I received my copy of the most recent issue of Stripgids today, and it ran (amongst others) my review of Oliver East‘s Trains Are Mint. I did a rough translation of that piece for publisher Kenny Penman, and I’m sharing it here. Because I’m a nice guy.
Every weekend Oliver East takes a walk along the trail tracks between Blackpool and Manchester. In his diary, Trains are Mint, he records everything he sees and encounters on those hikes, with alternating and complementing text and sketches. Because of its stylishness and selfconscious naivity, the art is the first thing that attracts the eye. On a first glance, it lookss as if East wants to record rural life in contemporary England, and to give it its own, proper place, in a way that is borderline romantic.
Once you get deeper into East’s notes and thoughts, you discover that his story is far from romantic. The faceless figures that crowd his drawings are no glorified archetypes, but rather nihilistic nobodies. The graffiti on the wall testify to drug abuse, binge drinking and gratuitous sex. Buildings that should be the reminders of a grand and glorious past, have been boarded up, had all their windows smashed, or were replaced by supermarkets.
East very explicitly chooses for subjects and techniques that are not obvious. He walks on foot where others take the train, he uses aquarels where you would expect a contrasting black and white ink drawing, and he resolutely refuses to liven up his story. In that sense Trains are Mint is not only a quest for a lost England, but also a search for an identity of one’s own in a maddened, globalised and anonymous world. East doesn’t shout out his message from the rooftops, but he jots them down in his artworks, very subliminal, but very, very poignant.
Trains Are Mint was published by the very young British publishing house Blank Slate Books, and is a unique book, not only because it combines autobiography and social critique in a unique way with beautiful, stubborn artwork, but also because it comes from nowhere and immediately makes a statement that needs to be heard.
(illustration © Oliver East – used for review purposes)