Sharing a passion for comics

Gutter is the term comic book artists use to denote the space between two successive panels in a comic. And it is the apt title of an engaging new novel by Dorina Papaliou, published by Kedros, in which an aspiring artist risks getting lost in the gutter when his skill at drawing leads him into dangerous places. Alexandros, a senior high school pupil with a passion and a talent for comics, is going through a rough patch. His mother has been absent for years, doing good work abroad, leaving her son with the feeling that he has been deserted. His father is a manufacturer whose only concern for his son is to see him study business and join the family firm. The boy’s resentment at their indifference to him and his concerns and his fear of abandonment have been spilling over into the rest of his life, ending his relationship with Isabella when he reacts nastily to her announcement that she is going abroad to study. Chance encounter But he has two stalwart friends – his mentor Errikos, who runs a store that deals in collectors’ comics, and his classmate Filippos, a computer whiz. Later he also gets support from unexpected quarters when a chance encounter gets him into strife. It’s his drawing that gets him into trouble and his drawings that might extricate him. Alexandros is sketching a young man in a bar when he sees what appears to be an abduction. Two thugs escort a man away, at gunpoint – or do they? Alexandros isn’t sure. And what is on the flash drive he finds in the matchbox that the young man flicked toward him with his foot just before the men disappeared? «Gutter» takes its young hero into a world of unexplained deaths, disappearances and ruthless criminals. As his life at school and home deteriorates, Alexandros investigates, using his artist’s skills of observation and a good dose of courage. This novel is something of a novelty for Greek fiction. Attractive to both young readers and adults, it has a believable young hero and is set in the world of comics, which is still fairly new to Greece. There are many aficionados of comics, the author told Kathimerini English Edition, «but lots of people still believe they are trashy.» She herself is a fan, and the book came out of «a combination of a love for comics and for this type of fiction.» Papaliou reads a lot of comics and has attended many exhibitions on comics. Her favorites include some mentioned in the book – Persepolis and Maus – and her preference is for comics that deal with politics and history. She was determined that the comics were to be part of the plot and not just the background. When she was brainstorming the book, Papaliou explained, «I knew I wanted to write about a young person who was going through a crisis, and tell his personal story of neglect and loneliness along with the mystery. I thought, what if he sketches a mystery?» Alexandros identifies with the young man who disappears, and that takes him on his path of discovery. Though she hasn’t specifically targeted young readers, the author says she would love to reach a young audience. She was attracted to the idea of writing about a young character. «I wrote it in the first person because then I could get his way of speaking across, in short sentences. It’s more action-oriented.» One of Papaliou’s achievements in her novel is to portray a hero on the cusp of adolescence and adulthood – smart, with a passion for his craft, but held back by unresolved family and personal issues. We watch him grow as he boldly pursues the wrongdoers, and mellow as he comes to see that not everyone is against him. It was a conscious authorial decision to show him facing the dilemmas and decisions that mark the passage to adulthood in the framework of this suspenseful tale. «I don’t think there are many novels that deal with young people choosing what to do with their lives,» commented Papaliou. Kedros is launching «Gutter» at Papasotiriou bookstore (37 Panepistimiou St, 210.325.3232) at 7 p.m. on January 30. The writer Dorina Papaliou was born in Athens. She studied history at Brown University and did postgraduate studies in special anthropology at Cambridge University. Her dissertation was on Karaghiozis and the magic of the shadow puppet theater. In addition to a work on oral narrative and its present-day revival, Papaliou has also written four books for children. «Gutter» is her first novel.