Last month I ended up in Leeds with the intention of hitting a few sales and getting some cheap trade paperbacks and graphic novels. The sale I’d initially come to Leeds from ended up being a bust, the cities eager residents having already bought up anything interesting. I really didn’t expect to pick anything up after that and headed to Forbidden Planet not really expecting to find anything. It was my first time in the new store, relocated across the road and downstairs I discovered an absolute goldmine of small press, independent and weird titles on sale. As well as walking away with ‘Things to do in a retirement home trailer park’ and a few more books I intend to write about in the future I got Oliver East’s ‘Berlin and that’. I picked it up without knowing anything about it or the artist and it caught my eye mostly due to the fact I’d been to Berlin a few months previously after a few years away, and having always had an affinity for the city decided to give it a look. Returning again this weekend I managed to pick up his three other books ‘Swear Down’, ‘Trains are…Mint’ and ‘Proper Go well High’.
His Trains are Mint books are sort of loose trilogy detailing his walks around and between Manchester, Blackpool, Bolton, and most recently Berlin and work as both detailed travelogues of his travels and an exploration of the artistic process. East’s style is a mixture of impressionistic and experimental water washes, with an almost childlike and simplistic quality to them.
I’m always fascinated by the way that people describe places and what elements make it important to them. I often find myself describing a place and being met with confusion and the realisation that it’s not how they see it, what stood out as important to myself isn’t the same to them. This aspect is also what makes East’s work so appealing to me. He picks out on all the small details that would otherwise go unnoticed and it’s fascinating throughout his work to see which details and elements of stations and places he does focus on. Suddenly in his eyes, Power lines and walls, arches and grates, the small inconsequential details become deeply important. His work takes pleasure in the seemingly mundane and every day.
‘Berlin and that’ is the first of his books I read is his latest and by far strongest work and still my favourite by far.There’s less text in Berlin and that, as if East has become more confident in his ability to convey a sense of the place through the artwork alone, the almost overwhelming sense of solitude and stillness as he walks around the less travelled parts between Berlin and Frankfurt. In his three books we are very much witnessing the process of him discovering his own style and voice throughout the books. You get a lot more of East’s personality coming through in this one along as well as the locations. It could just be the obvious connection with Berlin but East’s artwork in the book strongly reminds me of the animated segments in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, both with their distorted flat perspective and simplicity.
Another page I poured over is one that features guest artists as they add elements to East’s drawings in their own style, in this case graffiti on the brightly coloured pipes found around Berlin. It brought a smile to my face and the vivid memory of my first trip to the city and inquiring about the huge Industrial pink pipes, criss-crossing and winding their way around the city. As with a lot of things in Berlin, the answer lies underground, the pipes pumping away water from construction sites, the ‘Berl’ in Berlin meaning literally swamp.
East’s work might be a little off-putting as they aren’t even close to being comics in a traditional sense of the word, either in look or narrative structure, but are still fascinating insight into someone from a non comics background developing a unique style and entering the medium on their own terms.