Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Park by Oscar Zarate

Based on the strength of SelfMadeHero's other publications I thought I'd blind buy this book and dammit am I glad I did. This is a serious contender for graphic novel of the year! So read on to see why I am so enthusiastic about this new graphic novel.

It all starts when a dog bites a man in the park and as a bonus the bitten man get's punched in the face by the dog's owner. An apology would have been better served I'd say, but this is exactly the event that is the motivation for this book. The bitten man is Chris who doesn't fully seem to realise what just overcame him. But why isn't he angry and why is he avoiding his son Vic's questions about what really went on in the park? Why didn't he demand an apology from dog owner Ivan Grubb, a popular columnist? Rather he goes back to his telly at home and watch some more Laurel & Hardy episodes and watch how Stan is constantly humiliated by Ollie there. Does Chris feel humiliated by the great Ivan Grubb?

Meanwhile Vic, not expecting a reaction from his father to Ivan's abuse, decides to take matters into his own hand and due to events I don't want to spoil gets into contact with Ivan's daughter Mel, an ecowarrior. She does artistic graffiti on all sorts of things like trees and cars, much to the dismay of Ivan, who thinks her activism classifies as vandalism. And could also interfere with a job offering he's had.

So what we get in this graphic novel is two single parent families with four different characters that in some way question their own actions and reactions, or lack thereof, and how this single dog bite is the catalyst of further events and how that influences their lives in one way or another. This book is all about action - reaction, but shows us how different reactions lead to different outcomes and different new actions and reactions to that, if that makes any sense.

I don't want to sound too philosophical (and there's plenty to laugh about in The Park), but I think Zarate did a great job in showing us this chain of causation. He also did fantastic in fleshing out these four main characters and gave us a look into their psyche, what makes them tick basically. All the while making use of the Laurel & Hardy episode where he draws different parallels between the silent movie and the events that are put forth in this book so well.

The chirping of the birds, the dogs running after balls, the disturbed swans that go out of their way to show they do not tolerate dogs getting too close, the runners and all other happenings you'd expect in a park were an excellent choice by Zarate to serve as the background for this story he tells us so well. The park is a place of experiences that can be different for every visitor and different every time they visit. The park is a place to reflect, to calm down, to relax. Or to play, with or without your dog, to share a laugh and a drink.The park truly serves as an excellent background to give us a birds-eye view of this oldest of human stories, but in a distinctively modern way.

I also want to share a few words on the art here, but first check out the video above about the creative process of The Park. I love how Zarate does his illustrations. I don't know much about his techniques, or about techniques in general, but he is a genius in the use of watercolours. It's all done very effectively and I mean that in a very positive way. He knows how to create a mood that suits the story and the characters well. The use of lighting during different times of day creates a different atmosphere in different parts of the book and makes the park look gorgeous. Not just the park, but also the night scenes are especially stunning with use of purples, dark blues, reds and oranges. You never truly know what's going to happen when putting watercolours to paper, but Zarate shows he's a master in doing so.

One piece of criticism though and that is quite minor, is that I think Vic looks older than he is supposed to be. This doesn't detract from the story at all though, but I think Zarate could have tried making him look a little younger. I might be wrong too, since Vic's age is never once mentioned, but as he's still living with his dad I'd say he'd be early twenties at most. However let this minor quibble not discourage you from trying out this book, since it is a masterpiece nonetheless. Oh and yes, Zarate uses thought bubbles and plenty of them. This is 'not done' in the States I'm told, but it's quite common over here in Europe. To be honest I don't really see the problem with thought bubbles and certainly not in The Park.

I hope my review is perceived as a love letter to The Park, in the same way as Zarate's The Park is perceived as a love letter to comics. So if you like to read a book in which an everyday event leads to a tit-for-tat revenge in graphic novel form do nothing else and buy The Park from SelfMadeHero today!

You've probably noticed by now that we love SelfMadeHero at The 9th Blog. They have an excellent nose in choosing some of the best books around, be it original works like The Park, or translations of French, Dutch and German publications like forthcoming titles such as Aâma and The Boxer. Be on the look out for a review of The Boxer soon which we are reading or have already read in German. But also for other SelfMadeHero books such as When David Lost His Voice and Pachyderme. All books that deserve some more love and more readers!

The Park is published by SelfMadeHero | £15.99 | ISBN13: 9781906838478


  1. Good review! Those watercolors are mesmerizing and I'm bummed I missed out on this in the previews. I'm not aware of any other retailers that carry SMH books besides Amazon; any other options that you know of?

  2. Thanks mate. The Park has not been published in the US yet (spring 2014), but you can get it from The Book Depository already with free worldwide shipping Do come back to tell us what you thought of it.