Australian comic artist Pat Grant’s second graphic novel is a confident continuation of his career trajectory. Blue, his previous book and one of Salon’s top 10 graphic novels of 2012, showed his skill in using surreal and familiar settings inhabited by compelling characters to explore contemporary political and social issues. Whereas Blue was clearly an allegory for the racism of Australian society, The Grot presents a subtler consideration of issues such as climate change and wealth inequality, using them as a backdrop to the story being told.
The Grot is a near-future dystopian tale about two rich young brothers and their mother, who travel to a boom town with plans for setting up a business and getting rich. They are soon inveigled into a morass of predatory lies and scams. Each brother is confident that his intelligence will allow him to thrive, but things soon prove to be far more complicated and challenging than the two had anticipated.
The comic-art form relies on a range of devices to make emotional or narrative points, and The Grot ably demonstrates Grant’s expertise with these devices. Whole sequences take place without any dialogue or narrative captions, instead relying on Grant’s facility with panel composition, facial expression and even classic “cartoon” tropes such as sound effects and beads of sweat.
Grant seamlessly switches between styles of panel composition, from single pages with multiple tiny panels to double-page spreads. Each of these compositional choices is deliberately used to underscore and accentuate the events being depicted. Some parts of the story even transition away from a “traditional” format to almost become infographics, which convey details of plot and setting without ever disrupting the narrative momentum.
The Grot is the first example of Grant’s work being published in full colour, with its palette provided by Fionn McCabe. McCabe’s watercolours lean towards the browns, greens and greys that are appropriate to a book about a rotting swamp town of algae prospectors. These tones lend a verisimilitude to Grant’s cartoony characters and an impressionistic depth to his depictions of architecture and landscape.
The Grot is a bleak and distressing look at the unbridled greed and dehumanisation that come from extreme poverty and extreme wealth existing side by side. Yet it is also a cracker of a yarn expertly told, a heist story in which all the moving parts hit their mark at the intended moment, pushing the story along by feeding the reader just enough to stoke their curiosity and keep them turning the pages.
Top Shelf, 200pp, $34.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 29, 2020 as "Pat Grant, The Grot".
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