11th Oct2019

‘The Motherless Oven’ & ‘The Can Opener’s Daughter’ Graphic Novel(s) Review

by Chris Cummings

Created by Rob Davis | Published by SelfMadeHero | Format: Paperback, 160pp


I was, until this week, unfamiliar with these two books. The first two books in Rob Davis’s abstract adventure series that he calls The Motherless Oven Trilogy, completed by the newly released third book in the series, The Book of Forks (review upcoming). So, I’ll talk about the first two books here. I read them back-to-back in a couple of days, and I had a great time with them.

The Motherless Oven is a peculiar tale and one that is very difficult to pin down and discuss without completely befuddling a person who hasn’t read it. It’s built as something wholly new, with language and world concepts fresh out of science fiction, but with an absurdist edge. Abstract is the best word for this, as we witness a plot full of conflicts and characters who are incredibly interesting and odd, such as Scarper Lee, a sharp and angry young man who kicks our story off, and Vera Pike, my personal favourite of the characters we meet in the book.

There’s a strange manner to Davis’s work, and the way he builds his world and creates his characters. It feels foreign and totally bizarre on first glance, with the names for items and situations alone appearing completely mad, but then you begin to notice the similarities and metaphors in the work and how they relate to the world we inhabit. It’s something of a deep and philosophical work, yet with a humorous and bizarro coat of paint over the top of it. It’s a story about family, about the feelings of that familial clash that teenagers experience, yet it’s done in this obscure way, with a world in which the kids build their parents from machinery and random cogs and wheels, nuts and bolts. A world where random home appliances like potato prickers are considered “gods”. Also… instead of birthdays coming up, our characters are instead aware of their deathdays… yikes.

It’s so weird, so vibrantly creative and so articulately sculpted, it’s hard to not find plenty to love about this book. The black and white artwork, of which I’m personally a big fan anyway in graphic novels, is beautiful and works wonderfully with the whimsical and oddity-filled world that Davis has brought to life here. Teenage life isn’t a new subject for this medium, but in the way it’s told by Rob Davis this is something completely out of left field, completely and utterly original and cracked. I recommend it.

I then popped right along to The Can Opener’s Daughter, the second book in the trilogy. We meet up with Vera Pike again, she is the Can Opener’s Daughter in question and this book is, basically, her story. It fits alongside the first book perfectly as Vera tries, with all her might, to stop her weather-clock mother, while the book also continues on from the ending of the first book, involving ole Scarper Lee. It can be read alone, or… like I did, right after the first book, and it likely works fine either way. It’s as witty and curious as the first one, but I can’t go into it (I probably couldn’t even if I wanted to, quite honestly) because I don’t want to spoil anything. The writing is, as in The Motherless Oven, full of intrigue and bewilderingly funny wordplay, and there’s that lovely art style again too, which is the glove to the hand of the books. Another story of teenage life, with a big crazy difference, it’s a very interesting tale that can, if you allow yourself to become immersed in the world and the characters, stick in your craw for sure.

These graphic novels are, quite frankly, very strange, and I like that. There’s a dystopian science-fiction tone to the weird-fiction plot that works well, but likely won’t be for everybody. It looks gorgeous, with the line-work and gloomy colouring tonally walking hand-in-hand with the writing. Davis has really done something fresh and absolutely original with The Motherless Oven and The Can Opener’s Daughter and it only makes me all the more interested to read The Book of Forks. It isn’t surprising that these books have won awards and critical acclaim in the comic world, they are eccentric, individualistic and about as outlandish as anything I’ve read before. Lovely.

The Motherless Oven and The Can Opener’s Daughter are available now from SelfMadeHero.


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