Graphic Novel - Motherbridge

We're very pleased to be part of the book tour for George Mann's first foray into graphic novels with Motherbridge: Seeds of Change, art by Aleta Vidal and lettering by Mauro Mantella. Susan Omand read the book...

George Mann is better known to me as an author of fantasy thriller novels, like Wychwood and Hallowdene, or as a writer of detective novels featuring well-known characters such as Sherlock Holmes or Newbury and Hobbs, so I was intrigued to find that he has switched formats to turn his hand to a graphic novel, Motherbridge: Seeds of Change.

The story is based in a future New York in a world which had previously recovered from all the ills that humans had caused. Thanks to the World Mother, a godlike entity who caused a change in both the environment and people’s behaviour, climate change, xenophobia, war and hatred seem like things of the past. However, like everything people are involved in, this utopia did not last, the World Mother became silent again and walls (literal as well as metaphorical) got rebuilt to “protect the citizens” from the impinging natural world. As a result, non-nationals also became segregated and Hayley Wells, a British woman married to an American man, with a young family, finds herself ejected alone from the city they were living in and told by the general to “go back to whatever shithole” she came from and was dumped outside the city walls.

The world beyond the walls looked idyllic, nature had reclaimed a lot of the land, but Hayley was determined to get back inside the city and back to her family. To do this, though, not only does she have to scale the walls and evade re-capture by the guards, she also has to deal with mercenaries engaged by the city general to keep “creatures” away from the walls and a bullying quasi-religious cult, intent on worshipping nature to the exclusion of everyone else. She is not alone for long though in her stand against all of this, as she gets help from a couple of people who are also outsiders, looking to locate the same creature that the mercenaries are hunting, a Motherkin, a connection to the now silent World Mother. But the creature is not the only one connected in some way to the World Mother. As Hayley feels both her anger and maternal instinct rise, trying to protect and nurture those she has become close to, as well as endeavouring to get back to those she has left behind, forces are stirring and a Mother Bridge starts to come to life, along with Hayley’s desire to tear down the walls of the city ….

On the surface, this is a fairly straightforward action-packed adventure with a twist of the supernatural thrown in, and it does read well like that, maybe a little predictable in parts, but that’s not a bad thing because it has a very satisfying plot and you could imagine it on a big screen as a Hollywood action movie. No, it’s when you start to think about it a bit more that it gets interesting, with deeper themes of motherhood, nurturing, protection and instinct running throughout. It’s not just Hayley and her need to get back to her family, there’s a lot of other connections, and disconnections, between other characters and with the world itself, that often went unspoken but definitely enrich the story. There are also many darker undercurrents not elaborated upon, not least the hunting, the refugees, ethnic cleansing, border controls etc. which would also bear further investigation to add depth.

As a graphic novel though, it’s not just about the words, the art plays a huge part in the story-telling process, and Aleta Vidal’s artwork is beautiful. I really liked the orange/green colour palette used throughout and there is a wonderfully “alive” feel to the sinuous plants. Tiny details in her artwork also subtly added to the atmosphere of the story for me - things like the city general watching a hawk catching a bird in flight in the background as a precursor to his discussion with mercenaries really added to my feeling of “something bad” going to happen. I also appreciated the variations in panel layouts across the pages which never became monotonous but was always easy to follow the flow.

Talking of flow, a quick note about Mauro Mantella’s lettering skills because letterers never get as much credit as they should for making a story readable. I liked the colour change between the voiceover exposition boxes and the dialogue, which made it a lot easier to follow what was going on in some of the panels which could have been, otherwise, quite busy. I also really liked the way longer speeches were broken up into linked speech bubbles rather than trying to fit a lot into one section. And having the sound effects “break out” of the constrictions of both bubbles and panel frames was inspired, as this made the noises a lot more multi-directional for me, if that makes sense - they grew as entities in their own right and not enclosed in one small space.

To me, this book feels more like a feature-length pilot for a TV series than the blockbuster movie I mentioned before. Motherbridge: Seeds of Change does a great job in introducing characters and themes, setting a scene and creating an atmosphere, so that we could look forward to spending longer in this world, learning more about the characters and background to the World Mother herself, as well as looking forward to future adventures.

Image - Dark Horse Comics/Amazon

Motherbridge: Seeds of Change, art by Aleta Vidal and lettering by Mauro Mantella, is published by Dark Horse comics; in comic shops now and coming to book stores on 31st.

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