Rian Hughes’ I Am A Number, published by Top Shelf Productions, is the latest work from this multi-skilled illustrator, whose work over the years has encompassed design, illustration and typography. Comics work for 2000 AD sits alongside CD and vinyl cover design, advertising work and font creation. Despite his lengthy career, this collection is actually his first solo work, which contains work drawn and written by Hughes.
That said, the stories may be written by Hughes, but they are wordless. This allows for a greater focus on the role of numbers in society. This ranges from one page reflections on iconic numbers – such as The Prisoner and Number 6, from the cult TV series starring Patrick McGoohan, and the Devil’s 666 – to extended pieces that subvert ideas of social rankings and positions in modern society. The entire book also seems to be a contradiction of McGoohan’s character’s assertion – “I am not a number, I am a free man!” – and we see, in Hughes’ work, how enslaved we’ve become to numbers and the way they help to create rigid social structures. We also begin to see how these restrictions can be subverted too.
Hughes adopts a style in this collection that is almost retro, using clean and sleek lines and bold colours, but reconfigured in a modern context that creates joyous and engaging work. His illustrations are never less than appealing, while his characters amuse and endear themselves to us with all of their cartoony exuberance.
Deceptively light-hearted in tone, Hughes is still able to offer implicit critiques against a range of ideologies, such as communism, while at the same time raising a smile in the reader – no mean feat. The lack of words leads to our deeper engagement with the pictures, and we work more actively to decode the potential meanings of what we are reading. Rather than obscuring the clarity of the ideas and themes, Hughes’ work serves to easily represent them, and even enhance their effectiveness. With the potential barriers that language and translation may have erected, I am a Number is of potentially global appeal in this singularly fine edition.
I Am A Number
120 page colour hardcover graphic novel
6.3 x 0.5 x 9 inches