Book Review: Incomplete Works, by Dylan Horrocks

Back in 2000, kiwi cartoonist Dylan Horrocks was living cv_incomplete_worksthe dream − working on the biggest characters on the planet, including Batman and Batgirl. But along the way he became jaded and disillusioned. He lost his artistic voice somewhere in the malaise of corporate mediocrity.Things got worse. He was trapped in the money/income cycle, supporting his young family. That led to eventually being fired from DC and a long bout of depression and isolation from the industry.

Sixteen years on from the publication of Hicksville and Pickle, he’s finally preparing to return to the stuff he does best with the planned publication of a new graphic novel Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen due out later this year. In the meantime readers can whet their appetite with a selection of his Incomplete Works.

cv_hicksvilleHicksville (published in 1998) was a very personal account of small time ‘Kiwi-land’ in the mind of the artist living in the reality of a small town dreaming of bigger and better. Ironic then, that Horrocks made the big time, only to want to downsize back to what he knows: the struggle to make it big and break out. Put another way, Horrocks’ work is like a Morrissey song − happy being miserable.

The collection of unfinished works is a sort of taster for what could of been. That said, each short vignette seems to the untrained reader to be complete enough. Essentially, they cover a highly productive period between 1986 and 2012 when Horrocks was trying to find and re-find his voice in comics. You can see him toying with the familiar themes of melancholy cartoonists, levitating women, bizarre characters in top hats and even a couple of proto-superheroes looking for their four colour newsprint destinations. As always, his work is personal, self-deprecating and explorative. He tries out illustrative poetry, intricate rendering and more ‘messier’ styles.

I can’t help being a little impressed by Horrock’s bravery in returning to his roots. Success for him it seems is to step down, not up. Incomplete Works is an interesting journey, well worth the ticket price − even if graphic novels are not your thing. Who knows, after reading this, you may end up purchasing the ten-trip.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

Incomplete Works
by Dylan Horrocks
Published by Victoria University Press
ISBN 9780864739223