a review by Nalini Haynes
A brief case is left on a platform at Flinders Street train station in Melbourne’s inner city to become the Example. Two bystanders start talking about the person who left the briefcase, whether it’s a bomb and what the owner of the briefcase looked like. Written in the aftermath of the London bombing, this is an exploration of what it means to be a concerned, responsible citizen versus paranoia and racism. Apart from the cover, the artwork is black and white pen and ink, drawn in a realistic style in a location very familiar to me.
Tension is built in the story as the seconds tick by without the owner of the briefcase returning, increased by the creative angles of the artwork and the focus on the briefcase itself. I was waiting for something to happen, anything, not even realising I was holding my breath until I reached the ‘Fin’ (finish or end) that emphasises Colin’s ongoing work in the French comic book industry.
For me the tension was increased by the irony of the conversation that worked on a few different levels. Firstly, they could have called him back when he left his case behind or chased after him to return it, but chose not to. Would they have done so if the owner had been a white male in a suit?
Secondly, they talk about handing the briefcase in if it is a bomb. Twenty years ago I worked for the Australian Taxation Office, where we had a number of bomb scares. Staff were told not to pick up a possible bomb, but instead call the authorities who will evacuate and bring in the bomb squad. Even if it does turn out to be a bag of fish and chips left in the elevator (true story, we were evacuated).
In contrast to the appropriate treatment for a suspected bomb, the responsible thing for a caring citizen to do in the case of lost property is to hand it in. This is never discussed by the characters in The Example. For me the unspoken irony created both tension and horror; is this what our society has come to? Report a bomb, but don’t care about a person’s lost possessions?
Public perceptions of comic books and graphic novels tends to be that they are superhero stories for adolescent males of all ages and occasionally teaching tools for children, like the classics told in comics. The Example is social comment at its most pointed, holding a mirror up to our attitudes and concerns, not judging but simply reflecting. A must read. Currently being made into a movie.
Originally published in Dark Matter issue 5, September 2011. This post has been pre-dated to reflect the original publication date.