Review: Marble Cake (Avery Hill Publishing)

Scott Jason Smith’s debut graphic novel Marble Cake from Avery Hill starts in a disabled loo where our heroine Tracy pontificates on buying shoes online and how this is her favourite place to think. It’s not every comic that starts in this kind of location, but in a strange way it sets the tone for this surreal mix of the mundane and metaphysical

Publisher: Avery Hill Publishing
Writer: Scott Jason Smith
Price: £11.99 from Avery Hill

Once she has finished her trip to the toilet, Marble Cake follows the life of Tracey, who works as a cashier in the Smart Mart supermarket. This in turn brings into her into contact with a strange mix of characters, from her boss and his troubled home
life, to the jogger she fancies and the man obsessed with attempting to cure his baldness by cutting it really short.

While none of these characters sound like the kind of heroes you would build a book around, Smith celebrates the mundanity of their every day life and makes their quirky little nuances the subject of his story. Marble Cake revels in those quiet moments which you think nothing of. The argument in front of the telly, the conversation in the pub or the incidental news story where you wonder whatever did happen to that missing person?!

All of which combines to make a really interesting series of character studies that weave in and out of each other in unexpected ways. Characters pass each other in the street or the pub and the story flits from one perspective to the next. And because the story is told over 120 pages there is room for each character to have their moment in the sun, without the slow burning pace to the story ever feeling like it needs to step up a gear in order to create a dynamic moment.

The formulaic repetitive nature of modern life is reinforced by Smith’s use of a rigid six panel grid, which gives everything a real formality to it. Smith plays with the structure, mixing long shots and super close ups with quirky angles and profiles of his character to help vary the designs and then periodically he breaks out of it completely with a full page spread, much of which is filled with text and allows for a moment of introspection for both character and reader. The hand written lettering makes it feel really personal and almost diary like and it has this really stylised almost illustrative feel to it, that feels very considered and very slick.

In a lot of ways, Marble Cake is a perfect fit for Avery Hill as it feels like a companion piece to several of its existing titles. There is the small town story telling of Ellice Weaver’s Something City, and the melancholy and rigid structure of Tim Bird’s Great North Wood. Mixed in with a dash of Rachael Smith’s quirky cool style. So if you are looking for a kind of character driven, hipster soap opera that revels in the mundanity of the world then Marble Cake is the book for you.