Julian Hanshaw - A collection of surreal, comic and mournful interweaving tales graphic short stories. It focuses on the lives of a few nomadic souls scattered across three continents

Julian Hanshaw, I’m Never Coming Back, Jonathan Cape, Random House, 2012.

"I'm Never Coming Backis a collection of surreal, comic and mournful interweaving tales travelling across three continents. In each destination we zoom in on unusual lives and remarkable situations, each tale unknowingly impacting on the next. In Rye train station a woman impulsively buys the same ticket as the man in front of her. The accidental journey leads her to Berlin. A novel way to run away from home. At Heathrow Airport, a building perpetually busy with people coming and going, a traveller is visited by a memory that refuses to leave. A tray of Singapore rice noodles cooked up in Christchurch takes on a life of its own. Winchelsea. A lone letterbox in Britain's only desert is central to a friendship between a travelling chef and a deep-sea diver. An old man realises that time is running out in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Elsewhere an out-of-towner meets a crab at a taco stand who seems to know more than any crab has a right to know. The 'sound mirrors of Denge' reflect more than noise for one day-tripper. And on Johnston Island a man struggles to hold onto his fading memories as his house slowly fills with pollen.Test Match Specialseems to be the only foothold in reality."

"The genesis of Julian Hanshaw's latest graphic novel I'm Never Coming Back began with Sand Dunes and Sonic Booms, the 2008 winner of The Observer/Comica graphic short story prize. From this Hanshaw started working on a collection of interconnected tales, dealing with family, love, death and food.
While some readers may harbour the preconception of a graphic novel focussed on the domestic as something bleak and gritty, these comics instead strike a whimsical tone through a balance of pathos, humour and fantastical elements. Hanshaw's restraint ensures this never slips into the clawing or twee and while being very specific in detail, the empathy one feels for the characters enhances a universality in each unenviable situation. However, hope abounds throughout and much of this is down to the artistry in each panel.
The collection can be read in one sitting and after putting it down what remains in the mind is the way Hanshaw intimates so much and states only what is necessary, the humanity in the characters' faces, and the haunting details of the contrasting small and vast environments he has them move through. A beautiful example of the possibilities in this medium." - Ryan Rushton

"When I was a child, Channel Four always seemed to have late night seasons of independently produced animation. Weird, twisted, sometimes awful, often brilliant, snatches of other people’s imaginations. This was in the days before Come Dine with Me. Before, as a society, we realised that a man squeaking the painfully obvious over footage of attention-grabbing ghouls with clown faces cooking bastardised versions of restaurant food was the best thing ever ever ever and could we please stop evolving now because nothing was ever going to top that moment when Carol from Basingstoke dropped the pavlova and that man, that funny funny man, said, ooh, looks like she’s dropped the pavlova! and how we cried with laughter, how we rofled and loled at that.
Sorry. Where was I? Oh yes, weird and twisted snatches of other people’s imaginations. I’m Never Coming Back is just that. Julian Hanshaw has created a book that exists on the edges of the imagination, in that territory next to dreams. It is surreal in the true sense of the word. In the sense of art that incorporates the dreamlike thoughts of the unconscious mind into reality.
A graphic novel in stories, some no longer than a page, that intertwine to form a whole that never is quite whole (gaps are important here) I’m Never Coming Back is a brilliant exploration of the imagination. Twin boys flying to Heathrow, a man in a deep sea diving helmet who lives on the dunes, a taco stall run by a woman called Errata, crabs, the Test Match Special…
Julian Hanshaw’s artwork perfectly complements these stories. In each section his line drawings are washed in a slightly different palette. His art has the same humour and melancholy as his writing. It also leaves clues as to how the stories interact. Clues that are often missed on first reading. I’m Never Coming Back is one of those comics you find yourself picking up weeks, or months, or, I’m sure, years, after reading, and flicking back and forth through until you just give up and read the whole thing over again. And finding new things.
The most obvious link between all the stories is the absence of home. (Perhaps that is another reason why I was drawn to my memory of those animation seasons and my VHS tapes of the best bits, now lost forever, when thinking of a start for this review.) Hanshaw is not sentimental or nostalgic though, he merely notices its absence in his characters lives and then sees where that takes them. That it takes them to a place where unopened take-away trays rattle with the movement of something trapped inside is a happy coincidence.
Any Cop?: Yes. Yes. Yes. A brilliant, beautiful collection of lost thoughts." - Benjamin Judge

