Perhaps taking a note from recent Anglouleme-winner Glyn Dillon’s triumphant return to comics with THE NAO OF BROWN, Abrams ComicArts and SelfMadeHero are releasing a new graphic novel from another accoladed artist, Patrick McEown, who previously worked on such popular series as GRENDEL: WAR CHILD as well as collaborating with Mike Mignola. With HAIR SHIRT, McEown constructs a dark and dreamlike visual spectacle that tackles memory and the labyrinthe of emotional trauma that can follow suit.
McEown, much like Dillon, has been on a hiatus from comics for some time, focusing on a variety of projects like story boarding for the Batman: Beyond animated series as well as lending his skilled hand to the fantastic Venture Brothers. Therefore, it comes as a bit of a surprise to see him tackle such a momentous narrative that is discernibly complex in both its image and text.
The title of the graphic novel, HAIR SHIRT, is addressed in the story as
“Hairshirt: A garment of rough cloth made from animal hair and worn in the form of a shirt, by way of mortification and penance.”
A puzzling definition indeed, and what erupts from the narrative is an emotional exploration of the fluidity of painful memory, and how it is lived and re-imagined repeatedly in not only ourselves but also in those we love.
Hair Shirt, a dark new graphic novel from Patrick McEown, follows the story John and Naomi, former childhood sweethearts who have grown apart. When their two lives intersect again as art school students, they seek safety and security in each other’s affection. But this is no simple romantic rekindling: both John and Naomi are wearing the hairshirts of miserable memories and dark nightmares, which may be too painful to shed, even if they hold each other tight again. The book follows the couple as they navigate the indie music scene and small town life as art students, offering readers a personal account of young love, sexual experimentation and depression.
McEown depicts John and Naomi’s struggle with the perpetual turmoil of their emotional scars with a continually gloomy and somber landscape that sets the stage for creating a fluidity to both the dreaming and real world. The coloring is both illuminating and shadowy, as it plays a key role in gliding the reader through John’s troubling flashbacks and haunting dreams.
An emotional and, at times, a discomforting read, HAIR SHIRT is engrossing both in its illustration and story, a feat that McEown masterfully accomplishes. Brought stateside by Abrams ComicArts, HAIR SHIRT is available next March and marks another great addition to the compelling list of releases from Abrams.