Colin’s Inkstuds Comics Review Day 7 – Ethel And Ernest, A True Story

Colin’s Inkstuds Comics Review Day 7
Ethel And Ernest, A True Story
Raymond Briggs is a name that may not be familiar to many comics readers, but this guy is one of my favourite cartoonists. He’s best known for his kids books like Fungus the Boogeyman and Father Christmas. He’s also known for his “kids books for adults”, books that appear like children’s books on the outside but take on adult themes like the Falklands War in “The Iron Lady and the Tinpot General” and in “Where the Wind Blows” an elderly couple slowly dies of radiation sickness after a nuclear strike. All of Briggs’s books read a lot like comics. Brigg’s finest work is Ethel & Ernst, A True Story. It is the story of his parents, their courtship and marriage through five turbulent decades. A milkman and a maid, they buy a row house in London which they will never leave, through poverty, the coming of war in Europe, the bombing of London in World War 2, the welfare state, the eventual prosperity of post-war Britain and (to them) the incomprehensible social changes of the sixties and seventies. As well as being a portrait of his parents this is a social history of Britain. It’s also autobiographical, when Raymond Briggs is born in 1934. With his parents eyes we see the young Raymond (an only child) shipped off to the countryside during the London blitz, going to Grammar School, perform his National Service and later becoming, to the horror of his parents, a long haired bohemian artist! Ernst is a unionized labour supporter proud of his working class roots, while Ethel (who was a maid in a rich household) is a conservative supporter with pretensions of grandeur who is ashamed of Ernst’s rough edges. This conflicting attitude towards class is a source of much argument between the couple over the years. But they are united by their simple decency and the quiet determination to struggle through whatever challenges come their way and try to improve their lives. The story becomes particularly touching as Ethel & Ernst grow older, decrepit, face senility and eventually pass away. The full colour artwork is amazing, simple yet detailed, rendered in what I think is pencil crayon. Some of the panels such as the top of page 27 are simply gorgeous. This is a funny, insightful and quietly powerful work by a loving son in tribute to his parents and to working class Britain’s. It is one of the most emotionally moving reading experiences I’ve ever had.
Colin
Colin (Stiff upper lip) Upton

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