“well er, I’m in comics actually”
Script & Illustration: Hannah Berry
Publisher: Jonathan Cape, 2008
Fernandez Britten is a ‘Private Researcher’ tasked with finding dirt on unsuspecting partners, it’s not a coincidence that his nickname is ‘Heartbreaker’. But when a woman comes looking for answers for her husbands suspicious death, he takes in a case which will draw him into shady dealings and family conspiracies, and may prove to be one case too many.
It is amazing to think that this is Hannah Berry’s first graphic novel, because just as the back cover states, it is an absolute gem. In Britten she has created a character who is both fascinating and intriguing. He has a really unconventional partner in the shape of a teabag called Brülightly, yes you heard me right, and not only does he have conversations with it, but the tea bag is also key to his investigations and the two share banter as normal friends do. This is in no way a spoiler as we learn about Britten’s odd friendship with Brülightly very early on (in fact his name is probably a wicked riff on ‘brew lightly’ seeing as he’s a teabag!). This brings to mind whether Britten is insane, or perhaps he is not. The city where the story takes place is unnamed, but is obvious it is somewhere in Britiain. But then there are certain instances where it recalls America, perhaps it is a jalgemation of both. And Britten himself is an interesting character, he is always being mistaken for being French due to his looks but is in actual fact of Ecuadorian roots. The black bag under his eyes almost makes him look like he is wearig a mask at all times, and there is a certain sadness to him. He looks like a man weary of the world, or had a harsh experience of life and the teabag is his way of coping with a world which is bleak and unforgiving.
Hannah Berry’s artwork is simply superb, her black and white style recalls great film noirs of the past such as The Maltese Falcon and The Third Man and the story is very evocative of Chinatown. Britten’s monologue and inner thoughts are rendered using her own handwriting and it immediately brings a personal flavour to it. As for the script it is nothing less than extraordinary, full of twists and turns not to mention humour especially where Brülightly is concerned, and intrigue with its layered plotting.
One of my favourite moments is when we see Britten sitting in the hospital, his hand bandaged after an attack. It would spoil it to say exactly what ‘item’, but when we see Britten taking a look at said item and throwing it in the bin, that moment just made me laugh out loud. It’s perfect black comedy moment.
Britten & Brülightly is a great graphic novel, and I am glad I discovered this gem. It is also encouraging to see a female writer/artist in Hannah Berry and I am looking forward to reading more of her works.
Note: Hannah Berry has her own site where readers can find out more about her works.