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Bantock, Nick

Entry updated 9 October 2023. Tagged: Artist, Author, Comics.

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(1949-    ) UK artist, illustrator and author, in Canada from 1988; active as an illustrator from around 1962, with at least 300 covers credited to him, some as by Nick Fox. Much of his work, which is either collage-like or consists of actual (though clearly massaged) collages, conveys a sense that narrative energies are suppressed within the image, and threaten to become explicitly storyable, like a Cabinet of Curiosities jinxed into life: hints that his work contains half-hidden codes to matters concealed for good reasons, that the relationship between artefact and some storyable essence is a kind of loaded pun, a tease on his Modernist roots. Early experiments seem to be echoed, such as the famous collage-based experiments by Max Ernst (1891-1976), the most famous being Une semaine de bonté ["A Week of Kindness"] (graph 1934 5vols), though Bantock does not seem much inclined to use actual cut-ups; or Jocelyn Brooke's late-in-the-game The Crisis in Bulgaria; Or, Ibsen to the Rescue! (graph 1956). Especially in his colour palette, he also prefigures his younger contemporary Dave McKean. In the end, most of his assemblages of extractable arcana from the found world may be more comforting to read than to remember. It is clearly designed to allure.

After some years as an illustrator, Bantock started to write pop-up books (not listed) and fiction of interest, most importantly the Griffin & Sabine sequence, two trilogies beginning with Griffin & Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence (graph 1991), an epistolary tale conveyed through three volumes of highly decorated notebooks and letters (some inserted loose in envelopes), along with masses of bricolage-like "found" material. Here and in other works, the initial effect – unlike a Graphic Novel, as no characters are actually seen, or actions performed – is that of a file or dossier, not dissimilar to Dennis Wheatley's nonfantastic detective puzzles from the 1930s like Murder Off Miami (graph 1936) with Joseph Gluckstein Links (1904-1997). A tale perhaps less complex than its telling, the first trilogy begins with a correspondence between Griffin Moss, a lonely graphic artist and postcard designer in London, and Sabine Strohem, who writes him from an unmapped South Pacific Archipelago. As the sequence develops into a mutedly erotized love affair at a distance (see Sex), and as the two begin to flee from or search for one another through time and space, their mutual mystery begins to unpack in terms of Jungian Psychology: she seems to be his Muse, and they are each other's Shadow [for Jungian Psychology, Muses and Shadows see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. Griffin's conviction that she must be unreal – that he has invented a Doppelganger out of Spiritus Mundi – leads him to flee London before she arrives to visit him; his subsequent Fantastic Voyage carries him through Cities and geographies deeper and deeper into the past, via some inexplicable form of Time Travel, generating a sense that the two are transacting some mutual Labyrinth whose reality, at first problematic, may reveal some extractable reality within the skin of the world. In the second trilogy, beginning with The Gryphon: In Which the Extraordinary Correspondence of Griffin & Sabine Is Rediscovered (graph 2001), a second anxiously amorous couple is mentored by the initial pair.

A similarly constructed singleton, The Egyptian Jukebox (graph 1993) presents picture clues to the disappearance of its protagonist; and Capolan: Travels of a Vagabond Country (graph 1997), comprises the cod history of a domain which migrates across the planet. In The Venetian's Wife: A Strangely Sensual Tale of a Renaissance Explorer, a Computer, and a Metamorphosis (1996), a narrative text set in the Near Future, a young scholar in antiquities is hired to re-acquire some Indian sculptures for the Italian family to whom they had belonged in the fifteenth century; the descendant who hires her is in fact the original owner who, after centuries in a kind of bardo, has been reborn as a ghost wired into a Computer network, effectively then Internet, a coign from which he maintains Secret-Master control over events. The recovery of the artworks engenders supernatural couplings, sentimentally conveyed. Purgatory, in The Museum at Purgatory (1999), is a kind of Pocket Universe or (more modestly) Zone whose Amnesiac curator attempts to anatomize in order to discover his own path forward, while chaperoning newcomers.

Most of Bantock's later books are nonfiction. [JC]

Nicholas Bantock

born Stourbridge, Worcestershire: 14 July 1949



Griffin and Sabine

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