Review: Novelty (Good Comics)

Mohar Kalra’s Novelty is the latest quirky curiosity from the team at Good Comics. A thoughtful and thought provoking look at mental health, that reads more like a surrealist head trip, than a slice of personal introspection.

Publisher: Good Comics
Writer: Mohar Kalra
Artist: Mohat Kalra
Price: £10 from Good Comics

Novelty begins in a doctors office where university student Allen is getting some counselling, but his session is brought to a conclusion when he is told that due to staff shortages he won’t be able to continue getting treatment. Instead his doctors tells him to ‘be in the moment’ and ‘not think too much’. As Allen attempts to live by this mantra, the story really begins to come into it’s own.

From the early scenes you begin to notice that at times, Allen is represented as a featureless generic figure (like a Poser mannequin) and this seems to be a manifestation of his confident and more adjusted self. While in contrast, his ‘normal’ demeanour is represented in a way that looks like a melting candle, with his clothes seeming to drip off him and symbolise the moments when he is struggling most. As Allen returns to his daily life of college lectures, taking the subway, and hanging out with friends the story uses these two visual styles to show Allen alternating from being in control, to not being in control, and when he is struggling most his entire world becomes warped and misshapen to dazzling effect.

When you begin reading Novelty you assume it will be a mental health book in the vein of Stand In Your Power or Wired Up Wrong, but instead it explores the subject of mental health in a really different way, relying much more on visual representation that poignant self reflection. This makes it much more dynamic and original than your usual slice of life book, however at times they can almost be too over whelming and you don’t always know or understand what you are reading.

The central part of the book feels like a series of vignettes rather than a coherent story, but once you get to the end then you begin to see how these unconnected scenes tie loosely together to create a mood and a general sense of Allen’s mental state rather than a story. It’s a minor spoiler to say that it is resolved at the end, but it does so in a way which is very fitting for the ‘story’ and although it doesn’t perhaps tie things together as neatly as you might expect, that’s not the kind of book it is trying to be.

It’s definitely a bit of a challenging read, but not in a bad way. Instead it is one which makes you think and rewards repeat reading. Perhaps the best way to read this comic is to take the advice of Allen’s doctor and take a moment and not think about it too much. This isn’t a book with a deep and hidden meaning buried away in it’s pages, rather it is lal there on the page, you just have to look at it in the right mindset. It’s a visual representation of how someone with mental health issues looks at the world and copes with it, and how they are able to resolve things.

It is that visual representation which is the true star of this book. Kalra’s art mixes this classic New York-y small press cartoon style with these really interesting compositions that break out of panels, or use text and speech to create collages of pattern or swirling vortex of emotions in the way that Nate Cosy does in March or Come Again or Joe Stone does in the excellent Stutter.

As you would expect from the guys at Good Comics, Novelty is a really interesting and unconventional comic book. They have a great track record of taking familiar small press subjects and presenting them in a way which is much more original and insightful than many other publishers. (E.g. Ellie Crewes’ excellent the Times I Knew I Was Gay). It means that what could be a fairly predictable look at mental health is instead a really different and visually interesting book that never descends into self indulgence or over complex self analysis. And is definitely a book which deserves repeating reading and consideration.