Dull Margaret by Jim Broadbent & Dix

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Last month I was fortunate enough to attend the Hay Festival where I had the opportunity to listen to Jim Broadbent talk about his first foray into fiction. He has collaborated with artist Andy Dixon, known as Dix, to create his first graphic novel, Dull Margaret.

Broadbent first drew inspiration for this story from a painting by Flemish renaissance artist Peter Bruegel the Elder. The painting, titled ‘Dulle Griet’ is also known as ‘Mad Meg’ and features a woman who is the subject of Flemish folklore. Broadbent was inspired by this image of a strong woman striding across a violent landscape, and having since seen the original painting I can certainly see why this was an image that stayed in his mind, and leaves you wondering about the story behind the woman in the painting. In Dull Margaret, we meet a strong woman, a woman whose life is far from easy, and who navigates a world in which it is hard to know who to trust. From the opening pages it quickly dawned on me that Margaret’s existence was a bleak one. She appears to live on a gloomy coastal marsh, an image which was inspired by Broadbent’s home county. And the illustrations from Dix capture this environment perfectly and add to the atmosphere of the tale. On these marshes Margaret tries her best to make a living, gathering eels to sell at the market. Her work is strenuous, and she is isolated. And upon visiting the market she realises that she is alone amongst the crowd. I was quickly drawn into her story, and really felt for her as she craved a better life.

Whilst I have a small collection of graphic novels, it is not a format I read very often. But having read Dull Margaret, I am now keen to pick up more. The premise of Margaret’s story and the inspiration behind it was an interesting one, and the story deals with themes of loneliness and desire, greed and selfishness. There are also some fantastical, folklore elements to the story, as we see Margaret working on an unconventional solution to her life’s woes. I was impressed with the artwork by Dix which I thought complimented this dark tale very well, effectively portraying the dull, harsh landscape whilst also adding a pop of colour which made for some striking images. This imagery was vivid and captured the bleak setting and the grisly details of Margaret’s journey.  However, whilst this story is quite dark, there is also a humour to it too, and there were some comical moments along the way. I thought the collaboration between Jim Broadbent and Dix was a good one, as Margaret’s dialogue was complimented nicely by the artwork, creating a vivid character with an authentic voice.

I enjoyed Dull Margaret, a dark tale in which we uncover the story behind a remarkable woman, a damaged soul on a journey through a difficult world.

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