When I went to England in 2003 I brought back a copy of Gemma Bovary by Posy Simmonds. When I was back there last month, standing in a comics store and wondering what to buy, it seemed appropriate to get Tamara Drewe, also by Simmonds. Not only did this result in what can only be described as “fearful symmetry”, it was also a good choice because of how very English Simmonds’ work is.
It took me a few evenings to read the book because it’s very dense. Between the amount of text and the detail in the artwork there’s a lot on each page to take in and process. Simmonds handles both deftly; in her storytelling she is able to switch to a different character’s point of view on a dime without confusing the reader, and in her artwork she uses nice crisp lines, subtle expressions, and use of spot color to spin out the action.
The book is based on Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, but I’m not familiar with the novel and reading the description on Wikipedia makes the connection seem pretty loose. The comic is about a rural town in England which is upset by the arrival of native daughter and low-level celebrity Tamara Drewe. It also focuses on those around her: a well-known author and his wife, who run a retreat for writers; a handyman with a crush on Drewe; a pair of bored kids who take an interest in Drewe’s affairs; a former rock start who becomes Drewe’s affair; and one of the writers at the retreat.
The characters are handled well, and most of them have a good depth and complexity to their personalities. (Nicholas Hardiment is a bit one-note and on-the-nose, but that’s okay.) Simmonds is able to drive the story along naturally, even despite an odd plot contrivance that is, to be fair, a holdover from the novel (the scene in question sticks out not only for its awkwardness, improbability, and technical errors, but also for the way that Simmonds seems to sense this and only reluctantly brings it up afterwards.) The ending is a little odd and forced, as is the denouement.
This is the sort of thing I don’t mind reading as a comic, but wouldn’t be very interested in as a novel or movie, and I honestly can’t tell you why that is. (A movie was made of the book in 2010. It sounds like some of the details are changed for the movie (without saying too much, what seems like it will happen in the book but doesn’t happens in the movie, and I don’t think that would add much) and I’m not in any hurry to see it.