Julian Hanshaw’s I’m Never Coming Back is a collection of surreal, comic and mournful interweaving tales graphic short stories. It focuses on the lives of a few nomadic souls scattered across three continents: from Winchelsea, Britain’s only desert, to Truth and Consequences, in the heart of New Mexico.
It is published in May.
When someone writes about the human condition, the reader is almost forced to contemplate on his or her life. There would be no other way to read that particular book. I am amazed at what is being done with the so called, “Graphic Novel”. The ways of telling stories are plentiful. It also matters what the book makes you feel and think after reading it. “I’m Never Coming Back” by Julian Hanshaw made me think of Home.
The stories in this graphic fiction book are connected and that is what makes it even more interesting and special. Julian takes us across three continents in this book, zooming in on unusual lives and situations which maybe we wouldn’t have otherwise thought of.
The way the stories are interconnected is also quite out of the ordinary. Each story has an impact on the next. The characters are forever struggling, trying to make sense of things and life as they know it.
In Rye Train station, a woman impulsively buys the same ticket as the man in front of her and finds herself in Berlin. At Heathrow airport on the other hand, a traveler is visited by a memory that refuses to leave. These stories are very unusual – for instance, a tray of Singaporean rice noodles cooked in Christchurch takes a life of its own all of sudden. I mean, who would have thought of such a story? The magical realism in these stories is astounding at times.
The themes that are mirrored through the book are of “loss”, “food” and “travel”, taking the readers from the Coast of Denge, to New Mexico, via Berlin, Christchurch, Tucson, and Heathrow. The stories take on a shape of their own – from being humorous to evoking pathos to sometimes whimsical (an expert crab speaking to an out-of-towner).
Since it is a graphic collection of stories, it can definitely be read in one sitting, which is what I did. The entire book is bursting with imagination, which is not only refreshing but also contemplative. Hanshaw manages to convey so much through the expressions of his characters that sometimes words aren’t needed (anyway they are needed less for such a medium of story-telling).
I loved the collection. The colours and the graphics make it even more interesting to read. I am glad I started the month with this book. I’m Never Coming Back is definitely something that takes time to get into, however the style and graphics leave you spellbound for sure. A must graphic fiction read. - thehungryreader
I’m Never Coming Back is a collection of surreal short stories that border on the bonkers. A few of them miss the mark and left little impact on me but for the most part the stories are wonderful pieces of dreamlike fiction. A particular favourite is the tale of a man who moves to the seaside to run a restaurant where he is visited each day by a man in a deep sea diver’s suit. It’s hard to summarise the story due to its length. But, it’s a great view of loneliness, anxiety and alienation.
Another story that appeals is of a man who seemingly communicates with a crab and foresees disaster that will soon be upon him and the town in which he stays. Each story lingers on desolation and being out of place. Each story tells a vast story, even if they only last a few pages due to Hanshaw’s stunning artwork.
The stories are depicted with the minimal amount of pencil strokes leaving each panel simplistic but effective, even the background to the panels have been given vast amounts of care and attention. Much of the colour palette is muted and allows the emotion to burst out from the bizarre tales. The whole book is a thing of beauty.
The entire book just pops with imagination and draws you in. It’s humorous, smart and distracts you from the mundane – injecting a touch of the ludicrous into your life, even if it’s for a short period. - dogeardiscs.wordpress.com

A quick little post this one to take a look at the latest book from Julian Hanshaw whose The Art of Pho came out about 18 months ago after he had first won the Observer/Cape Graphic Short Story Prize in 2008. I loved the artwork of that book even if I wasn't satisfied by the narrative and so I was intrigued when his latest popped through the door. I'm Never Coming Back functions like a collection of short stories but, as he mentions in this Director's Commentary on the piece, these are 'stories brushing against each other', linked like the various parts of Robert Altman's Short Cuts. Hanshaw again works with themes of 'loss, food and travel' taking the reader from the 'sound mirrors' on the coast of Denge, as featured in his award winning short (which can be viewed here), to the desert town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, via Berlin, Christchurch, Tucson and Heathrow. Again, we are not going to be satisfied by any grand narrative here, these are vignettes, some of which will give more joy than others, but the artwork is again beautiful throughout and the book as a whole has a pleasingly surreal tone.

