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Briony Hatch

Review

Briony Hatch

Fourteen-year-old Briony Hatch thinks she’s fat and hates her frizzy hair. On top of that, school is boring, her friends are way cooler than she is, her parents are in the middle of an acrimonious divorce, and at this rate she is going to die a virgin. But by far the worst of all, her most favorite fantasy novel series in the whole wide world, The Starling Black Adventures, is coming to an end, and after she finishes the final installment, what then will Briony have to live for? If only she could be a bit more like her beloved heroine, Starling Black. For one thing, she’d be able to magic away her many problems….

 

Written and illustrated by sibling team Ginny and Penelope Skinner and published by the London-based indie press Limehouse Books, Briony Hatch is a poignant yet mischievous romp through the warts-and-all life-world of a geeky, teenage girl growing up in contemporary England. It’s also a feminist fantasy and a ghost story and a coming-of-age tale. And though these things may not seem to hang naturally together, it also just plain works --- on every level, narrative and artistic --- as a lovingly presented package of sequential art.

 

The authors have considerable experience writing scripts for theater, film, and television, and this shows in the careful, elegant pacing of Penelope Skinner’s storyline. Although the book is only 127 pages long, the mundane details of Briony’s world are richly described, and the transition from the ordinary to the extraordinary and back again is controlled and never too fast nor too slow. Little is wasted; the graphic novel even finds the space to encourage us to respect and recognize the fellow humanity of our elders. Better still, the tale ends at a place where we are more than happy to leave Briony. No desperate call for an indefinite parade of published sequels here!

 

Ginny Skinner’s monochrome line work is a lovely complement to the story. Although in places there appears to be the influence of gothic shoujo manga --- an apt choice given Briony’s obsession with gothic fantasy --- there is an appealing roughness to most of the panels and to the hand-lettering, lending the story an accessibility and immediacy of message it might otherwise lack were the style of art more superficially polished and consistent. Of particular brilliance are pages presumably taken from Briony’s own diary; her list-making, random doodles, and flowcharts really do look like they could have been penned by a teenager.

 

By the conclusion of the graphic novel, the pedagogical impetus of the story is revealed, but despite feeling a bit heavy-handed, Briony Hatch’s “have faith in yourself” message never quite stoops to condescending outright to its young audience. Some readers may be surprised by the frank treatment of boys and sex that is, let’s be honest, more European than American, but its lack of sanctimonious self-censorship gives added credence to Briony’s as an authentic teenager’s voice. Indeed, hers is sure to speak stridently across cultures. All in all, this is a fantastic debut from two very talented women into the still under-developed field of British comics. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Casey Brienza on October 22, 2013

Briony Hatch
by Ginny Skinner and Penlope Skinner