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death-of-the-artistReleased: March 2015 – A provocative fairy-tale of friendship and tragedy

Karrie Fransman (The House that Groaned) has crafted an engaging and provocative graphic novel that can be read whole in one sitting. Not simply read, but devoured, greedily.

An experiment in style and format, Death of the Artist blends the work of five artists into one tale: a weekend getaway of planned ‘sightseeing and comic-making’. This is a five-part story of a group reunion, which follows the journey from the night Fransman and friends met as students at University to their weekend get-together in their early-30s.

A project that has been in the works since 2013, Death of the Artist explores the idea of the artist as both an endlessly creative and dangerously destructive persona. A figure who is liberated, inventive and imaginative, but ultimately feels trapped by surroundings, responsibility and expectation. This graphic novel is brimming with poignancy; it details the exuberance and foolhardiness of youth, and the mixed realities and fears of adulthood, all displayed in stunning fashion in the strikingly varied styles of the different chapters.

All of the artists’ sections in the book change the tone of the story, each brimming with personality, wit, depth and darkness. My favourite section, personally, is the photographic piece ‘Helena’s Story’; its alarmingly frank depiction of the group’s shenanigans on their weekend trip, all caught in quick spontaneous snapshots, with a bold, flowing text that documents, with a dark fairy-tale edge, the group’s seeming seduction of a late-teen who apparently shares their own artistic spirit:

The Little Artist . . . seemed to know a thing or two about youth – perhaps she could help them to win theirs back?

This will be a divisive book. You’ll either adore it for its undoubtedly beautiful illustration and candid manner, or you’ll find yourself reproaching the artists for their forthright personalities and indulgent behaviour – their determination to reclaim a semblance of ‘youth’, even if it means stealing it from others, or damaging themselves.

Death of the Artist, however, is not a self-indulgent experiment of these young professionals’ quest to turn back the clock in their desire to cling to that sense of freedom so inherent to student life. The true meaning of the book is in the title: it is about death; it is a tragedy. Not a tragedy of wasted youth, or wasted opportunity (as you are initially led to believe), but one of a life lived too much, too hard and fast. But the way it confronts such tragedy is beautiful. Fransman’s book is a truly gorgeous work of art that shows the delicate balance between creation and destruction, of things beginning and things coming to an end.

As Helena says of Death of the Artist in ‘Jackson’s Story’, the ‘theme is fucking pretentious’, but what this theme inspires in each of them is, despite being mournful, wonderful to see.

★★★★

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