Slog’s Dad – another darkly uplifting children’s book from Almond and McKean
Slog’s a boy who believes in life after death, and he believes with all his heart. His dad died, cruelly and horribly, after a vibrant life as a binman was cut short when first one leg, then the other was taken, until there’s nothing but disease left, and a quick death.
But Slog can’t let go, after all – his dad promised he’d return, promised he’d visit one last time. And when a scruffy bloke turns up on the park bench Slog’s convinced that his dad’s returned to make good on that final promise.
“Slogger, Man” I said. “Your dad’s dead.”
“I know that, Davie. But it’s him. He’s come back again, like he said he would.”
(Who is this? Some far from random stranger or, as Slog so dearly wishes – his Dad returned for one last time? McKean captures everything perfectly in just a few lines – an unease, a suspicious glance, all questions at this point and no clear answers. From Slog’s Dad by David Almond and Dave McKean, published by Walker Books)
As we go through the book we’re told, through Slog’s friend Davie’s words, the terribly sad tale of Slog’s Dad’s death and Slog’s insistence that this mysterious man on the bench is his Dad returned for one last promised visit before he’s off to heaven.
But Davie has his doubts, and worries (just as we do) that Slog may be deluding himself, fears that this mystery man isn’t the angel from heaven Slog so desperately wishes him to be.
(McKean’s art fills in the gaps in Almond’s prose – allowing us a glimpse into Slog’s memories, or as here, his fantasies and dreams. Heartbreaking stuff. From Slog’s Dad by David Almond and Dave McKean, published by Walker Books)
Slog’s Dad is the second collaboration between Almond and McKean, following the masterpiece that was The Savage, wherein a perfect hybrid of comics and prose delivered a powerful and moving story. Can lightning strike twice? Can Almond and McKean find the magic again?
Well, at first I thought not. I felt it was a glorious failure, made all the moreso by comparison to what came first. But subsequent readings have changed my mind. This is every bit as powerful, as moving, as magical as The Savage.
Slog’s Dad is a far harsher book than The Savage, indeed it’s even vaguely threatening and downright creepy in one key moment when Slog and his friend Davie are with the strange, scruffy man Slog believes is his father. Almond could have made this far lighter, but to his credit he pushes it darker, as we share Davie’s suspicion that all is not as it seems.
But there’s also a beauty in amongst the darkness – and it’s all through the desperate, passionate need of Slog to see his beloved dad one last time. The rawness of the emotion is quite overwhelming at times, with McKean conveying the overwhelming sadness in Slog’s life so delicately, with just a single tear saying more than a thousand words ever could:
(One tear. That’s all it needs for McKean to make our hearts fill and near burst. Perfection from Slog’s Dad by David Almond and Dave McKean, published by Walker Books)
Where The Savage utilised McKean’s comic art to tell a story within the prose, integrating it perfectly into the story, his art here is serving numerous functions; as a glimpse into Slog’s thoughts – his sadness at remembering his dad’s illness, the gradual loss of his legs, his desire for what could be and even, crucially on one double spread, a key moment of plot point as we discover just what this mysterious man may well be.
But despite not being as perfectly integrated into the story, McKean’s art is every bit as impressive as it was in The Savage, even though it’s stylistically radically different. This is McKean’s art as we recognise it now – where sketchy linework gives way to beautifully textured, lush computerised effects that grant an almost 3D effect to his art. It’s completely different, but just as beautiful – in fact, it’s perfect for the story.
Just like The Savage, Slog’s Dad is a deeply moving work dealing with the intense grief and wish fulfilment of the central character. Whilst The Savage’s Blue achieves this through his writing and the subsequent merging of fiction and reality, Slog achieves his own moment of acceptance through strange, dark coincidence and mystery.
It’s no less powerful and moving. It is more difficult and pushes the book even further up the age range. But, particularly on multiple readings, it’s profoundly affecting and will potentially move the reader to tears. Lightning can strike twice it seems. Almond and McKean have created something just as wonderful as The Savage, and Slog’s Dad is an incredible work.