So happy that my second novel is being published (Deixis Press, 28th Nov 2023). You can buy it from Deixis Press here, and that’s the best way to get hold of it; fast, reliable and supports the small press ecosystem. But if you need to go via the usual other places, that’s okay too; it’s broadly available, e.g., Amazon, Waterstones. The trailer is below, followed by the blurb and cover art; a small selection of reviews is provided at the bottom of the page. If you want to read me wittering on about where stories come from and the inspiration for ‘Cartoon Life’, go here. Finally, thanks to Ben Henley, Krysta Winsheimer, Anil Menon and Miranda Miller, who all commented on various drafts of ‘Cartoon Life’; their input made the book better than I could have done on my own. As always, especial thanks are due to Angel Belsey of Deixis Press for publishing the book, and in fact just for being so independent-minded in an industry where most participants only follow each other around the same well-worn tracks. Thanks, Angel; what you do makes a difference.
‘The Cartoon Life and Loves of a Stupid Man’ is narrated by Philippe Favrier, artist manqué and owner-manager of an independent comics bookshop in Geneva. Philippe is married to renowned cardiosurgeon Marilyne. Their relationship works because they balance each other’s fragilities: she helps him control his delusions, and he accommodates her self-harm, horror of mirrors and odd kleptomania. This balance is upended when an accidental repositioning of mirrors shows Philippe his own profile; he is profoundly disturbed to see that it belongs to another – but who? At the same time, he becomes certain that Marilyne is having an affair – but with whom? To make sense of life, Philippe must interrogate his memory, which he experiences as if it were a physical graphic novel.
As an independent comic book store owner and the heir to a pharmaceutical fortune, Philippe Favrier lives a life that straddles the real world and the realm of fiction. Struggling with mental illness, Philippe relies on his wife, Marilyne — a successful surgeon with her own haunting secrets — and a groundbreaking drug his father developed. Bound by their shared pain, they navigate their haunted lives, forever shadowed by the heart-rending loss of their baby, Antoine. Their fragile world begins to crumble when Philippe catches a disturbing glimpse of an unfamiliar profile in the mirror. And his uneasiness is further fuelled by an anonymous comic strip that arrives at his store, featuring a character bearing an eerie resemblance to him. Is Marilyne hiding an affair? Is she connected to the comic strip that’s tormenting him? As he probes deeper, Philippe is drawn into a web of deception, where the lines between reality and imagination blur — until his investigations into Marilyne and the malicious comic artist at last reveal the tragic truth.
The key component of the cover is the image of a man who appears to be tearing off his own face. This is from an original work by Eros Espinoza, an artist working out of the city of Iquique, in Chile, who produces very striking and disturbing images. It perfectly captures the idea of a man who is so horrified by what he finds in a mirror that he starts to tear himself apart. To develop Eros’ original image into the ‘Cartoon Life’ book cover, Deividas Jablonskis tweaked it in various ways, not least by breaking up the image into irregular frames, reminiscent of the panels of graphic novels, which give the impression of the shards and fragments of an irreparably shattered life. The comics theme is further emphasised by the ‘sticker’ at the top right; this is a nod to the “Approved by the Comics Code Authority” stickers that appeared on US comics from ~1950 to ~2000 as an indicator of compliance with the Code’s standards. A perfect cover — I am very lucky to work with such talented artists and designers.
With ‘Hangdog Souls’, I chased reviews and reviewers; I’m not going to do that for ‘Cartoon Life’. Non-cartoon life is too short. If I am made aware of a nice review, however, I may add it to the list below (which therefore is not comprehensive).
(5 stars) “A stylistically brilliant novel with an extremely unreliable and troubled narrator. At first a funny and endearing portrayal of the frustrations of a comic book shop owner with a beautiful and much more successful wife, the plot gradually takes a darker turn and descends into tragedy and horror. “
(5 stars) “. . . a sensitive and poignant portrait of a troubled couple clinging desperately to each other, trying to stay afloat despite both struggling with grief and illness. Joan’s depiction of mental illness is both candid and nuanced—Philippe especially is drawn with sympathy, not as a medical curiosity, and the reader can fully comprehend his decision-making. But this isn’t a happy story, and going along on Philippe’s journey with him is a rough ride, as much as you grow to love and care for him. With both this and Joan’s previous book, HANGDOG SOULS, I’ve been struck by how beautifully languid the storytelling is, with action bubbling up through Joan’s lush narrative. The Marc Joan experience is full sensory immersion, not a cheap quick hit of adrenaline, and for that reason it will stay under your skin much, much longer. Five stars, forever and ever, for an author that can remind me how fiction used to make me feel.”
(5 stars) “Let me start off by saying WOW. I love love love this book. It is so deranged and smart and creative. The ending is so well-crafted, but you can see it coming (which is a GOOD thing). There are enough hints as it boils over to predict what’s going to happen which makes it all the sweeter (or bitter) when Philippe finally puts the clues together. I would definitely recommend this to horror fans and those who love deep psychological stuff and unlikable main characters.”
(4 stars) “This is one of those novels that really defy genre expectations. It’s intriguing, creepy in some instances, and very well written but it’s not overtly horrific in the traditional sense. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth reading, though, because it really is. . . . This book is by no means about a psychopath or sociopath. It’s not especially bloody or violent. But it builds this creepy disturbing vibe over the course of the story and makes you feel uncomfortable. Sometimes for reasons that can’t quite be explained. I recommend this book for those who want a quieter and slowly unsettling horror read. You’ll find a lot in here to enjoy.”
(4 stars) “You want something different, something to make your skin crawl and get you thinking? Read. This. Book.”
(4 stars) “Not overly horrific, but just enough for great entertainment. It gets creepy and odd and weird at times. It becomes bleak.”
(4 stars) “A tragic story of paranoia. This tale of horror is about the psychological degradation of a man whose mental illness controls him. It’s harrowing and hits close to home for those with disorders like anxiety and paranoid schizophrenia. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I also needed a break from heavy books after reading it.”
A lovely little mention in the Daily Mail: “This is a tale of mutilation, paranoia, love and cartoons — and you don’t get to say that very often . . . jealous, paranoid fantasies start to pick away at the fabric of Philippe’s reality, an unravelling that takes on a ghastly, relentless momentum of its own. Deeply involving, fabulously well controlled and shot through with shafts of dark humour, this is a graphic tragedy with cartoon vividness.”