Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Breakfast After Noon by Andi Watson

We all define ourselves. By what we believe in, where we live, which sports teams we support, who our family is. What we do for a living is always a big one: I'm a doctor; I'm a lawyer; I'm a realtor; I'm a teacher. But what we do for a living is always dependent on someone paying us to do that, which is never guaranteed. Picking that as a major pillar of your self-definition is a dangerous thing.

Rob Grafton is an assembler. It's a skilled job: putting together various items in the Windsor Potteries factory in the West Midlands of England. He's been doing it since he left school. He thinks he'll do it for the rest of his life.

He's wrong.

The potteries - not just Windsor, but this whole region, largely dependent on this one industry - are in decline. The patterns are old and stuffy, younger families don't buy the fancy stuff to begin with, costs are rising, materials are getting more difficult to source and coming from further overseas. It's an industry running downhill, first slowly then quickly, in a region where that industry is a major pillar.

Rob gets laid off, along with his fiancé and live-in girlfriend Louise Bright. She works at the potteries, too, though she's not as keen to define herself by her job. Maybe because she does something more tedious and less skilled, maybe because that's more of a guy thing, maybe because she has other things that loom larger in her life, such as their impending wedding.

But Louise is keen to move on: apply for unemployment, get retraining, investigate what else she can do, jump to something else. Rob, though, is surly and grumpy: he's an assembler, he insists. That's what he does; it's what he will do. He'll just get his job back at Windsor, or get the same job somewhere else: how could he possibly do anything else?

Rob is wrong. I could type that a dozen times in this post: Breakfast After Noon is largely the story of how wrong Rob is, in many different ways. He's frankly not a very good person when we meet him: self-centered and thoughtless, the kind of guy who assumes the world will continue on exactly as it has, doing only the things he enjoys, because why won't it?

So Rob drags his feet with Louise. He doesn't do his end of the wedding planning; he doesn't take being unemployed seriously and look to move on; he's not particularly affectionate or loving to her at any point. And he's just as thoughtless with his friends: lazy and joking on their local-league football team, unpleasant at the pub, just not a pleasant person to be around in any way.

And his actions have the natural consequences. Grumpy, stubborn people don't get what they want because of their attitudes. They're often less likely to get what they want because of those attitudes, in fact. That's how it goes in Breakfast After Noon: Rob is wrong until his wrong decisions and attitudes and failures to act start driving people away, and then...well, that would be giving it away.

Breakfast After Noon was Andi Watson's first completely naturalistic comics story, the natural next step from the ebbing fantasy of Skeleton Key and the muted SF of Geisha. It was a six-issue comics series  in 2000 before becoming a book immediately afterward, but it shows the signs of being planned as a single story from the beginning: it has chapter breaks rather than issue breaks. And Watson may perhaps have made Rob a bit too stubborn and off-putting, even to a comics-shop audience of youngish men equally sure of everything important in their lives. I can also quibble a bit about the ending: I felt like there was an awful lot of "Rob is a stubborn ass who doesn't know what's good for him" and vanishingly little of "Rob realizes this and we actually see him change and make an effort."

Still, it's a great story: true to life, deeply grounded in a place and specific people, deeply meaningful. We all know Robs and Louises; we're probably both of them, in some ways, ourselves. And this is from the moment where Watson's art style had definitively shifted from manga to Euro influences: his lines are lovely and organic, always in the right place and the right weight, with warm grey washes to define spaces and moods.

My personal opinion is that Watson got even better than this quickly: Slow News Day and Love Fights and Little Star built on this naturalistic foundation and did similar things even more strongly. But this was the beginning of that period, and, for all of Rob's faults, he's a lovable lout in a relatable jam. For great comics stories about real-world people in real-world lives, it's hard to beat 2000s Andi Watson.

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