Vignettes of Ystov by William Goldsmith

Vignettes of Ystov
by William Goldsmith
Jonathan Cape, 2011

A rather good debut graphic novel set in the fictional Eastern European city of Ystov. Each two-page spread is constructed as a short story about its curious inhabitants, and after the first few of these you realise that the stories are cleverly connected and there’s a second story going on in the background.

The watercolour drawings may appear crude (in fact, initially the book looks like an actual Eastern European kids’ book from the ’60s) but they impart exactly the amount of information required to tell the story. There’s also a carefully controlled colour palette which helps to separate the story threads.

The style of Ystov is heavily indebted to Ben Katchor’s brilliant Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer. Both share a fascination with historical ephemera and brief but hyper-detailed examinations of whimsical lives, although Katchor’s constructed city is a strangely hermetic New York where little has changed since the 1950s, while the atmosphere of Ystov is familiar to me from living in Moscow. Unfortunately some of the narration and dialogue sounds exactly like Katchor’s, which is a shame because otherwise it’s an original project.

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