Thursday, 23 October 2008

Tamara Drewe

From the Guardian books section, an interesting video, Posy Simmonds speaks about her comic Tamara Drewe. I briefly mentioned Gemma Bovary a while back. Tamara Drewe, originally serialised as a Guardian comic strip, is likewise loosely based on a classic, in this case (as the TLS review says - Tamara Drewe's Wessex) on Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd.

In a series of allusive namings, Harding's setting of Weatherbury becomes Ewedown. Tamara (in the Bible, Tamar is a daughter of David) is the analogue of Bathsheba Everdene, and three also very recognisable men are attracted to her: the working-class handyman Andy Cobb, the Indie band drummer Ben Sergeant, and the established novelist neighbour Nicholas Hardiman. As with Bathsheba's unwise joke of sending a Valentine to Farmer Boldwood, tragedy ensues when a prankster sends out an e-mail - "I want to give you the biggest shagging of your life" - from Tamara's laptop.

While Tamara Drew follows the skeleton of Far from the Madding Crowd, Simmonds , has sufficiently altered it that the ending is not a foregone conclusion: for instance, the adulterous Hardiman is the caddish character rather than Sergeant, and there are a number of new characters who provide new viewpoints. The focus is also not merely on Tamara's relationships with the three men, but also on the various angsts of writers and the satirising the tensions between locals and incomers in English rural settings. Apart from her general excellence as an observational cartoonist, the latter is an area where Simmonds is particularly sharp; for instance, her earlier creation of "Tresoddit" - see Rock of Ages - is a pleasantly barbed take on the Yuppification of Rock in Cornwall).

I haven't read the expanded and embellished book version of Tamara Drewe, but it's on my wish-list for Christmas. Clive James enthuses about Posy Simmonds here, with a few Tamara Drewe samples (Cover, Drinks at Stonefield, Dr Glen Larson, Jody and Casey), and in general about Bande dessinée (up-market Francophone comic art, to which genre Posy Simmonds' work is closely equivalent) - though I'm not sure I agree with his view that the ponderous satire Flook was so wonderful, nor that there was nothing between it and Posy Simmonds (since he misses out SF comics - both writer and artist of Watchmen are English, as is Brian Bolland). There is also the problem of comparing essentially realistic social satire (as in Tamara Drewe) with the non-realistic "morality play" approach of superhero comics (which may nevertheless present a sophisticated take on moral and philosophical topics - see, again, the journal ImageTexT).

Anyhow, publication details: Tamara Drewe, Posy Simmonds, Jonathan Cape Ltd, Nov 2007, ISBN 022407816X).

Update, August 2010: See Tamara Drewe movie.

- Ray

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