Slang Pictorial by Nick Prolix
Nick Prolix has had a busy lockdown. Busy performing the heroic work of drawing each of the NHS and care workers who lost their lives in the Covid-19 crisis. These were not simply acts of remembrance but also political calls to action over issues like the availability of PPE.
Nick also has a great sideline in commissions and sketches, which I have taken advantage of myself (finding myself at the bar in The Three Kings naturally). So I was very happy to get the chance to read the three volumes published so far of his book Slang Pictorial.
Slang Pictorial brings a working class perspective on Sixties London. A very specific early Sixties era of coffee bars, jazz clubs and skiffle. This is the London of the Krays and the book has its own low rent gangsters. However this element does not dominate life, in many ways it exists on the fringes. This is the London of Cypriot cafes, the Windrush generation, factory girls, wideboys and starry eyed polytechnic poets. It is not a story of the rich and privileged, but buzzes with the energy of young working class people finding their way through life with naive optimism.
In many ways the neighbourhood of the Three Kings is the starring character of Slang Pictorial. Panels with city streets, drainpipes, shop signs and of course people bring that place to life. The sites and smells come to life, but especially it is the snappy dialogue that stands out with yiddish, jamaican and cockney dialects running together to give a flavour of a unique place and time.
Slang Pictorial has an interesting narrative vision, with the neighbourhood of the Three Kings providing a backdrop for a variety of stories. Nick draws interesting parallels with Gilbert Hernandez’s Palomar in Love and Rockets and the book Palookaville by Seth. Whilst it has a central plot it is not afraid to wander to interesting places and especially to explore lively dialogue in the style of Tarantino.
For a book with such a strong vision of London, there are surprisingly many continental influences. This was certainly an era in which European cinema, clothes and general style had an influence. What about comics? Your typical resident of Three Kings might not know much about Bande Dessinée but there are subtle references for those who care to sniff them out. Certainly we can see a bit of Tintin in the closing ‘les amis de Prolix’ logo and I spotted what looked like a nice Citroën Traction Avant tucked away at one point which Herge would have been very comfortable with.
The illustration style that Nick uses certainly has a strong inked line, but is closer aesthetically to the ‘style Atome’ of the Charleroi school seen most famously in Spirou with artists like Yves Chaland. This group also revelled in the new opportunities and optimism of the post-war era but with an awareness of the messy and ambiguous reality. The exploration of those grey areas finds expression in Nick Prolix’s shadowy and cross-hatched alleyways. We see a London that is both full of possibilities but with danger and corruption ever present. Hope and fear standing together as always.
There are hints of Seth’s nostalgic style, especially with some of the buildings, but this book is not as backwards looking or melancholy. The use of shop windows and external signs for titles is a nice tip of the hat to Eisner’s Spirit whose grubby streets packed with human stories are called to mind.
Slang Pictorial seems to have been meticulously researched and evokes a living, vibrant society. So in lieu of a holiday this year why not let Nick Prolix take you on a trip to the Three Kings?