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Sixteen Miles to Merricks and Other Works

Posted: Wednesday, July 16, 2008
By: Erik Norris

Barnaby Ward
Barnaby Ward
Frogchildren Studios
Editor’s Note: Sixteen Miles to Merricks and Other Works arrives in stores Wednesday, August 6.

It’s rare when you see imagination in its purest form; when every image successfully evokes a sense of wonder, beauty, and excitement. However, you will be transported to a utopia of limitless possibility by simply cracking open the cover to Barnaby Ward’s Sixteen Miles to Merricks and Other Works. What we have here is one of those rare instances where one creator has used his imagination to perfectly channel the human condition from mind to paper in its most creative form.

The book is Ward’s first project to be published by Frogchildren Studios. This tome collects four of Ward’s stories as well as assorted illustrations and sketches. The meat of the book is, without a doubt, the short “Sixteen Miles to Merrick,” which puts to use Ward’s infinite imagination overlaying a story that touches the very core of what makes us human: our heart.

As the protagonist, Chadwick, arrives home one average day, he finds a girl, Natalie, already in his home. Without giving so much as a reason for being there, Natalie whisks Chadwick away on a journey through the hidden tunnels in his house.

For the better part of the story’s opening, readers are left wondering about the same questions Chadwick is trying to get Natalie to explain. Why was she in his home? How does Natalie know Chadwick? Where is she leading him? To Ward’s credit, he finds the perfect balance in his storytelling to string readers along to the exact boiling point where curiousity turns to frustration. It’s at this point where Ward peels back another piece to his mystery, pulling readers right back into his narrative.

There were multiple occasions throughout “Sixteen Miles” where I felt Ward answered my questions right after they entered my head. It was almost like the book was reading my mind. The jury is still out on if it actually does.

As the narrative continues to unfold, the story becomes a much more emotionally grounded journey than simply a vehicle for Ward’s imagination to run wild. By the time you reach the conclusion of “Sixteen Miles,” with its heart wrenching final page, you will begin to appreciate the intricate plotting and subtle details Ward peppered throughout his story to bring it full circle.

There is not a panel or spoken word wasted, which makes a second trip through the story all the more rewarding. It’s also nice to see that Ward didn’t deliver a straight forward narrative that spells out everything for the reader. Instead, he chose to leave the story slightly ambiguous, allowing each reader to come away from the book with their own experience.

And that’s just the first story. The three shorts that follow “Sixteen Miles” are Ward’s opportunity to really cut loose with his creative side. Here you will find “HighBeerNation,” “Rooftops,” and “The Forest.” All three shorts make full use of graphic storytelling to tell complete narratives with little to no words, and Ward’s expressive figures, coupled with his phenomenal cinematography and beautiful panel progression, breathe life into each story. While none of the stories make logical sense, they all seem to succeed in showcasing the power of imagination when attempting to produce compelling narratives.

I can’t think of a better word than abstract to describe Barnaby Ward’s work in Sixteen Miles to Merricks and Other Works. And where that description might scare off a lot of American readers, let me assure you, I mean it as the highest compliment I can give.

I simply ask that you give it a chance because you won’t find graphic storytelling more compelling than what is found in these pages. The lingering thoughts left in your brain after reading this book will last weeks. It will give you something to ponder at the dinner table, in the office, or at the movies.

Sixteen Miles to Merricks and Other Worksis not an easily forgotten book. You won’t be putting it down to instantly look for your next fix to fill a missing void. This book is the void filler. Every story can be interpreted an infinite number of ways, and it makes you think about the book for as long, if not longer, than it took you to actual read it cover to cover.

I can’t recommend Sixteen Miles to Merricks and Other Works enough. There aren’t many graphic novels that I can pass along to people who believe that comics are for kids, but Barnaby Ward’s book is the kind of work that can change their minds. It has the power to turn non-believers into converts. The storytelling is so rich and imaginative, utilizing the medium to its fullest, while also being just as emotionally resonate as some of the best works of fiction.



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