Accepting the unknowable
In Our Town, Jane Crofut receives a letter addressed: “Jane Crofut; the Crofut Farm; Grover’s Corners; Sutton County; New Hampshire; United States of America; Continent of North America; Western Hemisphere; the Earth; the Solar System; the Universe; the Mind of God.” It’s an effective way to situate little Grover’s Corners in the larger scheme of things. Artist Dave McKean does something similar in Slog’s Dad, his striking new collaboration with writer David Almond, but McKean’s images move in reverse, opening the book in the farthest reaches of space, where just stars and blackness abound. Then the Earth, blue-green and marble-sized, appears. Next, we see a larger Earth, then a sketchy map of Western Europe and England, finally zooming in to a town, a town square and a man on a bench near Myer’s butcher shop. Davie and Slog see the man, and Slog recognizes him: It’s his dad. But Davie protests, “Slogger, man. Your dad’s dead.”
Slog knows that, of course, but he’s still convinced the man is his dad, returned in the spring as he said he would. Slog’s dad, Joe Mickley, was a “daft and canny soul,” whose decline began with a black spot, as in Treasure Island, except Joe’s black spot was on his toe, the first signs of a disease that ate away at his body. It was “like living in a horror picture,” said Slog, as the doctors first removed a toe, then the foot, the legs, and finally Joe died and disappeared altogether.
Is the man on the bench really Slog’s father? Davie doubts, Slog believes, and the graphic novel becomes a meditation on grieving and belief. Mystery is always at the heart of Almond’s work. In Skellig (1998), Mina says, as Slog might here, “We can’t know. Sometimes we just have to accept there are things we can’t know. . . . We have to allow ourselves to see what there is to see, and we have to imagine.”
As in the previous Almond-McKean collaboration, The Savage (2008), the ink and Photoshop illustrations and the poetic prose work together to leave readers wondering, imagining and, perhaps, believing.