The Wrong Place
by Brecht Evens
As you can see from the cover above Brecht Evens graphic novel is a colourful affair. Painted in watercolour throughout the Belgian artist uses his palette brilliantly to delineate character, to create vast scenescapes, to capture movement and in a few pages near the centre to create possibly the only convincing sex-scene I've found so far in graphic fiction (you can see just how graphic below). In a book which is light on plot there is still loads to enjoy in its depiction of social interaction, akward personal relationships and the frenzy of an impulsive night out. The energy that is created by people desparate to have a good time is what drives this book along and that energy is just as likely to end up exploding in a moment of tragedy as of triumph, and how lovely and dangerous that is.
Two entirely mismatched friends are at the heart of this book. First of all we meet Gary, a drab persona rendered in grey who is hosting a party in his flat which many people (mainly female) seen to be attending because they expect his friend Robbie to make an appearance. Gary is the kind of guy who'd prefer it if you smoked in the kitchen and turned on the oven extractor fan. The kind of person who joins a conversation and effectively kills it, as we see him do several times in the opening pages. Through the awkward chats at his party we begin to form an idea of his friend Robbie, a man so infamous that he has several imitators, one of whom is even rumoured to have had plastic surgery to look more like him. Whilst Gary is the grey man, Robbie is an electric-blue satyr, a party animal par excellence who has managed to turn around the fading fortunes of a nightclub called Disco Harem through his attendance. But whilst he has managed to make that place the coolest in town by coming again and again, his no-show at Gary's party sends the assembled guests off into the night and Gary is once again alone in his drab apartment.
We then meet Naomi, recently dumped by her boyfriend but encouraged by a friend to go out on the town, even adorning a pair of kitten ears and even a new persona under the name of Lulu. Identified easily by her bright red colour, Evens creates some brilliant panels where a supposedly static wide shot of the nightclub actually contains several highlighted Naomis which track her progress through the room.
Naomi's night at Disco Harem lifts off when a case of mistaken identity brings Robbie himself hurtling into view. Naomi is literally swept off her feet and treated to exactly the kind of evening that her friend thought she needed, providing us with page after page of excitement as Naomi is swept from one location to the next, Robbie is pawed at by one person after another and the two of them finally fall into a room and upon each other to satisfy their carnal desires.
On a first reading to be absolutely honest this book didn't make a massive impression. Perhaps it was the lack of any real 'plot' but I was able to flick through it quickly and be left with not much of an aftertaste when I got to the final page. Subsequent viewings however have shown up not only that brilliant use of colour I mentioned but also the way in which Evens is able to hide lots of complexity in seemingly simple brush strokes. On many pages and in many panels a character is really only depicted using a few dashes of colour and a couple of details and yet even with those restricting tools we can see sensuality, vulnerability, fear and ecstasy. It even takes a few viewings after that to realise that you are looking at work that is influenced by painters like George Grosz and deserves to be taken incredibly seriously for its artistic merit alone. As I've said before I cannot draw to save my life so I would never denigrate the talents of any artist but this isn't mere doodling, this includes some really fantastic watercolour work, particularly in the crowd and wider-angle shots and Evens deserves plenty of praise for those panels alone.
If the perfect night out is all about being in the right place at the right time then perhaps this book is more about the slightly jarring sensation that comes when things don't align quite so fortuitously, those nights when you might need a little help to piece together the exact sequence of events and find yourself shaking your head ever so slightly at the ways in which it seemed to be enjoyed by someone who wasn't quite you.