Breakwater by Katriona Chapman
The British seaside town, a cinema whose glory days are in the past, a woman whose life seems to have been put on hold, a young man escaping from something. This is the familiar setting in which we find ourselves in Katriona Chapman’s Breakwater.
I say familiar because it is a scenario that many of us will have encountered before. Generations of British TV drama have taught us that seaside towns are always past their peak and are exactly the kind of place you run away to hide in. Where the spoons are greasy and everyday is like Sunday.
Breakwater quickly moves beyond that cliché. To begin with, Brighton is a vibrant, youthful and diverse community. It is the kind of place you move to be alive, not just to hide. The central character of Breakwater is Chris – middle-aged, single and in what some would consider a dead-end job in an independent cinema, but she is generally content with her life. But like the tide that laps against Brighton Beach, she realises that things can’t always stay still.
I think I’ve always wanted to live outside of the norm. Like, not take part, you know. In society’s…stuffChris, Breakwater
One strength of Breakwater is the diverse cast. Katriona Chapman has created characters that feel authentic, they could be your neighbours, workmates or friends. Life circumstances are not always tragic or reduced to plot points.
Breakwater introduces us to wonderful characters like sixteen year old Craig, kicked out of school but full of the energy and optimism of the young. There are people of all ages, each with their own story. But not a tragic story. Just life.
When Chris meets new recruit Daniel, a young man who has recently moved to Brighton she finds her quiet and solitary life challenged. From her daydreams of her ideal home to her suspended career in social work, new possibilities seem to open up. But Daniel brings his own issues with him to Brighton.
The characters in Breakwater are brought to life by Katriona Chapman’s soft pencils. Faces are imbued with personality, how they smile, yawn or smoke a cigarette. There is excellent use of light, as dawn breaks on a Brighton street or as the sun filters into abandoned and derelict rooms in the cinema.
With much of the action taking place in the same cinema foyer and with many ‘talking head’ conversational scenes (you feel Breakwater would make a good stage play) it is interesting to see how the author uses the panels to keep these interesting. Different angles and facial expressions bring movement and emotion to these scenes.
The book is interspersed with full page illustrations of the cinema and streets of the town which, as well as being very striking, work to set the scene and create a certain atmosphere as the book moves towards a conclusion.
Breakwater is a book that surprises the reader and takes them somewhere unexpected, something that can be very difficult to achieve in comics. It has a very mature approach to the events that are experienced by the characters that inhabit its pages and the warm and human artwork reflects this. It is a book very much about life, with all of the joy and pain that goes with it; often routine and quiet but occasionally extraordinary.
Breakwater is available now from Avery Hill.
Katriona Chapman can be found on her website.