Firstly: I am a graphic novel virgin. Secondly: this is a brilliant introduction to graphic novels for graphic novel virgins everywhere. Fact.
Karrie Fransman tells the tale of Barbara, a busty single woman selling beauty products who has just moved into the eponymous house on the brilliantly Dickensian Rottin Road. It soon transpires that the flat is neither the ‘cosy’ nor ‘charming hideaway which the elusive Godfrey’s Estate Agents promised. Moreover, there are leaks, lusty prank phone callers and loud nocturnal lovers. It is enough to make anyone go insane.
Aside from Barbara, there are two other rather isolated female characters in The House That Groaned: Janet, who leads The Do or Diet Group in the building, and Demi Durbach, who has the unfortunate ability to blend into her own furniture. Like Barbara, Janet is also troubled by voices at night, although hers come in the form of prank phone calls, inviting her to join the Midnight Feast Front. She is more loathe to do this than most might be, having lost six stone (as well as her gay husband shortly afterwards).
It’s a cliché perhaps, but the house itself is a character, and certainly a more interesting one than the men. My friend, who has himself illustrated graphic novels, suggested that the leaking corner of Mrs Durbach’s ceiling resembles the female sexual organs. This isn’t something I’d thought of myself, but is certainly an interesting theory. For given that the women of the house are either abandoned (Janet’s husband left her), ignored (no one helps Barbara move in) or blend literally into the furniture (Mrs Durbach), it makes feminist sense for the house to be female, to contain lots of different personalities, appetites, and voices.
Brian is certainly the most fascinating male character. Since a childhood stay in hospital, he has been fixated on women with facial disfigurements or obesity issues, so The House That Groaned, with its leaks, creaks and secrets, is the perfect place for him to experience his fantasies.
In terms of style, I particularly enjoyed the different fonts Fransman uses to illustrate her characters’ actions or phone calls:
At first, I didn’t like the fact that Fransman uses only blue, black and white to illustrate The House That Groaned, but on a second reading, I realised that the muted tones were perfect for this deliciously mad tale.
I shan’t tell you the ending, of course, but as with all the best stories, it’s not at all what you might expect.