques (complete with statues and thangka paintings).
Woven within Nao’s tale as a story within a story are folkloric vignettes about Pictor, a boy who is half human and half chestnut, from the ichi series. These panels are deliberately different from the main story, employing a more rigid and digital illustration style.
Playing with opposites even further, Nao soon finds herself attracted to Gregory, a middle-aged, balding, washing machine repairman, who is given to quoting poetry and philosophy. While her initial attraction to him is because of his physical resemblance to ichi character The Nothing, she soon finds in Gregory another complex person with his own baggage.
Meanwhile, Nao’s friend and boss Steve is obviously in love with her, a fact that she doesn’t realise because of her tendency to remain so resolutely self-focused.
What makes Dillon’s depiction of Nao’s condition so absorbing is that it is never explicitly explained or described. Rather, her breakdowns, horrible imaginings and compulsive rituals are brought across by the detailed drawings that capture every expression and movement on Nao’s face.
Dillon’s wife apparently suffered from OCD during her younger years, and it is obvious that this is a personal subject to him – he seems more interested in exploring the actual experiences and emotions associated with the condition.
Red is liberally used to represent both Nao’s dynamism and volatility, and the way Dillon uses this single colour to evoke multiple meanings is impressive. One particular section is a brilliant visual metaphor for her struggles; in it, Nao suffers an “episode”, the panel is overwhelmed by red, and then she is left literally colourless.
Dillon further livens up the novel by incorporating several different illustration styles in very specific ways to tell a particular story, for instance mimicking traditional Japanese woodblock prints. One of my favourites, however, is his renditions of several thangkas, or Buddhist paintings – bursting with colour and details, they would be equally at home at a modern art exhibition.
The story of The Nao Of Brown is difficult to pin down because it is so entwined with its visuals. Nevertheless, it is one that instantly captures you, thanks to an extremely unique and, despite her flaws, very lovable protagonist. The other characters are equally interesting, particularly Steve. His frustrated facial expressions are captured perfectly by Dillon, and you root for this classic underdog in the love triangle all the way.
Which is why the end of the novel was rather frustrating. After so much time is taken with the densely-detailed story, the denouement of Nao’s tale seems incredibly rushed and almost anti-climactic. The author even resorts to that cliched technique of skipping ahead a few years to avoid dealing with all the conflicts he’s set up, which seems a tad lazy.
Nevertheless, The Nao Of Brown is certainly worth owning, not just for graphic novel enthusiasts, but for those who enjoy a unique storyline told in a beautiful, unusual way.
For this month only, get a 25% discount off The Nao Of Brown (with a purchase of another item) at Kinokuniya, Suria KLCC.