Andy Hixon actively unnerves with this chilling though compelling graphic novel, Lucia. An artist living in Sheffield, Hixon creates a uniquely stylised novel whose peculiar visuals are sure to scare a few but perhaps also charm some others. Exploring the medium of graphic novels, Hixon is able to convey a very special kind of feeling in this haunting text which reminds us again that comics and cartoons are not always made for the young at heart.
Morty is disabled, a divorcee and aspiring writer who lives with his irresponsible, hot-headed best friend and sponsor Brick. Their home is situated on the cliffs facing the ocean near Lucia, a location teetering on the brink of being swallowed by the sea. The book follows the pair as they contemplate their place in Lucia, barely scraping by selling the scrap metal that they find from the nearby highway. The odd duo don’t do much for the most of the book, their activities ranging from mundane to the odd, but it isn’t their lives that provide the hook of Lucia — it’s the look and feel of Lucia and Hixon’s creation of atmosphere and imagery that grips.
Lucia transports us to a world eerily similar to our own but with a dark, grotesque twist. This is a town where “a roaring undercurrent of unemployment has pushed the town further towards its demise”. Any efforts by Morty and his mate to make something of themselves is met with obstacles, making sure that they remain trapped in the hopeless hamlet. The citizens of Lucia haven’t got much to live for, just a pint at the pub every night and a couple of brawls behind the cafe. Hixon’s graphic novel depicts the struggles of many in modern society trying to make ends meet, and still search for some kind of happiness and fulfilment.
Lucia creates a surreal world, and readers will soon find that while things in the small, grey town are much like the real world, many things also reside in a distorted reality. The “Hive” company controls almost all of the lifeless town’s major services, from the pawn shop to an online dating website. The town’s only life line lies in the Job Hive—a parallel to our own Jobcentre Plus — and in a town where everyone is unemployed, it becomes its only ray of hope. However, the building is located out in the sea, “submerged up to its 4th floor with no wheelchair access”, and visits to the “Hive” involves a perilous row boat trip across the dangerous waves. Needless to say, the “Hive” symbolizes hopes and aspirations that lie just out of reach for Morty and Brick.
Hixon brings a unique look and atmosphere to the novel with a grungy, haunting artistic style not often seen in graphic novels. All the characters are 3D rendered, replacing the traditional style of 2D comics and making this text an interesting exploration of evolving and modern forms of visual storytelling. The characters have a definite sense of “uncanny valley”, being both realistic and unsettling at the same time especially with their over-exaggerated proportions and grotesque features. The art work range in style from Morty’s dreary, downtrodden appearance to the Cafe’ owner, Wendy, whose horrific, distorted features is sure to give any reader nightmares. The visuals can be quite strange at times, and coupled with the depressing atmosphere and story, the novel can be uncomfortable read. Yet, despite of the gothic quality of this book, Lucia is at times also humorous, such as with Don-K, a goofy looking donkey working the beaches of Lucia who once “ran off to get a lick of ice-cream and bit a little girl’s finger off”. However, even with a bit of laughs here and there, we are reminded this is a black comedy with no silver lining to the lives of its characters.
Be prepared to dive headfirst into a book whose imagery is sure to unsettle. You were warned!