Bart Dickon Omnibus, the

Posted: Tuesday, March 28, 2006
By: Steve Saville

Cover of Bart Dickon Omnibus, the Creator(s): Borin Van Loon
Publishers: Severed Head Books (Self Published)
From: UK
Price: Cheques made payable to 'Borin Van Loon' for anyone who wants a copy. The other currencies for price of a copy (inc. p&p) are: $30 (USD) or €25 (EURO) (UK)

This 108 page work has been described by the creator as a "surrealist graphic novella for grown ups. Illustrated throughout in collage comic- book style." Truly distinctive and unique The Bart Dickon Omnibus deserves top marks for originality. I have never seen anything quite like it before. Imagine Monty Pythonesque humour presented in classic British "Boys Own" comic book style and you start to get somewhere near what is on offer here, but only somewhere near.

What Borin Van Loon has done here is collect a huge range of illustrations and comic frames from a wide variety of ‘historic’ sources such as early British comics and Victorian style magazine illustrations. He has then let himself go crazy with scissors and glue and cut and pasted away to create a collage style comic. He has then overlaid his own storyline and dialogue and, Hey Presto, there you go, an original comic is created.

I believe David Bowie sometimes utilised a similar cut and paste approach to lyric writing and it worked for him so why not. The omnibus is made up of one main story and several, often related, subsidiary tales. In reading this graphic novel it helps to have an understanding and appreciation of British comics such as Eagle and literature generally [such as Conrad’s Heart of Darkness] as allusions to these and other works are sprinkled liberally throughout.

There is a heavy use of pun and an equally heavy use of Victorian verbiage. The former technique works well but the later starts to get as little tiresome due to the length of the novella.

The main story is the 15 chapter Severed Head tale where the heroic secret agent Bart Dickon does indeed get his head cut off and for the rest of the adventure has to operate without a body. No easy task, it is just as well that his female sidekick, Snowy, is there to help out. And yes, in case you were wondering, Tintin’s faithful canine sidekick of the same name does have a cameo spot.

This is a very brave publication and great fun but it is not easy to read. I have already mentioned the weight of words, this is a deliberate stylistic technique but one that does get a little too weighty, the other problem is inherent in the nature of a collage style comic. That is that due to the selection of picture the characters often change dramatically in appearance, this can be confusing. There is also a tension created by the necessity to marry picture and word. At times the storyline sometimes seems to try to justify the pictures and vice versa.

Van Loon alternates between telling his tale and providing humerous dialogue that sets up a contrast between what is written and what is seen. This often works brilliantly as a one off gag but sometimes obstructs narrative coherence. An example of this being a frame where an exhausted pith helmet wearing British explorer is floating down an African? river in a small boat and says "So this is Bourenmouth, what a dump." While this is very funny the dichotomy between gag and narrative sometimes gets a little confusing.

The Bart Dickon Omnibus is so innovative however that these quibbles should be put aside and the glory of risk taking creativity be left to shine brightly and proudly.

From the opening Foreword not written by Stephen Fry to the following hallucinogenic experience resulting from sniffing a banana skin we are plunged into a world that sets its own rules as it goes along. My favourite page is the self contained Dickon Guide to Great Movements of Cultural History which provides the reader with a history of Punk Rock, I think. An example of how subversive and challenging comics can be when the imagination is let loose.

In a Word: Ground-breaking.

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