November 7th, 2016
Written and drawn by Ramzee, tones by Liz Greenfield, cover art by Abigail Dela Cruz (self published, 2016)
Here’s how you know this is good before you even so much as look at the cover: it was the only self-published comic to be nominated for the Young People’s Comics Award this year, and it lost. I’m not saying that this automatically makes it the best comic on the list, but… face it, it probably does.
Anyway, it’s worth checking this perception for yourself, looking past the soft, friendly cover (above) and into ZORSE itself, which somehow manages to live up to this charming initial impression while also channelling the frustration of Ramzee’s phenomenal turn on the Diversity panel at SMASH in London earlier this year, that feeling that you’re dealing with someone who is sick of people who… well, let’s not mess around, people who look like me (white, male, middle class, probably with a beard and glasses) being heard to the exception of all others.
More than this: the feeling that you’re dealing with someone who is ready to seize every opportunity to get those voices out there.
ZORSE gets all of this over by way of a simple set-up, taken care of in the first few pages:
Kids get to be annoyingly interested in things. This particular kid, Baxter Bradley, has turned this curiosity into a full on life-style choice – seemingly driven by the flickering attention span of young Baxter, the comic follows suit, though it tempers his over-enthusiasm with a discrete awareness of the big picture. The panel layouts in ZORSE are open and adaptable, and it’s this strobing, intense interest that allows Ramzee to present a portrait of a family seeking asylum in the UK in a way that charms the reader (because c’mon, look at those lines, so loose and attractive with just enough of a hint of wilful wildness!) while still being every bit as sharp as it needs to be to get the point across.
Sometimes this transformational, childlike attention is applied to subjects outside of Baxter’s immediate line of sight, such as when an asylum tribunal is explained in the form of a Monopoly board:
At other points, the comic channels Baxter’s attention more directly, allowing the reader to absorb the Noor family’s story through the interaction between Baxter and his new pal Kamal Moore. As Ramzee says in his afterwords, “Demonized by a notriously hostile press and condemned to either invisibility or overexposure in the public sphere, refugees have an uneasy relationship to the cultural forms that represent them. This is why it’s important that they are allowed to represent themselves.”
ZORSE manages to go some way towards redressing this problem without feeling like it’s doing so, and if it works as both an agitation against our own inattentiveness and a great kids comic that’s because being a great kids comic means that it’s primed to battle that inattentiveness from the word go.