Sometimes the lines between a graphic novel (the phrase we use to conveniently define longer comics) and an illustrated prose book are blurred. The Crackle of the Frost is a close call, but the occasional speech balloon, and the fact that it’s published by Fantagraphics, pushes it far enough into Grovel territory.
The design is very rigid, with two postcard-sized illustrations on each page, and a narrative panel at the top of each illustration, where a sentence or two of the narrative is revealed.
The illustration informs your first impression of the book. Each panel is a painting – a complete work of art in its own right. The style is impressionistic and slightly strange, complimenting the prose rather than necessarily illustrating it in the traditional sense. It’s more like a visualisation of the internal thoughts of the main character: an illustrated representation of his emotions.
The writing is slick and compelling. The story is slow-paced, though sometimes this is because you spend so long drinking-in the picture below. It starts with a man splitting-up with his girlfriend because she announces she’d like to have his babies, and he can’t handle that yet. It then charts his path through a series of loss and regret scenarios, as he finds himself dragged through real life on his own.
It’s a wilfully arty book – more of an essay in mood that just happens to have a plot, than a traditional story – but the writing is interesting and the artwork is stunning. It’s more accessible than a quick flick through might have you believe, but it’s deliberately pushing against a few of the rules of traditional comics, so is one for the literary, rather than the mainstream comics enthusiast.