First of all, I’d like to say that this anthology exhibits something I love to see in comics: a writer who obviously works closely with the artists illustrating their work. The style and presentation of each story in this anthology clearly matches the content, and the artists have obviously been given room to let their own story-telling styles influence the flow of each piece. I’d be tempted to say it’s worth picking up Talking to Strangers for this fact alone, but that would cut the review a bit short!
Of the six short stories on offer, there were three that really stood out for me, and of those three my favourite was Static. Without giving too much away, it’s a story about a lock-in whose television stops working, told in a simple yet effective style where the character’s extreme and sometimes comical emotions really carry the narrative. Of all the stories here, I think this has the most subtly handled and well presented theme, and I genuinely found myself thinking hard at the conclusion. There’s also some wonderfully inventive use of framing, which despite being clever never dominates or obscures the story. Comic storytelling as it should be!
My second personal favourite was Flowers, the longest piece in the book, with perhaps some of the nicest artwork. The adorable and emotive characterisations really drew me into the story, which with any other handling might have seemed over-sentimental. In fact it was pitched just right since it came from such a young perspective, and I found that the story extracted from me the strongest emotional reactions of the book. These were possibly the most engaging characters of the anthology, and I liked the fact that we’re left to figure out their world by the things they do within it. Once again, the art is given space to breathe and tell the story, with dialogue playing a secondary role, which in my book is always a plus when it comes to such a visual medium!
Thirdly, I enjoyed Box… well, I say enjoyed, since it was a rather disturbing experience, especially as the anthology’s opener. Nana’s artwork is extremely effective with some great characterisation; the portrayal of utter desperation was a delight (can I say that?). Despite the extremely tricky task of portraying characters stuck in boxes (a challenge I wouldn’t want to face myself) the story gets away with only a few moments of confusion which, it could be argued, help rather than hinder the overall flow. Since this is a story that hinges on its conclusion, I won’t give it away, but suffice to say it brings up some very disturbing ideas about a controversial subject. Perhaps a little on the insensitive side, it’s still a good read.
As an extra note, it was lovely to see Sonia show another (and equally enjoyable) side to her usually precise and technical artwork. The rough lines portrayed the atmosphere and momentum of the story very well, and I was surprised to hear that the toning was done on the computer, since it gives the appearance of markers, and suits the linework nicely.
In terms of criticism there’s not much to give. If I had any, it would be that on occasions the writing spins out a metaphor beyond its natural life-span, or errs on the side of being unsubtly moralistic. It’s hard to fit character into short stories and for the most part, Talking to Strangers does well, especially considering the symbolic nature of most of the content. However, there were a few moments when I felt that individual characters became vehicles for a neat concept or twist rather than people who lived, breathed and told stories only they could tell. These minor flaws aside, it was a great read and a well recommended anthology. I look forward to seeing more work from all the creators involved!