The Nao of Brown HC
Publisher: SelfMade Hero & Abrams ComicArts
Release Date: October 2, 2012
Creator: Glyn Dillon
Format: 208 pgs., Full-Color, Hardcover
Age Rating: Mature
ICv2 Rating: 4 out of 5
Having emerged on the comics' scene in the late 1980s as a penciller and inker on 2000AD's "Tharg's Future Shocks" and cover artist for Fleetway's Crisis, Glyn Dillon's career as an illustrator traversed a variety of UK publications into the early 1990s. With a gallery pinup in a 1993 Hellblazer Special, Dillon moved into American comics and began work for Vertigo on Peter Milligan's Shade, the Changing Man. Although he pursued various Vertigo assignments in the 1990s and early 2000s, and completed interior and cover work for SelfMade Hero, The Nao of Brown is his first, full-length original graphic novel.
In what can only be termed a merging of the three Master M's--Moebius, Miyazaki, and Manara--Dillon not only blends the visual storytelling and economy of line associated with his forbearers, but also finds his own voice and distinctive style in this cross-pollination of illustrative and narrative techniques (see preview pages here). Dillon's own blog outlines his own artist process behind Nao and witnessing the evolution from pencils, ink, and wash into watercolors is truly inspiring.
Nao centers on the life of its title character, Nao Brown, a half-Japanese, half-British female who lives in London. An artist and designer, Nao works with an old friend from art school at a vinyl toy shop as she attempts to navigate, rather tragically, relationships with her roommate and a prospective romantic interest. Interspersed with attempts at meditation and Buddhism to calm her anxieties and compulsions as well as an Ichi story of Pictor Nao adores, Nao is most successful when Dillon focuses upon her daily life and mental routines to lead a "normative" existence.
What is truly unfortunate, however, about Nao is that the narrative thrust and crux of Dillon's tale is spoiled by the book's own dustjacket. From the onset and before even being absorbed into the wonderful visuals which lure readers in on page eight, the publisher reveals that Nao lives with OCD. This labeling is troublesome. In a medium where mental illness and neurodiversity are already poorly portrayed and often associated with criminal deviancy (Arkham Asylum) or parodied for humor by association with comics (The Big Bang Theory), Abrams' ad copy, perhaps unintentionally, reinforces this connection. While the jacket states "Nao Brown suffers from OCD, but not the hand-washing, overly tidy type that people often refer to jokingly. Nao suffers from violent morbid obsessions, while her compulsions take the form of unseen mental rituals," Abrams' press release says "she's suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and fighting violent urges to harm other people." This wording is troublesome in that people with neurological disabilities do not "suffer" from their condition—they live with it. To say that they "suffer" is to deny them any agency as well as to suggest a certain victimization. Only an extremely rare form of OCD known as Purely Obsessional OCD has been found to manifest dangerous thoughts which potentially affect others instead of the more ritualized, self-destructive behaviors (skin picking, cutting) some cope with. Abrams fails to make the distinction between these two. Dillon deserves credit for not brandishing the OCD label in the beginning nor anywhere else in the book, thus not providing readers with a comfortable and familiar handle or preconceived notion on her psychological traumas. Instead, he allows Nao's rituals to resonate powerfully with the reader. While Dillon does an excellent job at portraying Nao's internal struggles with her obsessions, her alarmingly violent responses to non-hostile environmental triggers (although all transpiring in her own mind) come across as OCD because of Abrams, a disservice to both his audience and those within the neurologically diverse community.
Additionally, some readers may find Nao too predictable as it reaches its apex and moves toward a summary conclusion. As Dillon casts the entire story with Nao always on the verge of succumbing to her compulsions, the emotional resonance when a series of tragedies occurs is lessened considerably. Yet, Dillon triumphs with the final scene and image, illustrating the hereditary nature of mental illnesses and the haunting phrase a "deceitful reality." Although Dillon has some difficulties balancing these aspects of the narrative, for a first time cartoonist, Nao is a brilliant example of Dillon's potentials as an innovative and original voice.