A Savage Life
Tripwire continues its 100 Graphic Novels You Should Read While Stuck Inside with its ninety-fifth choice, Savage Town by Declan Shalvey and Philip Barrett and reviewed by Tripwire’s senior editor Andrew Colman…
Writer: Declan Shalvey
Artist: Philip Barrett
Letters: Clayton Cowles
Colourist: Jordie Bellaire
Today’s choice, Declan Shalvey and Philip Barrett’s graphic novel about gang warfare set in Limerick city, is a brutalist tale that has a keen authentic voice – despite its brevity, the cadences, slang, and attention to detail have an immediacy that completely immerses the reader. Regardless of the bleak, hard-boiled and for the most part dowdy setting, all the characters are unmistakably real, the drab streets a compulsive backdrop for the protagonist’s journey of bitter survivalism.
Lead character Jimmy Savage is the anti-hero of the book, an outsider forced to adapt quickly in a town that has no sentiment and even less empathy. A traveller caught between two warring families, the Hogans and the Dawsons, his story inhabits a territory that is reminiscent of Ennis and Dillon’s canon, with elements of Shane Meadows at his bleakest, and (as the author himself has mentioned) Roddy Doyle. As the focal point of the tale, Savage proves to be barely more sympathetic than the two factions he is caught between, but there is a palpable depth to him – the relationship with his own family, and especially his martinet of a mother, all provide the humanity.
There is much to savour in this outing – Barrett’s delineation of the back streets, sink estates and pubs is unassuming but deceptively detailed. The rest of the supporting cast are considerably fleshed out, the oppressive street noir a relentless player in itself, with each panel exuding a foreboding menace. What also impresses are the more implied elements – the fact that Blackie, as the sole African-Caribbean character, is treated with more respect than Jimmy (and indeed nearly everyone else) is a strange anomaly that speaks volumes about the community’s mind set. And then there are the unwritten codes of honour – when Jimmy realizes that Frankie, his childhood friend and mentor, has betrayed him, they both casually accept the violent shadow play that must be enforced. The violence itself is naturalistic and gruesome, committed by its perpetrators with both alacrity and resignation – a far cry from its portrayal in mainstream comics, and deeply nihilistic.
As author Declan Shalvey has pointed out, the book has been a pet project that required time that wasn’t available, due to constant other series he was working on as an artist taking precedence. With Philip Barrett on board – a talent certainly deserving of wider recognition – he was able to complete the book with panache. His remit – to write a graphic novel in a city that has (to the best of my knowledge) been overlooked and marginalised, is a departure, but it is partly for that reason that everything fell into place.
If Shalvey and Barrett have proven one thing, it’s that they are excellent storytellers, with barely a panel wasted. And the oath-edged asides, snide little aggressions and local vernacular that pepper the narrative keep you locked in. Good stuff.
Here’s links to the other graphic novels reviewed so far