by Niklas Asker
Sometimes the book makes itself incredibly difficult to review. The very brilliance of a plot point or the story is such that I could give it a full review and blow the very thing that makes it so good for future readers or I can keep quiet and skate over the thing that makes the book so worth shouting about. With books that have been around for awhile I don’t mind giving stuff away to a limited degree, figuring that it’s been long enough by now and the odds are you’ll know what the big deal is. But Second Thoughts has only just been released by Top Shelf and I can’t, in all fairness, give away the secrets of the book. Trust me, it’s worth it. Really, really worth it. In a “one of the best books you will read this year” style.
Second Thoughts is a slim volume and a quick read. At least the first time round it is. But the second time, knowing the ending, you take more time to get more of the clues, more of the visual trickery. And the third time you do the same. And the fourth time. Or at least that’s what I did. Four times in one night I read Second Thoughts, each time coming away amazed and enthralled.
(Jess, the novelist without a novel, meets John, a photographer running away from love to New York. Two people’s live touch and change forever. From Niklas Asker’s beautifully nuanced Second Thoughts.)
It’s a very clever story of two lives, following a chance meeting at Stansted airport. Jess is a novelist struggling to write and John is a successful photographer running away from his life in London. They’re both unhappily in love; her with her musician girlfriend, off touring the world, unfaithful and uncaring; he with another musician whose band he once took photographs for. The novelist’s story and the photographer’s story play out simultaneously throughout the book, as we’re drawn into their lives and loves, their heartaches and the slow, painful realisation that the love they once had may not be enough to last for much longer.
(A lover’s lies, told quickly and so easily. But the ramifications form the emotional heart of Second Thoughts by Niklas Asker.)
It’s a painful tale to read for anyone who’s been in a similar situation, as many of us have at one time or another. The moment of clarity, the sudden awareness that this once great love doesn’t really love you any more, the dull shock to the system when you look at someone you loved so truly, so deeply and this time there’s nothing there.
It’s a story about those moments when we realise we just aren’t in love anymore. And more than that, it’s about the choices we make following those moments, the second thoughts we might have and the second chances we may or may not choose to take.
(The moment I realised this was something very special; Asker’s fine ink work captures the moment that Jess realises it’s all over and her love is gone for good. From Second Thoughts.)
I just can’t talk about any specific plot points in Second Thoughts because to do so may well spoil the incredible moments in the book where you realise that what you thought you were reading, this tale of two love affairs going very wrong, is something completely different. Wishful thinking, dreams of what might have been, the very nature of fiction and storytelling itself; it’s all here in this wonderful little book.
Suffice it to say, the first reading is a saddening, wonderful, suddenly shocking thing. The second reading, you find yourself piecing together the clues that Asker drops throughout the book. I so want to tell you more, but then I’d ruin the moment for you. But it’s all there if you choose to look, everything’s important, right down to the furniture.
Asker is a debutant graphic novelist, but his style may well seem remarkably familiar to you. There are many, many influences at work here but his slightly spidery ink lines and his figure work are very reminiscent of Paul Pope and David Lapham with possibly some David Mazzecchelli thrown into the mix as well. But the comparisons are very apt and Asker may well be one of the next names to break through in comics following this wonderful, heartbreaking, surprising debut.
Second Thoughts and Niklas Asker have lots of homes online: there’s a Second Thoughts blog for a look at the day by day troubles in getting the book finished and a preview site for the first 14 pages here. Asker has a blog and a website with some fascinating illustration work like this piece done as a play poster:
(Niklas Asker: Poster for the play Zlatans Leende).
I see so many artists amongst his influences. Obviously Charles Vess (just look at the poster again for that), but Brian Bolland, moments of Alan Davis even. And then there are the really obvious comparisons to Lapham, Mazzucchelli and Paul Pope. But that’s an amazingly diverse and talented list. And only after one published graphic novel. I can’t wait to see what he follows it up with.