An artist in search of inspiration doesn’t sound like the most fascinating of subjects for a graphic novel. But as David Lester demonstrates in The Listener, that can depend heavily on where that inspiration ends up being drawn.
The Listener is a book of two halves. In the first we see sculptor Louise Shearing trawling around Europe’s great cities and art galleries, hiding from a tragic incident in her recent past, and perhaps unwittingly seeking inspiration from European culture. As she travels she forms short-term liaisons with other lost souls. The trouble is, during this point, the book itself seems to be directionless and lost.
Then a chance meeting brings her into contact with Rudolph and Marie, an elderly German couple, still trying to come to terms with the atrocities committed by the Third Reich. They tell Louise the story of their own involvement in politics and the media in the run-up to Hitler’s dictatorship, and the book then flits between the present and the past.
Through Louise the elderly couple see the opportunity to release a few demons. It gives them a chance to confess, not to their involvement with the Nazis, but to the fact that they were part of an industry that failed to stop him. Louise gains her own inspiration through their story, which restores her faith in activism through art. It reaffirms the importance of her work and its ability to inspire and stimulate her audience.
At this point, Lester delves into the history books, finding his own well of inspiration to power through the rest of the book. Hitler is no stranger to comics, but we’re more used to seeing him as a war-time dictator. Here, however, he’s a politician, holding rallies and making speeches in an attempt to get elected.
It’s an aspect of the Hitler story that we’re less familiar with. He remains an evil maniac with the most horrific ideas, but Lester adds a certain vulnerability to the monster, adding depth to a character more often portrayed as a two-dimensional tyrant. On the other hand, we also see his deft, clinical manipulation of the media and the other political parties his movement has to swallow in order to ascend to power.
This historical perspective takes a lead role through the rest of the book and it makes fascinating reading. However, the art side of the story feels flimsy and lightweight, next to the crushing weight of Hitler’s rise to power and the knowledge we have of what comes next.
The back story, of the inspiration-seeking artist, feels too long and unwieldy, getting in the way of the historical section. But if you’re interested enough in the fictionalisation of Hitler’s early political career, it should leave you feeling more forgiving of the chapters set mostly in the modern day.