Orwell – review

Words by Pierre Christin
Art by Sébastien Verdier – With illustrations by a team of artists including Juanjo Guarnido, Enki Bilal, Manu Larcenet, Blutch and André Juillard and Sébastien Verdier
Translated by Edward Gauvin

Published by Self Made Hero

Review by Louise Date

Though his works have become (rightly or wrongly) a by-word for the kind of dystopian work of literature that proliferated in the dreariness of Post- War London, many of us know George Orwell only as a name on the cover of 1984. A new graphic novel by Pierre Christin and Sébastien Verdier goes some way to redress the balance in a stylish and swash-buckling way.

A very good place to start, Orwell begins at the beginning, and follows the life of the young Eric Blair from his time as an Eton schoolboy all the way through to enforcer of the colonialism of the British Raj, soldier in the Spanish Civil War, wartime broadcaster and penman of some truly bleak tales. A life lived in turbulent times, some of the themes that Orwell introduced to the world are still as relevant as ever in the light of surveillance society, totalitarianism taking a new guise and right wing nationalism creeping back into mainstream society – one of the reasons that Christin and Verdier are bringing Blair, aka Orwell, back to a wider audience.

The whole larger-than-life biography is almost more adventurous and gritty than the stories that Orwell himself wrote, and the panels the Verdier uses to assist the text in a traditional comic format are dark, shadowy and yet refreshing to read: one can’t help but find yourself turning the pages at doublespeed to see more.

The style is kept very uniform, with heavy use of marks that really emphasises some of the hardship being carried around by the characters, occasionally breaking into a panel of pure landscape to set the scene. On a few occasions throughout the book, the strictly black and white images break through into colour to emphasise some of the emotion that Orwell himself is struggling to show in stereotypical British stiff-upper-lip-ness. As well as a few occasions of full technicolour, splashes of red, turquoise and yellow appear throughout; in the background, as a textured motif or in Communist flags, lobsters and deceased birds.

It’s clear that the text supplied by Christin has been very carefully considered, along with the research that has been put into representing an account of a somewhat mythologised figure. Considering biographies are often long and prone to becoming bogged down in trivialities, Christin’s text keeps up the pace and doesn’t allow the narrative to become stolid. The whole book reads like a rip-roaring adventure rather than the retelling of a middle-ranking British soldier from the 1930s.

However, none of it shies away from the darker sides of Orwell’s facts and fictions. Christin and Verdier do not pull any punches in their address of the predictions unwittingly made in work such as 1984, and the inevitable comparisons between the world of Big Brother that enthralled and terrified readers, and the one that we now inhabit. Subversion of truth, Newspeak and the attack on privacy are all still a very real threat to society.

It is very much worth reading Orwell; worth lingering over the pages to take in the work of Christin and Verdier, and to consider the life of an extraordinary man, and the extraordinary vision of our world that he depicted.

12th August 2021

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