Review: Fourteen Euros at Primark by Sarah Bowie

Sarah Bowie recently sent over a copy of her new comic Fourteen Euros at Primark

, which debuted at ELCAF this year. This is the first work
I’ve seen from Bowie, who is an illustrator, cartoonist, and cofounder of The
Comics Lab in Dublin.

The storytelling of

Fourteen Euros at Primark

centers on
the post-mortem of a cancelled engagement, with the action of the story being
based around narration and retelling rather than traditional character
interactions. The female narrator gives readers a window into specific moments
of the relationship and her general feelings during the course of the eventual
breakup.

Fourteen Euros at Primark is reminiscent of memoir, but it’s hard to
tell if Bowie is the main character. I’ve seen pseudo-memoir in literature, but
if it exists in comics I haven’t read it yet (or perhaps I just read it?).

One of the most important narrative devices of the work is
fundamental misunderstanding between the narrator and her fiancé. Fraught
emotional moments where the narrator feels the relationship is at an end are
the precise moments where her fiancé chooses to escalate the relationship. And
those interactions in real life are overwhelming, but when the dust settles the
background noise remains, the fear and uncertainty are still there. The
disconnect is still there.

Bowie also gives readers a sense of the conflict between the
narrator and the fiancé through group interactions with the fiancé’s friends.
Men and women both interact in ways that make the narrator uncomfortable,
emphasizing her interpersonal exclusion as a mirror of her emotional isolation.
There are a lot of these, “What do you say to that?” kind of moments that echo
frustrations and worries.

I really like the way the comic looks – the linework is all
blue ink in a 2×3 or 3×3 grid.  Bowie uses some of the formalistic choices
of artists like Alyssa Berg, with images existing in multiple panels on the
grid. This is a complement to Bowie’s keen sense of pace. The work is very
distant and there’s a clear unease in the cadence of the telling, the stop and
start of it; the repetition of images is a mechanism in the same vein,
emphasizing that unease. There’s this smokiness to the art via smudges and
thumbprints that make it seem clouded, like a remembering. Oftentimes the image
associated with the text of the story is seemingly disparate, like images of
cats in panels where the narrator recounts her mother’s initial reaction to meeting
Niall, the narrator’s fiancé. The result of these stylistic and formal choices
is clear – the narrator is creating distance between herself and the subject
matter at hand.

That distance, and some stunning illustrative choices make

Fourteen

Euros at Primark a welcome
introduction to Bowie’s work and a comic worth pursuing. Recommended.


Sarah Bowie’s tumblr is @lidlesscomics and other comics and illustration work can be found at www.lidlesscomics.com.

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