The Fitzroy has a fascinating beginning. Andrew Harmer had an idea take shape in his mind in which a beached derelict submarine found new life as a hotel in a post-apocalyptic 1950s Britain. In a world engulfed by poisonous gas, the submarine – Fitzroy – became a haven for some very colorful personalities. As a director, Harmer decided to run a Kickstarter to raise funds to make the feature film and, in the closing days of 2012, through blood, sweat, and probably a few tear-soak hankies, he and Dresden Pictures founders Liam Garvo and James Heath surpassed their goal of £60,000 and hit their 120% target.
In making the film, Harmer, Garvo, and Heath realized that they had more to say, and they were interested in expanding their post-apocalyptic world. What better way to explore beyond the celluloid format but to turn to its paper cousin, the comic book format. They partnered with Dead Canary Comics and created a collection of six short stories into a slim physical graphic novel. And after another successful crowdfunding campaign, The Fitzroy became a tactile book that the creators and Fitzroy fans could hold in their hands.
The Fitzroy is a charming anthology saturated with sharp wit and drenched with the British mentality of moving forward with life and keeping a stiff upper lip in spite of a world where gas masks are as British as the bowler and brolly. Given its roots in film, it is not surprising that each story explores different genres: “Blatherington Manor” evokes Merchant Ivory films; “Hammer” revisits crime noir; “Dig” draws on horror; “Jonsin” touches the funny bone; and “Claude & Marcel” and “The Can” harken back to the silent film era. Each incorporates familiar traditions that are distinctly British, such as tea, football, and the privileged class. Of the six stories, the four that include a narrative thread were more approachable.
All six stories were entertaining; however, the four with dialogue shine. The writer(s) for each tale focused right on the core elements of their respective genre and built a concise, yet entertaining, story in the four to five pages they had available. The dialogue is on point; extraneous and superfluous text has been left out. In particular, the narratives in “Dig” by C.S. Baker and “Jonsin” by Paul Clark Forse blended morbid humor of an old couple and a husband who realized too late that it is not always wise to keep up with the Joneses. Additionally, the letters that bookend the stories are hilarious and dripping with British witticism.
The illustrations complemented each tale. Each provided clean images and straightforward layouts without overtaxing the limited color palette – black, white, and grey. Given they lacked dialogue, the emphasis was naturally on the visuals in “Claude & Marcel” and “The Can,” drawn by Will Kirkby and Charlie Hodgson, respectively. Kirkby’s whimsical style worked well given the story was set in a hot air balloon and thereby evoked early travel motifs of the late 19th century, while Hodgson’s textures excelled at presenting the grittier urban environment of the story. Special mention must be extended to the cover art by Vinny Olimpio; many of the iconic images associated with the British – tea, bowler, Big Ben, plaid blazer – are incorporated into a grainy image that tantalizes and mesmerizes. The font of The Fitzroy is exquisite and balances class and style with industry and decay.
This graphic novel collects an eclectic group of short stories that are well written and visually engaging. Providing a glimpse into the world imagined and brought to life in the filmic version of The Fitzroy, this slim volume is sure to charm and delight readers, especially expatriates from across the pond and Anglophiles.