Readers of The Lost Art

The Originals – Louise’s Review

March 4th, 2009

Writer and Artist: Dave Gibbons.
Reviewer: Louise

The Originals

The Originals is Dave Gibbons’ re-telling of the feuds between Mods and Rockers in the 1960s, including the Brighton clash made famous by Quadrophenia. Since it’s a graphic novel, some details have been changed; the Rockers have become “The Dirt”, people ride “hovers”, not bikes, and the Mods have become “The Originals”. Gibbons tells the tale of Lem, a young wannabe Original, who joins a gang with his best friend Bok, and soon finds himself in way over his head.

Okay, so here’s the thing. If I say to you that the plot is “young man in the process of growing up joins a gang”, what would you predict would happen? It would be something like: “After initial wariness, the gang accepts him. He finds himself enjoying the status, violence and drugs, and loving the gang life. Then he meets a girl, whilst at the same time, things quickly get violent and turn from fun to dangerous. Someone gets badly hurt / killed, and our hero must decide whether to become a fully paid-up gangster, or opt for true love, renounce violence, turn away from the gang and walk his own path”.

Well, if you predicted that for The Originals, you’d be right, and for me this is the book’s fatal flaw. It’s beautifully drawn, but the plot feels familiar from the get-go. (Not surprising; Shakespeare used the same plot four hundred years ago, except then they were called Montagues and Capulets). Lem isn’t a totally unsympathetic hero, but he’s so unreflective it’s difficult to empathise with him as he throws himself into gang life with nary a thought for the consequences. Yes, he falls for a girl, yes, he does grow a bit as a character, but that’s not hard to do when your original character is “stock disaffected teenage hero”.

In many ways, I was disappointed because to me, Lem’s story is the least interesting of the ones Gibbons could have chosen to tell. For example, in 1960s Britain, what is life like for Lem’s girlfriend Viv, who displays formidable intelligence, courage and, unlike Lem, a strong sense of right and wrong? What’s it like to be a woman Original, or a female member of the Dirt (or, more realistically, an Original or Dirt’s girlfriend?).

Or, alternatively, Lem’s best friend, Bok, is black. I wasn’t around in the 1960s but somehow I can’t help but wonder if a white gang would have been so colour-blind as the Originals are shown to be. Heck, gang-related racial violence is still happening today. What’s it like for Bok, trying to be a member of a gang whose face will always be different to the others’? Given that the 1960s were a period of huge change in the status of women and ethnic minorities in British society, for me it’s annoying that Gibbons chose not to tell their stories and opted instead for a plot that’s been done to death.

Another thing I found disappointing is that the retelling and sci-fi elements don’t add anything interesting. When we first see the Originals mounted on their hovers, it’s a stunning piece of artwork. I was hoping that the use of science fiction type “hovers”, not mundane bikes, presaged a world in which the familiar would have interesting differences. If this is a parallel world to ours, what else is different? How did this society develop? What are the implications if it has this technology? As it happens, I was barking up the wrong tree. The only reason the Originals and the Dirt have hovers, not bikes, is so that Gibbons didn’t have to draw lots of wheels and it looks cool.

Did I hate it? No – I quite enjoyed it as a fun read – but I was annoyed with it in the way that you are when you read something and think “This is great, but it could have been so much better”.

Hardcover: 160 pages
Publisher: Titan Books Ltd (26 Nov 2004)
Language: English
ISBN: 1840236965

(First published 27/07/2006.)

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