Hugo Tate by Nick Abadzis
This morning, I finished reading Hugo Tate by Nick Abadzis. I’ve not been reading many comics lately because I’ve needed to concentrate on The Lengths, and after picking this one up from the launch party at Gosh! Comics in London, I’d deliberately avoided reading it until now.
The reason for this is because the first of Nick’s books that I read, Laika, was one of the most influential things I’ve ever read, taught me so much about storytelling and made me crave his tight control over a page. No Laika, no Lengths, it’s one of a small set of books that I can say that about.
So, with The Lengths getting lettered and ready to print the last chapters of, it is finally okay for me to be looking at Nick’s work without being too spun around by it, and I’m very glad I waited. A 200-page story of a man growing up in the midst of drugs, prostitution and a crisis of self worth is pretty much what I’m doing with my book, and there’s even echoes in how the art and character evolution are linked – where Hugo becomes more defined and human as he grows into himself, Eddie’s world becomes colder and more clinical the further he sinks into deception and self-delusion.
Hugo begins as a kid who hides behind drink to deal with the outside world, becoming drunker and more outrageous the more people he is surrounded by. There’s a genuine sense of a fear of people seeing the child behind the mask of adulthood, even if the mask he wears is coloured by drunken bravado and anger.
I’d read that Hugo was difficult to like, but I warmed to him straight away, his desperate fuck-ups and his angry rants reflected the second coming of age I think a lot of us can relate to having had during our twenties, feeling as though we’re performing adulthood without knowing which part in the script is meant to be our own, and cutting into other people’s lines and not understanding why that offends them.
Watching him grow through this with a figurative and literal gun to his head is beautiful, assuming we can navigate what difference there might between a figurative and literal gun in a comic – but it’s that navigation through the way comics can tell stories in a manner that’s impossible in other forms is at the heart of the appeal of the series for me. Hugo slowly gaining facial features couldn’t have worked in a novel or a radio play, and in a film it would have been grotesque rather than magic realist. It’s great to see a device that couldn’t and shouldn’t exist in other forms, and it wonderfully reflects growing up from being a child’s angry sketch who could be anyone into a young man who isn’t the reader, despite the echoes you find yourself hearing in yourself.
It’s a brilliant piece of work, and one I hope goes on to cause a quiet pang of almost-terrified awe in generations of comics readers and creators to come.