Also by this author
The Black Project

A Thousand Coloured Castles

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Myriam is seeing things, and so can we, but her husband Fred is adamant it's all a lot of nonsense. In A Thousand Coloured Castles Brookes once again twitches the net curtains of the suburban south in this gloriously crayoned follow-up to the prize-winning The Black Project.

Myriam is a woman who sees things a little differently from other people. Strange figures in garish costumes accompany her to the post office, wild exotic plants sprout from supermarket shelves and phantom walls rise up to block her path. Her husband Fred doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Whenever he looks there’s nothing there, and besides it’s no excuse for his breakfast not being ready on time.

But when Myriam sees a young boy shut up in the house next door, who is apparently being held captive, she is determined to investigate, much to her husband’s fury. Soon he brings in reinforcements – their daughter, Clare – who is concerned about her mother’s state of mind, and the state of her inheritance. Myriam’s only ally is her four-year-old grandson, Jack, who is more than happy to see things her way.

A Thousand Coloured Castles is a graphic novel where the sleepy suburbs of southern England melt into a world of hallucination, taking the reader through the doors of perception into a life where the surreal co-exists with the banal. With his customary wit and unique artistic approach, Brookes conjures both sympathy and despair for his characters trapped by the routine of daily life. If only they could just see

Josh Franks, Ink Magazine

26 April 2017
Our perception of the world around us is infinitely more powerful than reality itself. We convince ourselves of how things are or how they should be, but rarely does this carefully constructed narrative match those of other people. In his new graphic novel, A Thousand Coloured Castles, Gareth Brookes explores the conflict between perception and reality, and how the former will always cloud our experience of the latter. Using chalks and crayons, as well as panels that evolve in colour and form, Brookes creates a kaleidoscopic experience that is full of humour and disquietude. Myriam is an elderly woman whose life is interrupted by the appearance of visions that begin to follow her everywhere. Objects are manipulated and distorted; people, animals and structures appear, growing in both size and number. As she tries to make sense of her unpredictable environment, she sees a boy being held captive in her neighbour’s house. Convinced something is deeply wrong, she tries to investigate, much to the dismay of her husband Fred. Highly critical of Myriam and everyone else, Fred is convinced that his wife is “barmy”, showing little patience or tolerance for her precarious mental state. We still don’t see many books that explore elderly characters or how aging affects the body and mind over a longer period of time. From the first page, Brookes presents Myriam and Fred as characters whose best years are behind them, worrying about changes in society and reminiscing about simpler times. Fred’s view of the world is extremely negative. He controls his environment through his trite insults and general dissatisfaction. If there’s a silence, he feels compelled to fill it with observations, convinced that his reality is genuine and unfiltered. Reading A Thousand Coloured Castles, especially Brookes’ characterisation of Fred, brings to mind the verse from William Blake’s poem The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern.” Fred has closed himself up, narrowing his perspective, offering only disappointed comments about TV, what women should wear, and what he thinks is good for Myriam. Myriam’s experience, however, couldn’t be more different. Her hallucinations, arresting as they might be, open her up to the possibilities of her perception. They are rhapsodic and confusing, evolving with her moods and the stresses in her life. She will be certain of seeing a budgie in a tree, only to be berated by Fred for making things up. When she leaves the house a car is engulfed in flames. Brookes uses these images to fill the story with visual metaphors that reflect Myriam’s emotions. He juxtaposes ideas of freedom and ascension with imprisonment, making her see soldiers with ladders on their heads, an array of birds, and the titular castles that wind through the air; these visions are stretching the aforementioned doors of perception, but when she feels judged by Fred, she sees a brick wall blocking her way. It takes great courage for Myriam to accept that it doesn’t exist and pass through it. Brookes also contrasts absurdity with realism, even within Myriam’s psychedelic hallucinations. As her condition worsens, instead of strange creatures appearing around her, her perception of everyday objects becomes warped. Items of clothing and door handles multiply and morph like something out of a Salvador Dali painting, and she becomes too confused to decipher between real and imaginary. The same applies to his use of language. Fred and their daughter Claire are set in their ways, quick to blame Myriam for her condition and behaviour instead of trying to understand her. Brookes uses a motif of these two constantly saying things have gone “down the drain”, an abstract image associated with banal things. Just as a day cannot literally go down a drain, neither can Fred and Claire separate themselves from their absurd perception of Myriam. An interesting meta-narrative runs through A Thousand Coloured Castles. Brookes draws without faces, forcing us to project our own emotional assumptions onto each character. When Myriam sees these hallucinations for the first time only for them to disappear, we experience the same disorientation that she does. For Fred, Brookes adapts the panels to focus on the intense minutiae of his routine. Every cup of tea and boiled egg is meticulously chronicled, increasing from four panels per page to 12. His methodical and repetitive routine is a mirror of his opinionated nature; he believes he knows exactly how everything should be done. His perception is reality, and Myriam no longer abides the rules of his narrative. It’s not much of a spoiler to reveal that Myriam is suffering from Charles Bonnet syndrome, a condition where hallucinations appear to the sufferer but they are able to distinguish them from reality, just because of how strange they are. But if she can see them as clearly as she sees her husband or her grandson, they must be real enough to merit taking seriously. All that is required from other people is a sliver of empathy and an open mind about the reality of perception.
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Stephen Holland, Page45

