Comic review: London by Szcześniak and Trejnis
London - Dominik Szcześniak (Script), Rafał Trejnis (Art)
Written by Dominik Szcześniak with art by Rafał Trejnis, London is an outsider's view of the capital, a graphic novel about what it's like to be a European worker in the city and unsure how you fit in. It's the kind of story that seems obvious and one that everyone thinks they know all about. In reality the issues of coming from one country to work in another are more complicated than you might think. Particularly when you're talking about coming to work in London.
The attraction is obvious for Polish plasterer Mikołaj. It's money, it's the promise of a better future if you can put up with the inconvenience of living in an ant-infested house with no basic utilities and being away from family and friends for long periods. These aren't minor things, and there are no guarantees it will work out the way you might hope with no health insurance, no worker rights, dodgy employers and being at the mercy of fluctuating exchange rates. Mikołaj however is counting on it all being worthwhile, as he has carefully laid-out plans for the future, going back home with enough to set him up, get married and have kids. But it's hard to imagine what a future might look like when your time, and life, is split in half between Poland and London.
The age-old dream of living and working in the big capital of course never matches up to the reality. When Mikołaj and his girlfriend Gosia first arrive in London in 2005 it's just for a couple of months doing a bit of casual work, full of hopes that are quickly let down. Mikołaj of course is not a plasterer by trade, but a Pole with a degree in Cultural Studies is of little use to someone looking for a dishwasher in a bar, and Gosia finds that a retirement home is not going to take on someone like her short-term. The couple get a little direction and advice from other ex-pats, advice that many in their position need to know about, such as pavement combing and the wailing wall.
The black and white artwork by Rafał Trejnis is good at capturing a sense of the look and feel of London and Londoners, and not just London from the perspective of an outsider. There's actually a UK indie cartoonist feel to the work, reminding me of Ilya (Skidmarks) or Warren Pleece, a grittiness and roughness that capturing the nature of the conditions and situations that Mikołaj and his girlfriend Gosia have to endure. To bring in a sense of drama, Dominik Szcześniak sets the story against the background of the 2005 terror attack in London, but although this doesn't play a major part in the storyline, it works well to establish the sense of life of living on your wits and on the edge against challenging circumstances, where the unexpected is potentially always just around the corner.