Publisher: Freight Books
Writer(s): Irvine Welsh, Pat Mills, Will Morris, Adam Murphy, Mary Talbot, Denise Mina
Artist(s): Dan McDaid, Barroux, Kate Charlesworth, Will Morris, Adam Murphy, Hannah Berry
Release Date: 25th August 2014
As part of the ‘Stripped’ portion of this year’s Edinburgh Book Festival, editor Denise Mina has brought together a dizzying array of comicbook and literary talent to create IDP: 2043, a look ahead thirty years into the future of a Scotland impacted severely by climate change and rising sea levels. Low-lying cities have been abandoned as the wealthy huddle together in luxury towers, while the poor struggle to get by in their makeshift shanty towns.
This ambitious project covers a lot of diverse and relevant themes, from gender and class imbalance to genetically modified food, climate issues and the pretty much inherent corruption and greed of ‘big business’, but manages to do so in an entertaining, engaging manner without ever becoming too preachy. Each of the six chapters of this book has its own creative team, giving them all their own unique style and tone. The chapters are all individual, to a point, each with their own distinct focus, but they al blend seamlessly into the ongoing narrative that Mina has put together; a true testament to her editorial prowess.
If you’re looking to kick a story off in such a way that the reader immediately finds themselves drawn deeply into the world you’ve created, you could certainly do a lot worse than put the opening chapter in the more-than-capable hands of acclaimed “Godfather” of British comics, Pat Mills. Mills’ trademark gritty narrative immediately paints a picture of an intriguing, twisted world where food is genetically manufactured for the rich and the majority of the world’s population lives in slums, their homes essentially little more than metal shipping containers. Collaborating on this bold opening salvo is artist Hannah Berry, whose soft, pastel-shaded artwork manages to prevent things from becoming too bleak, and who does a terrific job of introducing us to our main protagonist for the next six chapters, a young woman named Cait McNeill.
Cait is a unique enigma – a girl from the ‘slums’ who serves as the acceptable face of the corporate world as presenter of the reality TV hit “Sky Farm”. Cait’s true feelings and motivations are masked by the cheery façade she adopts on the show, and her growing concerns with the genetically re-engineered livestock developed by Sky Farm scientists to help “feed the world” are starting to become a problem from the show’s producers. Without delving too deeply into the story itself (nobody likes spoilers, right?), Cait’s world is thrown into turmoil fairly rapidly, and she quickly finds herself going from beloved media pawn to wanted fugitive over the course of just a few pages. It’s a gripping start to the book, and in the hands of two such talented creators, really sets the tone beautifully for the journey to come.
The second chapter, my personal favourite of the book, sees writer and artist Will Morris steer us momentarily away from Cait’s story as he instead decides to delve deeper into the past history of one of the ‘goons’ who were hunting her down in chapter one. The story of Tom Sayers is a truly compelling one, and Morris does a fantastic job of delving into his boxer past and showing just how this optimistic young family man ended up playing the role of ‘hired muscle’.
Morris’ grayscale artwork is solid and expressive, but it’s with his page and panel layouts where he truly shines. His chapter contains several utterly fantastic visual flourishes; from the use of the local wildlife to portray a time-lapse scene of a younger Tom battling his heart out in the boxing ring to a series of pro wrestling ‘bill posters’ that beautifully portray the rise and fall of this ultimately tragic character. Somewhat shamefully, I wasn’t particularly familiar with Morris’ work prior to reading this book, but based on what I’ve seen here, that’s a mistake I fully intend to remedy in the future.
The third chapter, written and illustrated by Adam Murphy, jumps into the past and helps us gain a better understanding of Kait as a character. Prior to her recent fugitive status, we see Cait invited to a dinner party by the wealthy Sky Farm elite, and witness her meeting with Danny, the man responsible for the development of the ‘Sky Farm’s in the first place. During the course of the conversation, we’re treated to a great dissection of the corruption and twisted, selfish motives of the wealthy, as well as a great piece of social commentary as Cait more than holds her own in pointing our the blatant hypocrisy and greed of their ‘Sky Farm’ project.
Murphy’s artwork is a little more exaggerated than the previous chapters, verging on caricature in places, which actually works rather well in portraying the strong emotions that come across during the conversation, particularly from Cait herself. We also get to see through Danny that not everything about the Sky Farm is inherently wrong, but there’s a definite sense of futility to the conversation and more than a little foreshadowing about the events to come. A great piece of character work here, then, and one that only serves to further develop the bond we are forming with our protagonist.
If chapter two was my personal favourite of the book, then the fourth chapter – put together by the collaboration of Irvine Welsh and Dan McDaid – runs an extremely close second. While it does stray somewhat from the ongoing narrative of the rest of the book – feeling almost a little jarring in the grand scheme of things – it’s still perhaps the most engaging, effortlessly drawing you in with Welsh’s strong, confident voice and McDaid’s tortured, twisted artwork.
Out of the whole book, this is the chapter that I feel stands on its own the most, which I guess is both a criticism and compliment. It almost feels like the opening chapter to a whole new story, but as it’s a story that is unlikely to ever be told, I would maybe have preferred to see a little more focus on the ongoing narrative. That said, it’s absolutely spellbinding seeing two creators flowing in such perfect harmony, and in that respect I can’t really be all that critical. Powerful stuff, for sure.
The penultimate chapter sees editor Denise Mina – an extremely accomplished author in her own right – partnering up with acclaimed European artist Barroux to put together an offbeat, minimalistic look at Danny and Cait’s relationship. There’s an inherent simplicity to Barroux’ work, an almost child-like approach that, coupled with Mina’s restrained writing here (this chapter features almost entirely one-word ‘speech bubbles’) makes for an aside that I can’t quite decide whether I really ‘got’ or not. Like the previous chapter, it felt somewhat detached from the rest of the story, and while there’s no disputing the creative talent on display, it just didn’t ‘click’ for me the way the rest of the book did.
And finally, after such a unique and diverse story, it falls to the team of Mary Talbot and Kate Charlesworth to bring the whole story home. And while there’s no denying the visual and dramatic appeal of the final chapter, it does contain perhaps one of my only real niggles about this book. Namely the fact that, for all the struggles and conflict throughout the previous hundred and sixty-odd pages, the whole thing is resolved just a little too conveniently. Don’t get me wrong, the final couple of pages are a beautifully fitting resolution to the journey as a whole, but they do require several eyebrow-raising leaps and ‘swerves’ in order to get there.
I’ve long been an admirer of Charlseworth’s artistic prowess, and this is her at her absolute finest (in my opinion, at least), as she showcases her gift for expressive characters and a fantastic utilisation of colour and shading to reflect the ebb and flow of Talbot’s storytelling. Again, while it may not be the ending I was hoping for, there’s no way I can criticise the talent on display, and given the chosen resolution to the storyline, they definitely did an admirable job of giving it all the flair and resonance you could hope for.
Overall, IDP: 2043 manages to achieve several important things. Firstly, it serves as an editorial masterclass as some of the finest creators in the UK and Europe are seamlessly brought together, each providing their own unique slant on the ongoing narrative. Secondly, it is in itself a genuinely compelling story, filled with dramatic moments and intriguing, three-dimensional characters. And finally, it also raises several important issues, and serves as a thought provoking (and scarily believable) glimpse into the future of our country. While some of the chapters may not be to everyone’s taste, I think it would be difficult to find someone who wasn’t impressed by what IDP: 2043 represents, both as an artistic showcase and – perhaps most importantly – as a pretty damn enjoyable story.
IDP: 2043 will be available from 25th of August from the Freight Books website.
The writer of this piece was: Craig Neilson (aka Ceej)
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