As one of the first Australian graphic novels to be optioned for an international feature film, Paul Bedford‘s The List is a significant chapter for the local comic book scene. It’s certainly made a splash here in Australia, where Bedford’s regular appearances at conventions and book stores have helped push the book into the buyer’s consciousness. We featured an interview with Paul in the past, along with an entire episode of the podcast. Yet as a graphic novel that demands multiple reads, it’s time we took a closer look at this dark and inspired fable.
The List goes to some dark places, commenting on both religious fanaticism and the shadier parts of the human mind. A young man is visited by an angel, bearing a bloody quest to fulfil the ‘New Commandments’. Continuing the titular list for his recently departed father, the outside would peg him as a twisted serial killer, but “The Son” is convinced of his holy mission. Has he been visited by an angel, or is it the machinations of a mind gone mad? Bedford keeps you guessing, although the book drops a number of hints as to the true nature of his list.
Genre comic books are experiencing a revival in Australia, an area where local cinema has struggled to catch on. It’s somewhat ironic that Bedford’s graphic novel began life as a screenplay, and explains why the 200-page graphic novel leans towards being cinematic. This isn’t to say that The List is a straightforward scripted narrative, as it uses the comic book medium to represent the story as something of a puzzle. Most puzzles don’t leave you craving a piece of cleansing fruit afterwards, but Bedford acknowledges that you can’t go wading into the murky waters of morality and not come out spotless on the other end.
Henry Pop’s stark black and white art is coloured only by Tom Bonin’s murky inks, making this puzzle one that requires the participation of the reader (as all good comics should). Pop leaves visual clues as to source of the angel’s influence throughout, but it may take several reads to spot them all. Like the narrative, the art goes to the dark side regularly, with bloody reveals often a turn of a page away. This is visceral stuff, and it’s only on repeat readings that the shock factor subsides, allowing The Son’s misguided words and adherence to a (non-existent) covenant to sink in.
Don’t necessarily think of The List as being fixated with death or even just about religion, as it serves as an allegory for any belief that is desperately clung to against all better judgement. So if one of your beliefs is that nobody is making interesting comics in Australia, this (and a plethora of other local writers and artists) may just change your mind.
The List is available on Amazon for a very reasonable price, and you can tend to find Bedford at the various comic selling places and gatherings around the country.