n Good Read #3: St. Swithin's Day


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Good Read" Column for March 30, 1998

St. Swithin's Day

By Grant Morrison and Paul Grist
32 pages (one-shot), Oni Press, $2.95

(of a possible five)


Oni Press is quickly positioning itself as one of the premiere publishers of alternative comics. Their Double Feature comic has published or is scheduled to publish stories by such luminaries as Paul Pope, Bill Sienkiewicz, Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell (the latter two in an upcoming team-up). They brought comics-fan and cult favorite movie director Kevin Smith into the comics world with Clerks, a sort of ongoing sequel to his movie of the same name, before anyone thought to have him script superheroes. They've picked up Terry LaBan's Eno and Plum and introduced Bad Boy by Frank Miller and Simon Bisley. And now they've reprinted this seminal work from Grant Morrison and Paul Grist.

Originally serialized in the short-lived Trident anthology and first published in a collected edition in 1990, St. Swithin's Day is an early work for both Morrison and Grist, but it remains among their best. The alienated teenager who has come to London to shoot Maggie Thatcher is at once a precursor to and more believable than the young protagonists of Kill Your Boyfriend, a more mature yet no more satisfying work.

We meet him shoplifting a copy of Catcher in the Rye so they can find it in his pocket "when this is all over." With a few spare lines, Grist captures perfectly first the panic when he thinks he's been caught, the boyish embarrassment when it turns out the clerk wants to return something he's dropped, and finally the chagrined relief as he walks out of the store. This six-panel sequence manages to set the tone, establish the character and foreshadow the plot with economy rarely seen in these days multi-issue storylines, 600-page novels and three-hour movies.

I wonder if DC stole the idea for their Zero Hour mini-series (chapters number 4, 3, 2, 1 and 0) from Morrison's chapter numbering here. He does the same thing, the first chapter being "St. Swithin's Day - Four," and counting down to simply "St. Swithin's Day," the day our nameless protagonist is going to shoot Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister of England.

OK, so John Major is the Prime Minister now, and he's not as universally hated by the disaffected youth as his predecessor (although, being disaffected, they aren't exactly charmed by him). And we know full well nobody shot Thatcher while she was Prime Minister. It doesn't matter. The suspense still starts to build as the day gets closer.

No, that's the wrong way to put it. I'm making it sound like Day of the Jackal or something, and it's not like that at all. It's much more like, well, Catcher in the Rye (although he ends up throwing that book and other things in the river - "Why should I give them the satisfaction of analysing me?").

(Analysing is the British spelling, for those of you who thought I misspelled analyzing.)

Not that it's really much like Catcher in the Rye either, really. It's both quotidian and poetic, hopeful and nihilistic, dreary and beautiful. Like its protagonist, the work is a paradox of contradictions.

Although I issued a spoiler warning, I won't give away the ending. I do have a bone to pick with it, but no way to criticize it without telling you what happened, so I'll leave it. It's only a small bone, anyway.

The constant monologue inside the characters head, presented through captions, is said to have come, in part, from Grant Morrison's own private diaries. It reads that way, sometimes. "I hate being 19. I want to be 19 forever. I wish I had an address book full of addresses. Sometimes. Sometimes I could just scream."

The whole thing is very well done, from beginning to (except for a small quibble) end. Looking over it and rereading parts of it again for this review, I decided it was even better than I thought it was the first time.

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