Douglas Noble’s comics always have a certain something about them, an inkling that this is one author who really wants you to contribute to understand his tale. Sometimes his comics can frustrate, but that’s rare, far more likely they’ll intrigue and fascinate, you begin to look for meaning in the line, whether dialogue or art, find yourself second-guessing, questioning what you read. It’s a wonderful way to read comics, and no matter the length of a Douglas Noble comic I guarantee you that I’ll spend way longer thinking about what I’ve read than I did actually reading it.
Noble’s also something of a master of perpetual reinvention, never staying in one place too long, his Strip For Me series an umbrella title to allow him to tell all the different stories he wants.
Youthful Attack is yet another departure for Noble, an affectionate look at classic war comics on one hand, a harrowing look at the desolation of warfare on the other, and beyond all that, something far stranger, something that transforms the comic completely as the warfare fades and the world shifts. It is one of Noble’s most accessible and a perfect example of why I’m continually impressed by his imagination and comic talent.
Noble dedicates the issue to Oliver East, Simon Moreton, and Robin Barnard, and once you see where Noble takes this war tale, it’s obvious why he mentions Moreton (Smoo Comics) and East (Trains Are … Mint, Swear Down et al), both masters of the ‘landscape comic’ and deriving mood and presence from a minimal, stripped back style where the surroundings are always important parts of the whole. But Barnard may take a little more explaining. We’ve feautured Barnard and his “Images Degrading Forever” blog here on the FPI blog before, watching with fascination his methodology of redrawing comic narrative to derive meaning from the work.
Noble tells us on the inside front cover that Youthful Attack contains redrawn elements from the 1952 tale “Merrill’ Marauders” from Attack Issue 4. And it’s this element of the work that echoes Barnard, expanding upon simple redrawing, to repurpose the work, breaking down our ideas of what a war comic is, breaking the narrative and rebuilding it to something else.
So, that’s the inside front cover sorted then. Maybe I’d better tell you about the actual comic in here at some point? Actually, lets just show you page 1.
Beautiful opening panel, evoking all the best of Moreton’s beautiful minimalist landscapes, where a sweep of a line creates a horizon full of lush vegetation. But this is uniquely Noble, his art full of deep blacks, use of negative space to capture so much in between the moments.
After that initial establishing panel, we’re into something very different, on first glance very EC war comics, but look at those black voids where eyes should be, listen to those words… these aren’t traditional fightin’ men of the 50s, these are men struggling with what horrors they’ve seen. They question, they debate, the enemy attacks, the bloodshed and brutality hits hard, the poetry of Virgil is mentioned, the enemy have those same dead eyes, and then there’s the final push….
“Let’s end the unending horror.”
A burst of pure white.
And then smoke.
Smoke moves across the panel, and our p.o.v. moves closer and closer, images degrading, our eye and mind freed from the battle, we drift on smoke, on the wing, coming back to a different earth, one of peace and tranquillity, where things have changed, where war is over, and the landscape takes over, pages of beautiful, lush landscape, just as impressive as that very first panel.
In Youthful Attack Noble takes his story, actually a little of someone else’s story, and turns it around, deconstruction to give meaning, a transformative effect. This is one you can power through and get much of what Noble intends, it’s actually one of his more accessible works, but there’s far more pleasure and satisfaction to be derived from fully experiencing the work, to linger over each page, especially when we move through the smoke, to lose yourself in the ideas of what happens when the narrative is removed and we’re left with the environment telling its own story.
Beautiful, engrossing stuff. I’ve come to expect nothing less from Douglas Noble.