It's tempting to suggest that the inclusion of Sand Dunes and Sonic Booms, the two-page piece that won Hanshaw his award, only highlights the strength of that short piece in comparison to some of the others on display here. But that might be a little unfair. Another sequence on the coast of Winchelsea provides one of the book's highlights as we follow a chap called Martin as he starts a new job in the kitchen of a beach cafe whilst trying to maintain a long-distance relationship through postcards. It is a local character in the shape of a man who sits everyday on the beach in a deep-sea diver's helmet who provides the enigmatic focal point of this story of communication, loneliness, tentative friendship and change.
There is also something satisfying about the story that takes place in Truth or Consequences which melds dreams and distance with tasty food and human connection. What is also interesting are the different colour palettes in each separate location. As I said, Hanshaw's work is consistently a visual treat; when he combines that with a strong narrative then his work will be irresistible. - William Rycroft

Julian Hanshaw, The Art of Pho,   free online motion comic

Read it here

Sometimes the debate is about terminology (graphic novel or comic), sometimes it's about whether it should be regarded alongside traditional written literature; increasingly the debate for me is about what the most effective use of the graphic form is or indeed how to classify some of its more genre-defying incarnations recently. Winner of the Observer/Cape Graphic Short Story Prize 2008 for Sand Dunes and Sonic Booms, Julian Hanshaw's first full length piece is hard to classify. Perhaps the best way to approach it would be to avoid the temptation to attach a label but the only reason that I raise all this is because something didn't quite click with this book and I think it has something to do with that identity confusion.
A character called 'Little Blue' is dropped off in the middle of nowhere by a man in a red car. He's a funny looking chap, a bit like a cross between a dog and a robot (but walking on two legs - not like Doctor who's K-9. Oh, it's hard to describe, just look below). He's walked to a post and told to count to five hundred. When he opens his eyes he has no one but a large cow for company, so he waits. And waits, and waits and as he does so we see a city build up around him. After causing an accident in Ho Chi Minh City that wrecks a food stand he offers to man one himself in order to pay the owner back. This is how Little Blue is introduced to Vietnam's national dish - Pho.

Pho is a noodle soup and, as Little Blue discovers, each pho stand in the city is slightly different with its own unique taste. Blue throws himself into an appreciation of the art of making pho and it isn't long before he has some loyal customers and a flourishing stand. As well as a narrative the book offers recipes for the various kinds of pho and the different ingredients used. Hanshaw clearly has a great love for the food and whilst he has admitted that he 'nicked the recipes idea from the Kurt Vonnegut novel Deadeye Dick', they certainly add something to a book that doesn't quite satisfy in the narrative stakes. The city is a confusing place and the novel has a confusing structure built very much on the chance encounters of the alien abroad (which Hanshaw once was and whom Little Blue visually represents). Sometimes this means forming an attachment to someone who doesn't reciprocate in the same way and sometimes it means misinterpreting another's friendliness. If most of your friends are other travellers then where do you find any kind of permanence, security or stability? Whilst these themes have some interest they don't make for the most rewarding reading experience.

The artwork however is fantastic. Constantly interesting and innovative, the book's restless narrative is beautifully realised in pages that vary wildly and a format that never gets fixed. The eye is encouraged to wander (and wonder) over the page throwing up all sorts of lovely detail and varied technique. There's also a lot of charm about this book, Little Blue is incredibly endearing, and there is a sadness that grows as the fleeting attachments that he makes gradually fade away. This book may not be exactly sure whether it wants to be travelogue, memoir, cookbook, or fiction but it does know that the innocence of its central character is enough to keep up your interest. And if you're anything like me it'll have you desiring a nice bowl of pho before you turn the final page. - William Rycroft

Sand dunes & sonic booms

The winner of the 2008 Observer/Cape Graphic Short Story Prize, from Julian Hanshaw

 title page image   Julian Hanshaw's site enter