Twist And Turn, by Tony Gibbs and Vincent Danks (Harker, Gravestown) – an intriguing mix of graphic novel and musical come together for a fantastical bike racing melodrama.
When he’s not off making the finest police procedural, Harker, of the strangest spin on a fantasy, Gravestown, both of which I’ve told you plenty about, Vincent Danks has plenty of other things on the go – and Twist And Turn is just one of them, a fascinating graphic novel with a difference.
It’s a hybrid beast, a fantasy melodrama set on the Isle of Man in the months leading up to the world-famous TT motorbike races, full of drama, relationships, jealousies, and a hefty chunk of fantasy thrown in for good measure, something that builds and builds, as all good melodramas and musicals do, to a rousing finale.
It’s something that started life as a full theatrical production, actors, songs, the works – getting to a showcase production in 2018. But then came Covid and lockdown and that meant the planned re-writes and further productions were impossible. All of which meant it was time for a little creative thinking, leading to the work here, telling the musical’s tale in graphic novel form, with Gibbs adapting the musical and Danks working from that script.
The graphic novel stands alone, and does so admirably, but it’s a lot more than that – as you can see from the artwork above, the graphic novel has pages featuring the songs from the musical, which can all be downloaded, plus there’s podcasts with backstories for the main characters from the story, and YouTube videos featuring story and art from the graphic novel as well as the music from the musical, all promising to build into a real immersive experience.
Okay, introduction over with – let’s get into the graphic novel itself. Now, obviously, I came here for the work of Vincent Danks, whose tight line and lush artwork I’ve enjoyed for many years now. And Twist And Turn doesn’t disappoint at all for that, it’s full of Danks’ gorgeous artwork, all tightly drawn, opening up into some sumptuous moments to allow him to shine.
The story of Twist And Turn centres on the famous Isle of Man TT festival, a celebration of all things motorbike racing. The Skelton family, Manx natives all, have motorbikes in their blood, for good and bad, with Charley entering an all-female team to take part in the upcoming TT. And then in walks the six years gone black horse of the Skeltons, World Superbike champion Robbie.
Robbie’s pure racing driver cliche, the brash, braggish, womanising speed demon from a racing family who spends his time back on the island causing havoc wherever he goes, particularly when he starts an affair with Melanie, the wife of a local politician, who soon decides to leave her husband Gordon, whose mistress is Jen: Robbie’s former girlfriend. Yep, tricky. Into that, throw in familial tensions made worse by his return, a father damaged through racing, a sister determined to make her own way in racing, and a mysterious technical designer behind Charley’s team, one with a long history with the Skeltons.
It’s all designed to up and up the drama – in the best musical fashion of course – focusing on all the conflicts and relationships reaching breaking point as the story rolls on, eventually building to a crescendo as the plot threads come together and the many simmering relationship issues all boil over.
But against all of that is a subplot concerning the mythology of the Isle itself, something brought to life by the all-knowing King of the Faeries, who’s been manipulating things on the island for centuries now and has a particular interest in both the Skelton family and Charley’s female team.
Overall, a fine, fine thing, full of that lush and ever so lovely Vince Danks artwork, but the actual story here, notwithstanding a few problems with pacing and density, certainly holds up.
It has a wonderful sense of the overblown, with characters falling into cliche quite often, but this isn’t so much of a problem as you might think, it’s a musical come to life on the page and a very particular sort of musical at that, one where the emotions, the conflicts, the tangled relationships are all meant to be laid out as pure melodrama – and they certainly are, enjoyably so.
And although the addition of the Faerie King and his plotting might strike you as somewhat going against the flow of the relationship drama – when it does come into play it has something of a Midsummer Night’s Dream about it, the strangeness ramping its way up just as all the emotional sub-plots come together.
Twist And Turn the musical may never happen, but the story gets told here in the pages of the graphic novel and it’s a translation of media that works surprisingly well.
Twist And Turn – by Tony Gibbs and Vincent Danks.
Available from the website: https://twistandturnthemusical.com/. And do sign up for the Twist and Turn newsletter which gets you a free downloadable set of goodies, including an exclusive 18 page preview of the graphic novel, over 70 minutes of music, six podcasts, posters from the graphic novel and legacy artwork.