This well-received graphic novel began life in serialized form, published in a British newspaper (and still online here). The soapy story is laden with rich characterization and relatable situations. A decidedly PG-13 (at the very least) tale, which may make some parents uncomfortable with its depictions of teen angst and antics, frank sexuality, and drug use (and clear consequences), Tamara Drewe is certainly no worse than sundry stories depicted within popular daytime television dramas—or Judy Blume novels.
Though “inspired” by Thomas Hardy’s novel Far from the Madding Crowd, Posy Simmonds’ sublimely written and drawn story is a horse of a different color. The tragicomedy of manners and misunderstandings is set at a rural English writers’ retreat, an ideal backdrop for mischief and melodrama. Owned by a couple whose marriage is problematic (to say the least), the country getaway, a farm, hosts a cast of colorful guests who interact with the pair, each other, and the local townspeople.
The title character is a once-ugly young woman whose nose job has transformed her into a seductive and flirtatious figure. The pacing is perfect for this type of tale. Affairs ensue, writerly conflicts flare, relationships are tested, and the usual melodramatic flourishes ebb and flow throughout the story. Though there are few sympathetic characters and no protagonists to speak of, the cast is generally harmless. Their self-absorption and shallowness—despite ample pretense to the contrary—mostly comes off as comic rather than venal. But Simmonds doesn’t sell them (or us) short when true tragedy occurs and admirably allows it to happen rather than pull punches or portray it as more—or less—than what it really is. Overall, though, Tamara Drewe is a comedy and those elements are predominant.
Simmonds is a wonderful artist. Her fluid storytelling skills are strong and her clean, illustrative style is a delight. Great faces, landscapes, still lives, and emotions are portrayed with precision and panache. The coloring is subtle yet effective, and her language is simple yet rich and evocative.
With all the talk of web comics, Posey Simmonds took full advantage of the format and created a substantial though thoroughly entertaining and satisfying work that’s fine online yet works equally well in the old-fashioned dead-trees medium too. One would hope that other newspapers and creators would similarly seize the opportunity.
Reviewed by Richard Pachter on August 2, 2012