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Foreign Agent (review)

Narwhal (Per Berg)

Narwhal Books, 2020

We have previously reviewed Narwhal’s comedic efforts on Earthbound – featuring a science fiction hunt at a high school. This title is quite different. One of the most remarkable aspects of Foreign Agent is that, in an industry which is fixated on world-building, we know next to nothing of the protagonists, the location, the motivations of most of the characters, and how it is that they came to be in a lonely hut in the middle of a tundra. And that is how it should be.

The story is stripped downed to its essence. Even the absence of colouring – the art is set out in monochrome, with various hues of grey and white dominating the art, underscores the objective of the tension. There are no superfluous distractions.

Per Berg's home-invasion graphic novel “Foreign Agent” fully funded on day  one |

The dialogue between the two groups are distinguished by different coloured word balloons. Each speaks their own language (and we are not sure what languages, only that they are not French), setting up challenges of communication and misunderstanding. Only one person in the comic appears to speak both languages, and his motivations are completely unclear. Much of the communication takes place by way of (quite amusing) drawings and later by a shared comprehension of the plot of Robin Hood.

Narwhal 'the next mel gibson' on Twitter: "Foreign Agent launches FEB 7.  First day backers get a Narwhal Fitness zine for free. 190 pg full  affecting graphic novel. i'll post some art

The comic has a Tarantino-esque plot. Two armed men, Piper and August, are running from soldiers. We assume that they are “deserters”, because that is what everyone in the comic assumes, but it becomes clear only towards the end of the story that they might be spies or even journalists seeking information on a chemical attack. The plot is punctuated by humour, generated mostly by the young boy Thomas (“To catch a goat, one must become a goat”) and by Piper’s youthful guilelessness. The humour is juxtaposed with the underlying sense of danger. When tragedy strikes, it strikes hard.

Here is a blurb from the creator, which appeared on IndieGoGo :

Foreign Agent is a 190 page graphic novel for teens and adults that follows two soldiers who force their way into a home. There is a language barrier between the soldiers and the family that lives there. They begin exchanging drawings in an attempt to communicate. At this point the comic becomes a comic-within-a-comic, and I have ‘cast’ collaborators A.O.M. and Wayward Nerd to represent the art of the characters within the story.  

The nature of the relationships within the family, as well as the soldiers, isn’t clear. Tension mounts.  Communication is key, and all they have are drawings to exchange. The soldiers are running from something. Will their shaky deal with the family pan out or make things worse?

The nature of the plot means that there are many questions left unanswered. What is on the roll of film? What was the relationship between the old man, Thomas, and Alexandria? Why did Alexandria previously have her hair cut? What was the meaning of the flashbacks to a wedding? What will become of the survivors? Indeed, who is the “foreign agent”? None of these questions should be answered. Our window on the plot is deliberately narrow, as if viewed through a gap in the floorboards of the hut in the snow. The fact that Narwhal was able to achieve this outcome is remarkable.