19 April 2017
A very British book full of singularly English gripes and recognisably regional obsessions, Raymond Briggs devotees will find much to adore. For Gareth Brookes has resurrected that era in the form of an elderly suburban couple in an equally insular environment: the husband in the front-room and back garden; the wife in the front-room and kitchen. Immediately striking is Gareth’s seemingly, almost wilfully perverse deployment of the bluntest of art instruments: that of wax crayon… But it’s a brave move which pays off, for it’s perfect for conveying imperfect, grainy vision, hallucinatory experiences and it adds to the sense of era. It’s a contemporary era, obviously, but Fred and Myriam live in their own, long gone by. Fred’s absent-minded sing-songs while clipping the hedge or mowing the lawn are hilarious. He never gets anything quite right: he even comes a cropper when dunking biscuits into tea (more Britishness for you there). Here he mis-croons to the Brotherhood of Man, another perfectly judged ‘period’ reference: “Kissing for you, keep all my kissings for you, “Ba ba baby, ba blah. “I think I felt a drop of rain.”   Fred’s constant “down the drain” refrain is funny to begin with, but decreasingly so, for Brookes’ initially quaint and quirky tail comes with many a sharp edge to it. With real empathy and understanding Brookes evokes the bewilderment, frailty and potential helplessness of being lost or alone in old age, with prospects diminishing rapidly. It reminds me of Paul Scott’s prose masterpiece ‘Staying On’ (which featured an elderly couple similarly at odds but trying to get by), never more so than in this halting moment, mid-book: “I’m losing my mind… “And now I’m losing my sight. “Who will look after Fred? “Who will look after me?” Notice she worries about Fred first. “Myriam, what are you doing? Come inside now, it’s getting dark.” The late-evening shadows loom large on the lawn, Fred’s speech balloons capturing his wife in a pincher movement, while Myriam, isolated in her own tiny panel, is left staring into an unknowable future, surrounded by a chasm of black. “I know.”
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Meg Rosoff

19 April 2017
The beam of Gareth Brooke's gaze illuminates every odd, unexpected, disconcerting corner of everyday suburban life. He is an observer of rare and delicate insight. The mix of [Myriam's]  hallucinations and reality is such a powerful take on suburbia and marriage
…all in all, a wonderful work.


18 April 2017
A Thousand UnknownColoured Castles explores hidden dramas on a suburban street. Myriam is married to Fred, who is the kind of man whose entire existence revolves around a series of catch phrases that ensure their life together is contained within narrow margins and routines. He is a man who thinks he is observant but who perceives nothing, which means Myriam has no idea how to tell her husband that she thinks she is losing her mind. The crayon drawings seamlessly move in a series of panels from the ordinary to the extraordinary. Brooke explores a genuine medical condition with insight and sensitivity, as he asks the reader to think about their responses to others in distress. A … thoughtful, considered and beautifully observed piece of work that will resonate with anyone going through a similar situation and help to increase understanding.
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John Freeman,

18 April 2017
This book is, simply, genius. Disturbing and unsettling to read, but a great story, it’s well deserving of the kudos it has already earned and I have no hesitation in recommending it. Told throughout using crayons to give an “astonishing, unsettling and strange” effect, I have to agree with the team at Gosh that this is one of 2017’s “must reads” – if you enjoyed Gareth’s The Black Project, released back in 2013, then you’ll already know in part, what to expect. With a great ear for dialogue and strong characterisation, alongside art that’s for me, the visual equivalent of running fingernails across a chalkboard, I was throughly captured by this suburban nightmare. Seek and buy!
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Dr Dominic ffytche

The artistic style and graphic novel format perfectly covey Myriam’s fading visual world and the episodic nature of her experiences.
The ambiguity of what we mean by ‘real’ visual experience is masterfully depicted. I particularly liked the wry humour of Fred and Myriam’s aging relationship: Myriam’s worries about what she is seeing and how she and her family deal with it will be entirely familiar to the thousands of people that have gone through a similar situation.   
Myriam’s story will help others understand what the experience is like and why someone might hesitate to talk about it. Perhaps more importantly, it will help those affected reveal their own, personal visual adventures for the first time.

Mark Wallinger

A beautiful book… The way the drawings can move and coalesce from the mundane and everyday to the fantastical and unaccountable makes the hallucinatory experiences palpable and disturbing. The parallel unfolding of the genuinely strange and distressing story of the goings-on next door play against the dreary ‘normality’ of Fred and Myriam’s marriage. The resolution of the story is both moving and acute, suggesting that the power and limits of our imagination define the extent of our empathy.

Dylan Horrocks

Gareth Brookes is one of the most surprising comics creators working anywhere in the world. His previous book, The Black Project, was filled with painstaking embroidery; A Thousand Coloured Castles is entirely rendered in shimmering layers of coarse waxy crayon. The effect is astonishing, unsettling and strange - much like the weird, beautiful visions intruding on the central character's view of the world. Brookes' drawings emerge out of the shadows, and part of the trick with this book is working out which shadows are real and which are figments of an old woman's imagination. The book's great and lasting power comes from its recognition that the darkest shadows - and the brightest wonders - can be found in the most ordinary of people. An extraordinary achievement.

Hannah Berry

I really, really love it. Gareth Brookes has an uncanny ability to locate the sinister root of the suburban and the familiar and twang it mercilessly. This brilliant, sharply observed and often hilarious story of Little England through a hallucinatory lens leaps from the page like so many ladder-headed soldiers. If the future of UK comics doesn't go where Brookes is taking it then I'm not interested.

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