Watching

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Reviewed by 07-Jan-17

Watching is one of those comics that provokes very different reactions. Some people obviously love it, but this reviewer finds it a bit opaque.

Watching review coverFirst published as an episode of Winston Rowntree’s Sub-Normality web comic, and now available from Soaring Penguin as a physical book, Watching is one of those comics that provokes very different reactions. Some people obviously love it – in 2015 it won Slate’s Cartoonist Studio Prize  for Best Web Comic. But this reviewer, at least, finds it a bit opaque.

The art is beautiful. Lovely, expressive faces, detailed backgrounds, and interesting layouts. The colouring – mostly shades of blue – is subtle. It does have to be said that it doesn’t always feel like conventional comics – there’s no dialogue or sound effects – instead there’s a narration which accompanies the illustrations, rather than being integrated with them.

But that’s not my primary issue with the book. My problem is with the story, which is very slight. In the far future, at least a thousand years, people can travel back in time, but only to observe, and cannot themselves be observed. Most people observe famous historical moments, to settle great questions of the past – there’s a funny panel of time travellers measuring the height of Napoleon. (6′ 2″, since you ask.)

Watching review sampleThe central character of Watching, however, chooses instead to watch a young girl dying in hospital. And because he doesn’t understand, he watches her die all over again. And again.

By the end of the story, I’m really not sure whether anyone is supposed to have learnt anything. Certainly I don’t feel that my perceptions on life have been particularly changed. So what is this story about? I’m afraid I just don’t know. Like the narrator, I have watched, but I don’t understand.

And it’s not that I don’t like Rowntree’s work in general. There’s other stuff on Sub-Normality that appeals to me a lot more. It’s just this comic I don’t particularly like.

But I could be wrong. Maybe this comic will connect with you when it didn’t connect with me.

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