In this section:
Exquisite, excruciating and exceptional... A landmark, once read, not easily forgotten.
Getting yourself a girlfriend is easy, according to Richard. All you need is papier mache, string, soft material, a balloon, some old fashioned bellows, and a good pair of scissors. The difficult bit is keeping her secret.
Set in an English suburb in the early 1990s, The Black Project is the story of Richard’s all-consuming passion for creating ‘girls’ from household objects. But as his hobby begins to flourish, his real life friendships and family relationships deteriorate. Richard is an unreliable narrator, and the reader responds to his loneliness and his dogged attempt to find a companion, while being horrified by his warped creations. The novel’s focus is on the divide between childhood and adulthood; where sex, perversion, and the grotesque feature in their many forms.
The much-awaited debut from the winner of the inaugural First Graphic Novel Competition,The Black Project is a darkly funny story of obsession, beautifully crafted in embroidery and lino-cut. The judges included Ian Rankin, Bryan Talbot, Hannah Berry, Steve Bell and Ed Hillyer (ILYA).
It's a painstaking and wonderfully original artistic achievement.
The Black Project is full of that creeping horror feeling, you know the sort… dark memories of childhood, creatures under the bed, the terrifying walk home in the dark, the sweat-drenching dream that leaves you unsettled and on edge all day, that sort of thing. Brookes plays on that feeling, adding dark humour and deadpan first person voiceover to create something really unsettling, genuinely creepy. Horrific at times, ridiculous at others, The Black Project is a fascinatingly creepy experience.
A good deal of the text in The Black Project could be read and understood without the images, but on having finished it and looking back on it the words and the pictures and the manner of their creation are integral to each other. There’s the story and the stitching and the cutting of the story into a physical form, but unusually for my reading of comics, the actual method of execution adds depth and resonance to the whole story. You could follow every detail of the story if you only heard the words, but you’d be missing the half the pointwork.
Clandestine first love with a papier mache twist is the order of the day in this remarkable debut graphic novel from creator Gareth Brookes. The Black Project distinguishes itself not just for the deadpan morbid drollery of Brookes’s narrative delivery but for its unusual and idiosyncratic artistic identity. For those unaware of the small press work of Gareth Brookes this will be the perfect entry point into the wicked whimsy of his creative mind.
If I had to pick one solo highlight of September 2013, it would have to be The Black Project by Gareth Brookes, a landmark, once read, not easily forgotten. At times, you won’t quite believe what you are reading and seeing, all executed in embroidery and linocuts, four years in the making. Exquisite, excruciating and exceptional.
'Some will find Gareth’s woodcut / iconography art style rather challenging, but after being initially unsure, before commencing, I found I loved it. It’s actually very clever, packed with lots of detail, and incredibly well executed.'
Brookes's story is told via embroidery and lino cut. The result is a bit like Cath Kidston embroidering for David Lynch.
The Black Project... is a very unusual premise executed in a very unusual way- and a black humour that stops it from tipping over into horror territory completely. The production is innovative, the dark humour made me laugh, and the ending humanises our protagonist. More than anything this book stretches the parameters of what comics can be. If you’re in any way interested in alternative comics, and or contemporary textile crafts I urge you to look this one out.
Brookes’ work is the story of an adolescent boy, Richard, grappling with his burgeoning sexual urges, through the disturbingly painstaking making of dolls – sex dolls. He experiments to create vaginas for each doll that he can put his penis into as he lies on top of her, so it will feel as he imagines it ought to. It is this last facet that makes the book so brilliantly excrutiating.
Gareth Brookes has created something truly incredible with his first book, The Black Project, a graphic novel made from embroideries and prints…Brookes has done a masterful job with the voice of Richard, perfectly straddling the divide between unsettling introversion and youthful resilience. The strength of his voice, and indeed the whole book, lies in its design.The Black Project is genuinely unlike anything else happening in the graphic medium at the moment.
All 208 pages of this ominous tale are spectacular, mixing dark lino cuts with embroidery and hand-written text. Pack away the craft materials and get reading.
I thought it was wonderful. Gareth has made his pictures with a mixture of embroidery and lino cut, they're elaborate and awkward and odd. And that's a good thing. Gareth has an amazing eye for detail. It's the little things that draw me in, draw me in and convince me it's a true story. You know a story is great when you want to believe it's real, and I do believe this is real. Also I'm a big fan of nostalgia, I lap it up, and this book is piled high with it.
The Black Project is a work of art… a masterpiece of comic timing and an extraordinary feat of imagination and creativity. I’m not surprised that it was the winner of the First Graphic Novel Competition.
Sublimely creepy … It feels authentic for the suburban setting, complete with spirit-crushing malaise, small joys and the lurking presence of circling, unseen terrors – a perfect, bland backdrop on which to examine the cruelty and banality of adolescence in full flame. The matter of fact delivery, through both word and image, works like a gift – not only in conveying moments of gruesome comedy, but also underplaying the inherent tragedy of frustrated feeling, still yet forming, barely understood.
Completely bloody amazing. Dark and funny and sad and moving and totally original.
Holy shit this book is amazing! One of the most powerful and distinctive graphic novels to come out in a long time. I can't recommend this strongly enough - but brace yourself. It may make your skin crawl.
Brookes has a wonderful dark and wry wit, something that certainly comes through in this very unique book.
This is an endearingly odd tale and highly recommended. What could be a very dark and sordid tale is told with humour and is all the more human for it.
Stunning craft, and a gripping voice like a very benign, home counties The Wasp Factory
...this [is] a stunning, poignant, weird, dark, keenly observed and hilarious comic book I want everyone I know to read. Gareth Brookes’ artwork is sumptuous. It’s childlike, yet dark and full of subtext. It’s expressive and beautifully detailed at some points whilst also hugely powerful in it’s simplicity at other moments. A delightful project, well worth the four years it took to make.
This was the winner of the First Graphic Novel Competition and I quite see why. The storytelling is compulsive reading, but then I am also a complete sucker when it comes to lists in books. I love them: shopping lists, lists of presents received for birthdays, lists of what’s in someone’s fridge, lists of a husband’s shortcomings. They all build up a perfect sense of time and place and people. This poignant and funny book is no exception. Utterly fascinating and compellingly page-turning…
208 pages • 160 x 230mm
Published 12 September 2013
Continuing a month of shows on horror and fantasy comics, Alex Fitch talks to Gareth Brookes about The Black Project. Originally broadcast Monday 28th October 2013, on Resonance 104.4 FM (London)