It’s Cold In The River At Night (Avery Hill Publishing)

Avery Hill wrap up a year of interesting and eclectic releases with It’s Cold In The River At Night, the first long form book from animator Alex Potts (following the in the foot steps of A Quiet Disaster, also from Avery Hill). It’s billed as ‘a coming of age story about a man who is too old to come of age and doesn’t gain any personal growth’ so how does Potts’ unique brand of anti-storytelling match up to the other Avery Hill books of 2017?

Publisher: Avery Hill Publishing
Writer: Alex Potts
Artist: Alex Potts
Price: £9.99 from the Avery Hill Store

​It’s Cold In The River At Night introduces us to Carl and Rita, who are living in a house on stilts in an isolated community somewhere in Western Europe. Rita is writing her dissertation, and Carl is struggling to find his place in the world. We are never quite sure why they are here or what they did before the got to this house, as the story is more about what happens to them in the moment rather than why they are there. Carl is keen to occupy his time and learns about a local craftsman who makes coffins that looks like boats and so reaches out to this chap to teach him his skills. As Carl attempts to find purpose in his life it impacts his relationship with Rita as he becomes frustrated, and also jealous of Rita spending time with their landlord who brings them food and helps to repair the house.

As you can see from that synopsis, It’s Cold In The River At Night is a difficult book to sum up as it isn’t really a book about anything in particular. It like more of a character study about two people who are in an unconventional situation than a traditional story. The isolation of where they live, puts a strain on Carl and Rita’s relationship, as does Carl’s frustrations about trying to learn his new craft. We dip into the character’s lives without much of a background on where they come from and what drives them, but we also leave them without anything ever really being resolved. This may sound like it would make for a frustrating read, but in fact it is quite the opposite as the strongly crafted characters make the whole book both compelling and intriguing.

Pott’s characters are really interesting, flawed individuals which make them engaging people to spend time with. Carl in particular is a very real mixture of frustration and determination. He is a man without direction and his attempts to bring clarity to a world which doesn’t have any – something which many will identify with. While the carpenter becomes almost the villain of the story for the way he treats Carl, deep down he is not an evil man, just someone who doesn’t want to be patronised to taken advantage of by someone who he does not know. Although we have focused on the craftsman as being the centre of the story, it is only a small part and it is Carl’s relationship with Rita which is the core to the story.

The artwork is quite simple and almost cartoonish at times, but it is also very structured, with a lot of talking heads within the panels. Potts spends page after page of Carl and Rita talking and so the pace is slow, but deliberately so. Potts focuses on the minutiae of Carl and Rita’s life and it allows us to really inhabit the character’s world and learn more about what drives and motivates them. However he does allow himself the odd full page splash page – in particular of the the photos of the coffin boats which inspire Carl, but also for the final act which he really uses some interesting visual techniques to maximise what happens.

The artwork is a mix of pen and ink, with water colour wash which helps align with the watery feel of the location. It has a very muted colour palette, with lots of yellows and greys, which gives the whole book a warm almost hazy summer feel to it, and helps to reinforce the idea of this being a place out of time, almost an idealised location and not really part of the real world. As well as it being a quite vintage and nostalgic.

Our only complaint about the visuals, is the lettering which are hand drawn and feels a bit haphazard at times. Although it needs the more lo-fi approach of hand lettering to compliment the artwork, the style feels a bit erratic at times and can be a distracting.

Although It’s Cold In The River At Night is a book which is hard to articulate exactly what it is about, it is still a book which is highly enjoyable if you do pick it up. It feels like a snapshot in time, and a glimpse into someone else’s life, rather than a more traditional ‘story’ and it’s great that a publisher like Avery Hill are willing to put out books like this that challenge readers expectations, but without going full avant garde in this instance. (Especially compared to the like of Ghosts Etc. or Goatherded) Thanks to some very believable characters combined with a really unique concept and setting, It’s Cold In The River At Night makes for an intriguing and entertaining read that is all the more interesting and enjoyable for not being what you expect it to be. It is certainly one of the best Avery Hill books of the year (alongside Something City ands Ismyre) and we hope that the stamp of quality that comes with it being an Avery Hill book will encourage many to pick it up and if they do they won’t be disappointed.