Resistance: A Graphic Novel – Kathryn Briggs and Val McDermid (Profile Books, 2021)

You didn’t need to be a prophet to write about a globe-fucking pandemic back in the pre-Covid era, as Val McDermid did when she presented Resistance as a radio play back in 2017.  All you had to do was tune into the information in a way our government would find inconvenient at best and absurd at worst, implying as it must that photographs of the queen will not grant us dominion over all creatures great and small.

The timeliness of the story – written before we knew what a ball of Covid looked like, partially drawn during the first year of the pandemic, released in the second year – makes for a natural hook, but I suspect that some aspects will find their true resonance later on, when questions about antimicrobial resistance stop seeming even remotely distant or academic.

Val McDermid’s script wears its ambitions plainly – the dialogue is thick with research and the narrative progresses like a tightly controlled experiment.   It falls to artist Kathryn Briggs, then, to provide visuals that make this science fiction vivid on the page.  Thankfully Briggs is a restless and ambitious talent who works up a graphic language that shifts even faster than the situation described in the story.  One minute we’re looking at medical science as thought it’s a cute, distant concept, something that dances around the edges of our lives…

…and then before we know it we are living in a plague-era fresco, trying to work out how and when we started to taste that grit in our mouths that might be sand and might be ashes:

It’s another phenomenal performance from Briggs, who we have praised before on this website, down the pub, and in the pages of the collected edition of Triskelion.  Briggs’ art is alive with texture, but more than that it’s alive to life in all of its aspects.  Her carefully observed figure-work and portraiture is of a piece with her information rich layouts and use of collage.  In being attuned to what’s going on – in a way people will work very hard to convince our governments not to be, mind – Briggs takes us back to that prophetic feeling we may encounter when hearing about Resistance for the first time.

It’s a rush, of course.  Seeing how things connect generally is, no matter how much money gets thrown at telling you otherwise.  Still, it’s a double edged thing, this sensation.  This sort awareness can’t help but prompt a fresh reckoning with our own vulnerability, a reckoning that is at once humbling and painfully necessary.

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