Ever bought a graphic novel without really knowing anything about it? You know, you liked the pretty pictures and hoped the story would live up to the artwork.
We at (Cool) Shite have a bit of a love affair with Australian indie comic book publisher Gestalt and as such, we generally pick up everything they print. Let it be said that in 2010 they have published what I consider the gold standard in Australian comics; Changing Ways by Justin Randall.
Admittedly, I picked up the book for 2 reasons: 1, it was pretty and 2, it was by Gestalt. Once purchased it sat in the stack of novels waiting for it’s turn in the sun. Now that I have read it, I wonder why it wasn’t on the top of my stack, actually everyone’s stack.
This book kicked me in the head and dragged me into it’s world so quickly that I had to struggle to put it down to do my day-job.
David Barrot is a family man, he has a pregnant wife, a young daughter and has recently moved to Grey Oaks; a small country town. In the recent past, rumours of an infection have turned up in the media. Weird scars have turned up on animals, insects and now people. The side-effects of these scars are different to each person, but when his neighbour’s dog jumps through their bedroom window in the middle of a massive rainstorm, shit just gets stranger and more violent from there on in.
It is inevitable that people who read lots of comics will see the artwork as something similar to Justin’s contemporary (and former pupil) Ben Templesmith. But that is where the comparisons should stop, Justin’s brings a realistic freshness in his life-work and amazing colourisation that give this story an atmosphere that is truly unique. Gestalt have printed the book lavishly on glossy paper stock with black bordered pages, which makes the artwork just pop. The little details that Justin has placed in the backgrounds of his scenes are amazing and give us much more opportunity to see the world building at play. These give us readers an excuse to re-read the book to see if we missed any clues.
While Justin’s artwork is impressive, his story writing skills are also a match.
We experience the unfolding horror through the Barrot family and eventually some of the other citizens. The emotional roller-coaster of David & his wife Lucy and their need to protect their daughter feels real. The police are on what has to be the start of the worst night of their lives and some of the crazy towns folk give you a sense of community gone horribly wrong. The characters feel solid and motivations are clear. David’s struggle with a secret that brought him and his family to Grey Oaks is compelling and we the reader really want to see how this plays out.
Justin has done a marvelous job with this first novel in a series. It will be something you will read and re-read and share with friends.
It blew my head off and I think it will do the same for you. Go out and buy it and see the changing face of Australian comics!”
– Bruce Moyle, (Cool) Shite on the Tube