Jim Broadbent has got a lot to his name putting it mildly. With a filmography packed with hits including Iris, Moulin Rouge, Hot Fuzz, Harry Potter and Game of Thrones; and several awards for his work including an Oscar for Best Actor for Iris in 2001 – he has had quite a packed career. And now he can add comic writer to that resume as he teams up with Guardian cartoonist Dix to present a twisted look at the life of a peasant.
Taking inspiration from Flemish folklore figure Dulle Griet (Mad Meg), the work of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s work (Dulle Griet in particular) and Goya’s Witches – Dull Margaret tells the story of a solitary fisherwoman who makes her living selling the eels she catches in the river near her home. But when Margaret is robbed of her profits by some two-faced locals, she descends into a mad ritual in the hopes that it’ll not only bring her vengeance but also companionship and material gains. A bittersweet journey follows as Margaret struggles with reality and the danger of becoming all that she hates in the pursuit of happiness.
The title character can be looked at in several ways. For one, it is a fascinating look at the twisted figures you often see in 16th century artwork whose lives are often left up to the viewer’s imagination. In another way, it’s a character study of the human condition when one is pushed to their absolute limits. Margaret has not been gifted in her living conditions, looks or in terms of companionship. It’s almost shocking how much interest is generated in seeing how Margaret reacts to her circumstances with an almost bipolar wave of emotional reactions. This ranges from blind rage in at the theft of her money to her almost timid reaction to the failure of her ritual.
Apart from one instance, the only character with any dialogue is Margaret. Even then it is rather sparse, and the language used suggests someone who has little human contact and a loose grip on reality. It all comes off as very authentic and Broadbent lets the character speak for herself rather than trying to explain it with narration or other dialogue. The authenticity is further enhanced by Dix’s rather brutal artwork. You would not call this a pretty book, but the sheer level of bleakness and grim realism presented paint a powerful picture that will be seared into your memory. Margaret has an almost Gollum like appearance which further aids the image of the pitiful creature she has become.
This is a strong debut for Broadbent, and he has chosen a great medium and creative partner to bring his vision to life. This dark and cynical examination of the human condition is well worth a look.
Dull Margaret will be published by Fantagraphics on 17 July (9781683960980, h/b, £25.99)