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WHEN THE WIND BLOWS
By RAYMOND BRIGGS (Penguin Books; 1982)

This disturbing marvel of a graphic novel doesn’t often come up in discussions of the adult comic book renaissance of the 1980s, but it deserves a place of honor. It was the first grown-up publication by longtime children’s book scribe Raymond Briggs, yet readers back in 1982 could be forgiven for mistaking WHEN THE WIND BLOWS for a kid book with its comic strip layout and cartoony artwork. The subject matter, however, is anything but cartoonish.

     It’s about the Bloggs, a middle aged couple living in the English countryside. We get to know and like these two characters, he a slightly cranky ex-serviceman and she a no-nonsense housefrow--yet we’re also made privy, in ominous full page depictions of an imposing missile, fighter planes amassing in the sky and a nuclear submarine, to the fact that the world outside the Bloggs’ country haven is in a state of extreme unrest. That unrest ultimately manifests itself in the form of a nuclear explosion, depicted here, simply enough, via a pair of all-white pages.

     The Bloggs are far enough away from the explosion’s epicenter that they don’t sustain any real damage--at least not initially. But as they attempt to get back to their everyday lives the deadly radiation emitted by the blast gradually seeps into the atmosphere, causing illness, hair loss and extreme fatigue, while the overall color scheme grows increasingly grey and featureless. The dark comedy of the piece is undeniable, but the horror and futility of the Bloggs’ predicament registers just as strongly. The ending, you can be sure, is as bleak as can be imagined.

     The Bloggs are among the most lovable graphic novel protagonists you’ll ever encounter, being fully-rounded codgers with their own distinct British-centric mode of conversation, which makes their relentless disintegration especially upsetting. Briggs never loses his focus, keeping the Bloggs at the center of his story without any cutaways or supporting characters to distract from their drama. This approach proves far more compelling than you might expect, and also imparts a pointed critique of the political situation that existed in early-eighties England in the discussions the Bloggs have about their situation, which illuminate the fact that government mandated survival precautions for nuclear war were and are hopelessly outdated and ineffectual.

     Incidentally, WHEN THE WIND BLOWS was adapted for the movies in 1986, in an animated feature that nicely replicates this book’s look and overall tone, albeit with gratuitous psychedelic interludes (apparently to remind us that many of its creators previously worked on THE YELLOW SUBMARINE) and distracting rock tunes by the likes of David Bowie and Genesis. It’s worth seeing, but do be sure and check out this book, preferably first.


Review by Adam Groves
--6/7/2014

     

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