John Harris Dunning and Michael Kennedy’s debut graphic novel Tumult, definitely lives up to it’s title as they create a chaotic and confusing world for their hero, featuring multiple personalities, government conspiracies and doomed love. But can this confusing world make for a satisfying read?
Writer: John Michael Dunning
Artist: Michael Kennedy
Price: £16.99 from SelfMadeHero online store
From the opening pages where our hero Adam injures his leg while on holiday we witness the beginning of his descent into chaos which leads to the end of his relationship with a long term girlfriend and the beginning of the upheaval needed for our story to take place. Ultimately this sees him at a party where he encounters the enigmatic Morgan (who has gatecrashed the party), but when he sees her the next day on the street she blanks him, and when she is accosted by another confused man he steps in to rescue her and discovers that this is in fact Leila, one of her multiple personalities. And that people close to her are being killed.
Tumult uses the central concept of multiple personalities to create a really interesting and original read and a truly unique heroine/femme fatale. Adam is the classic troubled middle-aged man who gets lured in by the dangerous world of a glamorous, troubled woman who he attempts to rescue and protect. But it is Morgan/Leila who is the real focus of the story and makes for the most enigmatic character. Is he capable of saving her, or are the forces which made her this way too dangerous and unpredictable for him to manage?
Dunning layers this story of doomed love and unhealthy obsession, with an espionage/government conspiracy sub plot which gives the story an added element of danger and keeps you guessing about where the story is heading throughout. It clearly owes a debt to Hitchcock with it’s tensely building story and it’s constant attempts to second guess where things are heading. But it also has the coolness of a contemporary indie movie, and the bleached out saturated colours of a Jim Jarmusch or early Steven Soderbergh movie, making it painfully cool and very cinematic, as well as compulsive to read.
Kennedy’s visuals have a mix of Sean Philips style figure work (only slightly simpler and more studied) but with a pop art colour scheme. The people have an aloofness to them as they are often looking out of the page, or straight at the reader giving them an awkward intensity. While the pages often use a simple 6 panel structure which gives them a rigidity, and an almost squareness to the images. They almost have a polaroid/instagram feel to them which is made even more apt by Kennedy’s very careful and considered use of imagery which can range from long shots of people talking to hyper close ups of seemingly incidental elements within the scene.
The story is also intercut with scenes in different styles, such as a vintage comic book, or there is a recurring theme of tarot cards, which again gives the book a slightly disorientating quality to it. As does the continual use of a Russian doll as a visual metaphor (especially on the cover) which very succinctly sums up the nature of Morgan and co.
While the central premise is very strong and makes for a great core for the book, the events which swirl around this main plot between Adam and Morgan/Leila don’t always sit comfortably with the main thrust of the action. Flashbacks and side stories come and go, and add to the confusion as much as they add to the story. A subplot involving Adam’s flatmate and his movie analysis fell completely flat on us. As did the pages in the style of an old fashioned comic book.
However this doesn’t stop Tumult from being a very interesting and absorbing read, albeit no the easiest book to get a handle on. It is definitely one which is not afraid to push it’s characters (and by proxy it’s readers) into difficult scenarios in order to challenge their preconceptions of what is actually going on. So if you can work your way through the cacophony and tumult of Tumult, at the centre of this book is a really interesting and original read.