frontline issue 4
Breakfast Afternoon by Andi Watson. Published by Oni Press. Reviewed by Alister Black.
Andi Watson's Breakfast Afternoon tells a tale that will be easily recognised by many Frontline readers. Some of you might even have lived it.
A young working-class couple, Rob and Louise, plan to get married. They live in the 'Potteries' area in the Midlands and they both work in the local ceramics factory. But things aren't going too well for traditional industries in the exciting global economy of Blair's Britain. The couple lose their jobs and find themselves on the dole with outdated skills. We begin to see the gradual disintegration of their relationship and their lives.
Sounds like a heavy kitchen-sink drama or Ken Loachesque film, but this tale is told in comic format. However this isn't the Beano or Batman. This is something new.
Andi Watson portrays Rob's plight sympathetically. He can't adjust to life on a giro. He can't accept that he won't get his old job back, or one just like it. Instead he carries on as if it was a permanent weekend: staying up all night playing video games, cadging pints off his mates, sitting in the house watching Richard and Judy. We also see his increasing alienation from Louise. He becomes obsessively self-pitying and his marriage plans fall victim to his selfishness. By contrast Louise is a strong, independent and organised working-class woman who concentrates on her college education.
But the beauty of this book is that Rob's pride and selfishness are understandable. This is what makes the dynamic between him and Louise so fascinating. They are both in the same boat, and both love each other but the inescapable reality of their situation starts to tear them apart.
Andi Watson has said that the differing reactions of the couple symbolise the differing fates of sections of the working class in Britain, depending on their location and industry. Some have prospered, others have been left behind.
Andi Watson currently lives in Wolverhampton and in a recent interview said "While unemployment has fallen around the country, areas like the Midlands have seen a rise. Much of the information in the book was plucked from the local news. I've been unemployed myself so I know what it's like. Most of Rob's story is something that I witnessed first hand at the dole office, so I think that Rob's portrayal is pretty realistic. Some people didn't have any hope of working ever again; they were angry and frustrated and scared. You can't underestimate the importance of someone from Rob's background losing his job."
Watson's art is the making of this book. He has a light style that seems influenced by the classic line-art cartoonists like Hergé and the Hernandez brothers (and even our own Dudley Watkins of Broons fame); but which also has a very modern Japanese manga influence. His pastiche of old-style penguin novel covers used for his own cover (and each of the six individual issues that make up this compilation) evokes a feeling of nostalgia and change, familiar but disappearing, like the ceramic factories of the Potteries, a lost Britain. Watson blends story and art to depict uncertainty - economic, personal and political.
Watson's story is low key but poignant and is perfectly complemented by his artwork. You've probably never read anything like it. Give it a try.
*All images by Andi Watson copyright 2001