Monday, 24 November 2014

Gast by Carol Swain Review

Helen, a young girl whose family recently moved to the Welsh countryside, becomes obsessed with the recent suicide of her farmer neighbour, Emrys. As she begins looking into the man’s former life, she discovers his lonely and hard existence, living as a transvestite and working land that yielded little. 

Gast – the Welsh word for female dog or bitch – is a very muted story. Carol Swain chooses not to have an omnipotent narrator and there is no inner dialogue from Helen, so the reader is kept at a distance as to what’s unfolding on the page. The book is set out in a traditional nine panel grid throughout meaning the focus is on the content rather than the form. Swain’s charcoal drawings also accentuates the gloomy quietness of her tale – everything is presented in one tone without colour to bring variation to the page. 

Helen is a somewhat interesting character. She’s an only child whose parents allow her to roam the countryside by herself, and she brings home the skulls of dead animals. She even has imaginary (or are they?) conversations with Emrys’ farm animals, the dogs and the sheep, who tell her about their former master. Is she crazy? Is she a modern day witch? Is she just an imaginative kid? It’s up to the reader to decide.

The art is very moody and I liked Swain’s eye for what to focus on in her panels, looking as much at the background as she does the characters, making the setting as much of a character itself. The many silent panels and shots of the countryside, along with the charcoal and dark subject matter, do create a potent atmosphere that matched the story perfectly. 

I think where the book falls short is its own limited story. We find out nearly everything about both Helen and Emrys by the halfway point and the rest of the book doesn’t add much else to it. It becomes repetitive and slow rather than “meditative” or “philosophical” – I didn’t feel that there was much substance to it overall. For me though, while I usually like these kind of indie comics, Gast was a fine book but underwhelming and dull at times whose light touch was just a bit too light to leave much of a lasting impression.


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