Review: Darkness Outside The Night

What is it to be young in modern China? It is an important question. Many predict that one day the country will rival and possibly eclipse the US and it will be their China by then. The truth for most young Chinese is that the future seems very unpredictable. There is the pressure from the grueling competition to secure employment and frustration from enduring an often ridiculous education system. Han Han captures the absurdity of the reality so cleverly in his writing, now finally turning up on Western bookshelves, but there has been little expression of this life in illustration.

Over a period of four years, Xie Peng created a series of intense and beautiful vignettes in reaction to his life in Shanghai. His work focused on the various journeys of a small simple character, significant only by the scarf wrapped around his neck. I was shown these in early 2011 with the opportunity to work with Xie Peng to shape a story for a graphic novel and I was immediately keen collaborate with him. For my part I had spent several years making a documentary film on Chinese youth and come to understand the anxiety and insecurity expressed in Xie Peng’s illustrations.

Darkness outside the Night is not a story about Chinese politics, it is simply about the struggle to build a life and work in a chaotic, surreal and cruelly unequal society of one and a half billion.

You would think that to have a deep graphic novel you would need a nine panel grid and lots of dialog, but no.

Darkness Outside The Night refutes that suggestion and bring you a story that drags you in with some big uneven panels and minimal dialog.

I am pretty shallow with some of the comics I read, but I couldn’t help getting drawn in. What you get here are some wonderful visuals of darkness and light, of city and plains. The use of light is incredibly significant here and adds to the feeling of the story – in fact the light adds to the dialog!
As i mentioned, the dialog is minimal, but don’t think you’re going to get a decompressed story here – each panel tells its own story and invests you into the character.

Jarring at first, you quickly get a feel for the style and find yourself flipping backwards and forwards through the book, until you finish – then you want to pick it up again!

This isn’t the sort of title I would usually pick up, but I’m glad I did and feel I have expanded my mind a bit more! 🙂

Available on itunes Tabella publishing are marking themselves out for these sort of graphic novels and have a great selection of books – check them out!

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