By Brecht Evens
Drawn & Quarterly
This first English language release from Belgian artist Evens is all about colour, moods, conversations, and people.
It’s concerned with charismatic leading men and the lives they affect, whether it’s women seduced by their charm or men drawn into strange, inexplicably enduring friendships. It paints, with simply gorgeous watercolours, a beautiful, opulent and lurid portrait of modern manners, in all their painfully awkward details.
Wrong Place is all about the far too charismatic Robbie, although for almost half the book, it’s Robbie’s absence that defines and drives the story. And it’s also about Naomi, who finds herself literally bulldozed into bed by Robbie’s charm at a party. But first, it’s about Gary, who claims a long-standing friendship with Robbie, but who couldn’t be further from the life and soul of the party if he tried.
Gary throws a party, and an impressive number of guests show up. But they’re all there to see Robbie, who’s meant to be coming. Poor Gary overdoes everything, trying too hard to be a perfect host, his feeble attempts to please just come across as desperately needy and his party is a joyless, horrible experience:
(Gary’s party, where all the guests feel they’re in the wrong place. Beautiful use of colour to delineate the moods and characters of those present – Gary’s drab, dull grey world is momentarily enlivened by the colour bubble of the guests. From The Wrong Place by Brecht Evens, published by Drawn & Quarterly)
It’s a party I’ve been to. You probably have as well. The party you get to and instantly realise that you need to leave and spend the next three hours making stilted, uncomfortable and barely polite conversation whilst working out which excuse will work best to get you out of there.
It takes merely a few pages to feel desperately uncomfortable along with Gary’s guests, such is Evens’ ability to convey a mood through the careful use of so much colour, with every character given a different tone, a different mood through colour:
(Poor, dull grey Gary, possessing the ability to suck the atmosphere out of a room every time he opens his mouth. You feel sorry for him, but that’s only because you aren’t there with him. From The Wrong Place by Brecht Evens, published by Drawn & Quarterly)
When we finally meet Robbie, it’s through the eyes of Naomi, uncomfortable on a night out. And, as Robbie literally overwehlms her with sheer personality, we feel every bit as uncomfortable as she does, unable to resist the incessant and irrepressible Robbie; party king, Lothario, Casanova, the life and soul of anywhere he finds himself.
It’s a blur of experiences, of new people, of snatched conversations, all orchestrated without need for traditional word balllooons by Evans. We follow every conversation simply becasue his page layouts and pacing is so very good all the way through. Robbie’s world simply overwhelms poor Naomi, it’s a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party of new, strange people, and she’s always on the sidelines, feeling incapable of resisting the current, the gravitational pull of Robbie’s orbit.
Until, inescapably, inevitably, she ends up at his place, lying awake on the wrong side of the bed, wondering how on Earth she got here in the dead of the night.
(Overwhelming – yes, that describes Robbie quite well. From The Wrong Place by Brecht Evens, published by Drawn & Quarterly)
A terrible morning will no doubt follow for Naomi, although we’ll never know as part three takes us to another party where we finally see Gary and Robbie together.
And it’s obvious where the sexual politics of this platonic friendship have always been teetering towards. Robbie’s captivating personality extends to his old school friend, but nothing ever came of it, and nothing ever will. Gary just wouldn’t do that sort of thing – he’d never relax and let go enough to even realise it. Their conversation, their actions are all loaded with yet more uncomfortable energy as Gary gets smaller and greyer in comparison to his friend. A final moment of exuberant release from Robbie nearly sees Gary join in, but it’s not his nature, it never was, and no-one is as disappointed as Robbie. A moment lost, and only Robbie realises it.
(Gary and Robbie, opposites do attract, in the strangest of ways. If only Gary could see it, if only Robbie could meet him halfway? From The Wrong Place by Brecht Evens, published by Drawn & Quarterly)
The Wrong Place looks so gorgeous, it’s possible that a reader may be overwhelmed and miss the story that lies beneath. And the art, the colours are an integral part of this story; of love, of people, of lost opportunity, of character, of moments. And they’re all beautifully realised, with breathtaking conversational action, words flying around the pages, multiple conversations at once, yet never confusing, always brilliantly real.
But the art is always what dominates – it assaults and seduces the eyes as they play across the page. The Wrong Place is simply a perfect realisation of character and lifestyle through art, just lovely. Art, story, the whole thing. A sumptuous work.