Review: The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon

Title: The Nao of Brown
Author: Glyn Dillon

Publication Date: October 1st, 2012
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Genre: Graphic Novel, Psychological
Pages: 204
ISBN: 1906838429
Source: Local Library Book Sale

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Twenty-eight-year-old Nao Brown, who’s hafu (half Japanese, half English), is not well. She’s suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and fighting violent urges to harm other people. But that’s not who she really wants to be. Nao has dreams. She wants to quiet her unruly mind; she wants to get her design and illustration career off the ground; and she wants to find love, perfect love.

Nao’s life continues to seesaw. Her boyfriend dumps her; a toy deal falls through. But she also meets Gregory, an interesting washing-machine repairman, and Ray, an art teacher at the Buddhist Center. She begins to draw and meditate to ease her mind and open her heart—and in doing so comes to a big realization: Life isn’t black-and-white after all . . . it’s much more like brown.

(From Wikipedia)

Glyn Dillon, born in 1971, is a British comics and storyboard artist, best known for his 2012 graphic novel The Nao of Brown.

His father was a signwriter; his older brother Steve is also a comics artist. He got his first job in comics at the age of 17, and worked in comics for seven years, drawing "Planet Swerve", a strip about "art students in space" written by Alan Martin, for Deadline, and work for DC Comics' Vertigo imprint, including the miniseries Egypt with writer Peter Milligan and Shade, the Changing Man with the same writer. He drew part of the "The Kindly Ones" story arc in Neil Gaiman's The Sandman series.

In the mid-1990s he left comics and worked in film in television, primarily as a storyboard and concept artist, as well as a period directing music promos for Ridley Scott's RSA Films. He shared a studio in London with Jamie Hewlett, and did some work on Hewlett's Gorillaz music and animation project. In 2007 a gallery of his work appeared in the comic art magazine Swallow, and he began work on his graphic novel, The Nao of Brown. The story of a young woman with Primarily Obsessional OCD, it was published by SelfMadeHero in 2012 and won the Special Jury Prize at the Angoul√™me International Comics Festival in 2013. He has also worked in illustration and toy design.

At a recent library book sale I was volunteering at, I stumbled across The Nao of Brown. All it took was a glance at the cover art and a flip through its vibrantly illustrated pages, and I knew I had to give it a warm home. And so no one else could give it a warm home, I hid it behind some technical manuals until my shift was over. It wasn’t my proudest moment but I stand by my decision. 
Nao has returned to London after losing a job and a relationship. She seeks a new start, but fears that everything will continue in the same downward trajectory she has come to expect. She is reunited with some old friends and makes some new ones as she tries to find purpose and meaning in her life and in life in general. The story is interrupted every now and then by a parallel story in the form of a Japanese parable that provides an interesting break in the art style and provides an extra layer of narrative for the main story to be plucked out of its pages. 
The Nao of Brown is a graphic novel that is different from most I’ve seen.  There’s no action or gratuitous sex, no monsters or cool gadgets, no superheroes or villains. Usually the only time these elements aren’t present in a graphic novel, the main themes are comedic or cutesy in nature. In fact, up until now, I haven’t paid this medium as much attention as I possibly should have because of it. Thank God every now and then something comes along to challenge my notions. 
In The Nao of Brown, Glyn Dillon has created a very character-centered work that focuses on a girl named Nao.  Nao is a half Japanese, half English girl, who feels as if she doesn’t fully belong to either culture, or the human race in general, at times.  Ever since she was a child, Nao has been plagued by a peculiar form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that causes her to obsessively fixate on violent scenarios in her mind. For example, in one scene she is on an airplane and she thinks about pulling the hatch and depressurizing the cabin.  The thought disturbs her so much that she parks herself in the airplane lavatory for the remainder of the flight, trying to force the scenario out of her mind. Her innocence and her shy demeanor are juxtaposed with this horrifying condition, and it only serves to build level upon level of depth to both her character and the story in general. 
I was drawn into this story from the beginning.  The beautifully gentle themes and subtle but uproariously funny comedy roped me in. As funny as it is at times, this is no comedy. There are some incredibly real themes and situations that are sometimes very dark, always true to form. The story is the perfect snapshot of life for the twenty something year old. From the eternal struggle for identity and truth, to alcoholism and mental illness, romance, inadequacy and growth, Dillon has run the gamut of the human condition in this work. 
I thoroughly enjoyed The Nao of Brown from the first frame to the last. I would recommend it for anyone interested in graphic art or anyone with an interest in the human condition. I think anyone in their twenties or thirties would enjoy it from a more personal perspective, but the struggles, truths, and the amazing themes in this story can be useful and enjoyable for anyone at any age (not children, due to some mature themes and swearing). At the very least, there are some truly funny bits and the art is incredibly detailed and emotive. 
Absolutely charming from beginning to end.

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