Something fabulously different from Owen D. Pomery, an Arctic-noir thriller yet still with his beautifully well-done introspection, perfect for a tale from the white, icy wastelands of the Arctic. He delivers a polished, different, multi-layered mystery thriller, something that absolutely works in everything it’s seeking to accomplish.
British Ice sees Owen D. Pomery bringing you a cold blast of thrills in something very different, part Arctic-noir, part historical fiction of the cold world of British colonial legacy.
Working for the British High Commission, the magnificently named Harrison Fleet is posted to a remote Arctic Island, Reliance Island, part of the British Arctic Territory.
This antiquated little set of rocks, discovered in the early 1800s by Captain J. Netherton, whose influence on the Territory extends far, far beyond the strange house he builds in the middle of the ice field on Reliance, remains under British rule and has been almost continually manned by a member of the British High Commission since then.
And that’s where poor Harrison’s sent to, sentenced to four years in an off-hand comment from his boss, the ‘everyone gets to do it, it’s your turn now’ fashion of it in stark contrast to the incredible events that will happen…
Everything you need to know about how good Pomery can be in terms of his turn of phrase and dialogue is there in those three panels.
‘Ah! Harrison, marvellous to see you. How was the Congo? Still an interesting little country?’
‘It’s a huge country, Sir, with a huge amount of problems.’
That’s just a wonderful way of shorthanding the themes that we’ll see over and over in British Ice, that sense of old colonial thinking, that notion of possessing a territory yet really not caring not one jot for the people of the place. It’s all about ownership, with the indigenous population either too insignificant to be bothered with or a nuisance getting in the way of exploiting the land.
And those are the themes that run all the way through British Ice, like thin cracks in the ice getting bigger and bigger.
More wonderfully done dialogue there from Pomery, the perfect conversational tone, a lightness, the comedic to-and-fro that masks the importance of what’s being talked about.
We follow Harrison’s struggles to settle in on Reliance Island, watch as he begins to realise the troubles he faces, the same troubles that led to his predeccessor’s disappearance, and see him floundering in the face of the locals feelings towards him, their new Lord and master from the great lands far away.
At best they’re simple ambivalent or slightly curious, at worst they’re out and out hostile, as he soon finds out with an increasingly disturbing series of gifts left outside the door of his new official residence, the house in the middle of the ice.
But more than that, there’s a huge secret behind the history of this place, the thing all tied into Netherton’s initial colonisation, and it’s something Harrison will slowly uncover, piece by piece, a quiet and determined man determined to uncover the truth, no matter the skeletons it could bring out.
British Ice takes time to explore many different themes, taking in the consequences of colonialism and Empire, but at its heart it really is a wonderful noir tale of frozen landscapes, a historical exploration as well, but one that swiftly changes up into something of an unconventional thriller, slow of pace yet one to make you turn those pages faster and faster as you’re working through it.
I’ve covered Pomery’s works here at Comicon, with 2019’s Victory Hotel and 2020’s Victory Point, but it was his Between the Billboards & the Authoring of Architecture that first opened my eyes to this architectal artist turned comic artist, with a fabulously different line, a very different style, and a knack for making introspective, thoughtful, drifting pieces that get under your skin.
But British Ice, well, this is something very different from what he’s done before, a multi-layered Artic-noir thriller, and something that absolutely works in everything it’s seeking to accomplish.
It’s a mystery, a thriller, something Pomery’s never done before. But it’s still something that continues both the themes and styles of his other work. There’s all the isolation and loneliness that you found in Beyond The Billboards, the sense of discovery of Victory Point, just transposed to the Arctic wastes and transformed into something akin to the structure of a thriller.
Similarly, Pomery’s art undergoes a transformation here in the bleak environs of British Ice. In his previous works, Pomery’s background and interests in architectural illustration came through so strongly. But here, there’s none of the architectural familiarity to fall back on. Instead, Pomery’s artwork is all about the desolation, the bleakness of the Arctic environment, and it’s a masterclass of pacing and utilising the open, white spaces so well. Yes, there’s still that signature look of the vertical linework, adding a distinctive and visually interesting element to his artwork, but everything else is far more detailed, with far more depth to the visuals than you saw in Between the Billboards or Victory Hotel. It’s not as lush and rich as Victory Point, but that is a perfect stylistic decision, adopting a simple, atmospheric, and almost sombre, low-key colour palette that you see for the very first time on that stunning cover, all pale blues, greys, and white… plenty of white.
As a work of speculative fiction in a British Arctic location that doesn’t exist, British Ice tells a genre-bending tale, a mystery that thrills, a thriller that slowly unfolds its mystery, and on top of that Pomery manages to say something important and vital about colonial oppression. And not once in all of it does it feel anything but perfectly paced, never preachy, and always just perfectly thrilling.
British Ice by Owen D. Pomery, published by Top Shelf, 2020.