REVIEW: Phil Barrett’s MATTER
BY PAUL HICKEY
I was eating M&M’s on the sofa today when one fell out of my hand and down the gap between the cushions. I delved quickly after it but my probing fingers merely pushed it deeper. In my concerted effort to retrieve it, too late I noticed that I too had become enveloped, a prisoner of the mysterious dark space down the back of the couch. I wriggled about for a moment looking for a way back when suddenly I noticed the M&M just ahead of me. I popped it in my mouth but it turned out to be a stale smartie. It might have been there for years. Just then I heard sounds above me and two bodies landed heavily upon the cushions by my head. I recognised the timbre of the voices as those of my flatmates. I considered calling out for help but then realised that they were speaking heatedly even angrily and I hesitated. Everything was muffled but suddenly I heard my name. Then again and again and I realised that the subject of their consternation was me. I knew then that I must stay hidden and try to get myself out when they were gone. Something glinted below me – 2 euro, result! It was then that I found it, dog-eared, crumbed and forgotten a beautifully black inked comic entitled “Matter” by somone called Phil Barrett.
I opened it and began to read. The voices above me melted into fog as I fell into the pages, absorbed in the human rhythms within. Stories woven out of misunderstandings and words not spoken – from the spaces between people, where meanings are mislaid and misconstrued. The stories seem to grow from an inconspicuous moment as organically and dramatically as a great adventure from a single footstep. There is a mysterious poetry to every panel as it holds up a mirror to the reader. One begins to recognise oneself in the gentle unfolding of an evening’s drinking, a summer’s day loafing in the park, a relationship that was, that could have been or that went inexplicably wrong. The perfect counterpoint to his stories of quietly humorous, human observation is the understated confidence of his inkwork. Wonderfully expressive black marks upon the page, picking out a drunken half-memory from the noise of recollection – lucidly reminding me of the simple beauty and complex mystery of being alive. I recognise my own life among these pages. Such is the magic of master story-telling. It is only when I turn the final page and look up from the simply illustrated back cover that I realise I am back on the couch and that my flatmates are gone.
On the table is a note – “Paul, please tidy up your stuff and clean the dishes. John and Marji”. The passive agressive note would probably leave me feeling hollow and annoyed if I wasn’t so filled up with thoughts about the strangely insightful stories of Phil Barrett. The dishes can wait, I just want to read this comic once more.