Best Of British: The Wonderful And Weird World Of Douglas Noble – Counting Stones

by Richard Bruton

UK artist Douglas Noble has been making his own, incredibly unique brand of comics for years now. Each one in his Strip For Me series is a completely different thing, difficult, compelling, confusing, mysterious, infuriating, intriguing, complex, and I love them.

The thread that runs through each one is that Noble plays with language and imagery, crafting a visual poetry of sorts, each comic leaving the reader questioning what they’ve read, each comic demanding thought, encouraging you, the reader, to take from it what you choose.

Simply put, Noble’s comics can be bizarre things, but they’re also quite wonderfully beautiful things. He’s the UK comics equivalent of the late Mark E. Smith and The Fall, constantly inventive, often frustrating, but once one of his works connects with you, there’s a compulsion to investigate more. In the past, his works have included a discussion between artist and model, a mission to do a good turn, cock-fighting, a couple falling apart in a possible apocalypse, a mysterious complex of scientists convinced they’re watching the end of the world, and a meditation on time featuring a Greek sculptor, modern scholar, and something else from the future. And that’s just a few of the many varied comics Noble’s produced.

Counting Stones is number 52 in Strip For Me. It’s a hymn to the stones of Castlerigg, a Neolithic stone circle in Cumbria, England. It’s a spectacularly set ancient circle, dating from 3000BC or thereabouts, far older than Stonehenge.

And Noble, in Counting Stones, writes a meditation on these stones. Or, possibly the stones themselves meditate on the world around them, the passage of time, so slow to them, observing, silently, the glacial passage of time, with moments flitting past, people coming and going.

Each page features a moment of the stones, each page a shifting of the light, as time passes. And each page finds something new happening in and around the stone circle. And then there’s Noble’s titles at the top of each page, starting out sensibly, but then veering into the bizarre. Or, for all I know, they could be real place names, or stone names, titles such as Tahn seem reasonable, but then, later on, we’re into Dick, yan Dick, Tahn Dick, and you start to have the suspicion he’s playing with us, seeing what we’ll notice.

And all the while, the stones site, silent, observing. We’re left to mull over Noble’s words accompanying every image, such as these…

What wars, what blood ran?
Dumb stone asks questions.
Lichen is soft, drenched red.
Druids and lovers, rivals and sports.

Signs of battle, of sacrifice perhaps? That’s the thing with Noble’s work, you leave with more questions than you started with.

Or, that might be simply me imagining things from the words and the imagery. I could be completely wrong, but, in the end, that’s why Noble’s poetic comics delight me so much, I can read one and know that what I take from the experience will be unlike anyone else’s reading of this. I find myself absorbing the imagery and his words with every new comic, convinced I’m missing things, drawn in by the strangeness, the mystery. And with practically every book of his, I come away with a renewed sense of the possibilities in comics.

Counting Stones – A Hymn Of Castlerigg by Douglas Noble is Strip For Me 32, published September 2017 and available from Noble at the Strip For Me site.

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