Ellice Weaver's Something City sets ten powerful character vignettes in a strange, colourful, segmented non-place. One of the most immediately striking things about it, though, is the layout design. From its city-plan view to the landscape orientation, there's a focus on space and place.
Something City explores connection/disconnection by proximity. There's quiet withering in the suburbs, ostracism and irony, alienation by technology - all the Vermillion Sands stuff, but without quite the lackadaisical beach-surreal tone.
It's pretty great.
It's fitting that a book that imagines a city should feel so architectural. The cover and chapter-dividing pages suggest some uncanny version of a coffee-table book about fifties suburbia. They're top-down isometric, but wilfully non precise. There's shades of Where's Wally - pages crammed with people and in a colour palette that's both unified and mucking about with background salience. The eye doesn't slide off it exactly. It's too Matisse-y posed-naïve for that. But it's crowded, somewhere between joyous and visually uncomfortable.
The isometric view persists, dividing the book into chapters. Each community segment is distinct, with its own feel and colours. And from them we pull to the lives inside, also landscape oriented, the length of the reading line across the page inviting a bit more visual consideration of the whole thing than a vertical flick-down for dialogue.
The city plan frames the book as spatial, and the page structure pulls us back to that, suggesting through arrangement and juxtaposition. We're invited to read the pages as rooms, but also as moments within them. It's sequential through dialogue, but the mood is often simultaneous, a stretched instant in a place.
Meanwhile, the line style sits in uneasy truce with the layout. It's painty, coloured like screen print, with almost a paper cut-out feel, and no edging. The only hard lines are the gutters, or the edges and corners of homes, streets, and furniture. The hard-edged architectural is jostled in with more loosely shaped bodies, and dogs and burgers and plants. Occasional text boxes butt in, sometimes speech, sometimes narration. It's gloriously messy, and the figures are expressive.
That panel's doing a lot of work. I love the speech bubble, partly outside the scene, almost a caption, but trailing weakly down. The character talking, weakly, to her feet?
This is all used to tell ten little personal stories (intertwined, of course) against the constraints of space and community. Each of them is set in a different part of town, whizzing us through the Amish Community (looser, gentler lines) where a girl flees for modernity in a cobbled-together David Bowie costume; the doctor reluctantly trying nudism in the Free Body Culture Club; some pure Black Mirror techno-social satire in the Old Networth Square tech enclave; a downtown binge; and looped through it all, the thread of Jo Walker, what she did, the consequences and the town's reactions.
There's a little of Adamtine there, in its treatment of justice by public opinion, anger, ostracism, and the range of survivors' emotions. Something City isn't a horror book, but it does engage with how a community reacts to what it sees as justice not being done, and how both a victim and the person responsible for a tragic act (in this case of culpable negligence) might feel and struggle to live.
Juxtaposition and disconnection again. People don't fit in their suburban bubbles (it's a little like Transmetropolitan's "reservations", far less lurid), and struggle to connect with those around them. Jo unwittingly moves to the same town as the victim of a savage dog attack she was equally unintentionally responsible for. A new age guru co-opts Dr Jenn's rejection as enlightenment, and the penultimate story (spoiler below) features one of the most brutal, aching-or-maybe-joyous micro relationship slices I think I've ever seen:
I suppose you could see what you want in there, and it's on me that I see visceral tragedy over beauty. But it's down to Something City that the range is there to offer that tension. Damn, I'm a sucker for a salient ambiguity.
Note: The lovely folks at Avery Hill sent us a digital copy to review. Nowt else changed hands, and as with all review submissions, we only cover it if we like it.