ADVANCE REVIEW: Com.X Babble Graphic Novel

Babble

Writer: Lee Robson
Artist: Bryan Coyle
Publisher: Com.X
Price: £16.99
Reviewed by: Colin O’Mahoney
BOOK DESCRIPTION: Carrie Hartnoll: a girl lost in a life going nowhere fast, until a chance encounter with an ex-boyfriend affords her the opportunity of a whole new career in Ivy League America, working as part of a research team attempting to resurrect the language of Babel – a language, it is theorised, that can be understood by any human, from anywhere in the world.
As Carrie pieces together her fractured personal life, she becomes embroiled in the mystery surrounding the apparent suicide of the project’s original team leader, which propels her to uncover the horrific truth about the language and why it was written out of the history books…
REVIEW: Having started life under the now-defunct Insomnia Productions, Babble was saved after being picked upUKpublisher Com.X. The 128 page OGN has already justified this second chance with a ‘Staff Pick’ in October’s Previews catalogue.
Babble is an intriguing story centring on Carrie, a researcher who packs in her tired life inEnglandto work on a project that is trying to discover and decipher the ancient language ofBabel. This is believed to have been a ‘universal language’ capable of being understood intuitively by anyone. Despite the fascinating nature of the project, Carrie is as much drawn to it by the fact that it is led by her former lecturer and lover, Professor Alan Curtis.
Brian Coyle’s artwork is a perfect match for this story, with engaging characters and a great handle on direction in the action sequences, giving a superb sense of motion and drama. His colouring is what really stands out though, switching between two simple palettes to differentiate flashbacks and current events. Relying too much on flashbacks in comics can sometimes be confusing for the reader, but Babble manages brilliantly using this colour design, and takes away the need for an excess of captions to establish time and place.
This use of flashbacks allows the comic to cut to the action straightaway, and then jump from there to backstory throughout. An old trick, sure, but used to good effect here, immersing the reader in the story immediately, even as writer Lee Robson works his way through establishing his characters and background. This ensures that Babble’s 128 pages fly by with few lulls in the story.
This pacing helps to balance a slight weakness of the book: Carrie’s character is under-developed for too much of the story. In the opening chapter there is a lot of dialogue and internal monologue about her trying to escape her dead-end life, and how bad things have turned out for her. Unfortunately this is not shown that well, mostly talked about. So it is only partly convincing, like that moaning friend down the pub who is always down on their luck and sorry with their lot, perpetually haunted by ill-defined disasters and dead ends. But this is balanced out later in the book; both Carrie and the supporting characters are fleshed out well enough by the time the book is building to its final act. It is just a little far into the book before you can really connect with her.
Using ancient myths and bible stories, Babble is a good thriller built around an interesting idea. Although it is essentially a twist on an old format, it has enough of a difference that it feels fresh, even if it does end up playing out in too familiar a fashion in the last act.
Babble is nonetheless the kind of indie book that is helping comics establish a beachhead in mainstream culture, outside of the dated stereotypes that have boxed in the medium for too long. A good story with interesting themes that is well told throughout.
Babble goes on sale in December and is in October’s issue of Previews.