Literature: April 1993

Literature: April 1993


A Small Killing

Written by Alan Moore

Illustrated by Oscar Zárate

Why is a “graphic novel” being reviewed as a book? Well, for two reasons. First, it’s about time comic books started receiving credit as a legitimate form of art. Second, in this case, the graphic novel in question is a true graphic “novel,” rather than a short story in comic book form.

That said, it would be an exaggeration to call A Small Killing  the second-best graphic novel ever published (behind the Cerebus the Aardvark volumes by Dave Sim and Gerhard, of course).

A Small Killing revolves around the life of advertising man Timothy Hole. From lower class England, Hole has risen to yuppie-class America. Now he’s getting the big break in his life as he’s being asked to promote the diet drink Flite in the Soviet Union. So Hole finds himself about to travel back to England to begin work.

Only … Hole keeps seeing a strangely recognizable little boy, first in the elevator of his apartment building, then crossing a rural road (causing Hole to wreck his auto), and then in an airplane lavatory.

The novel is divided into four sections, beginning with the New York period of Hole’s life (1985-1989), then moving backwards to the London chapter (1979-1985), in which Hole’s beginnings in advertising, as well as a disastrous affair, are depicted. Then, Hole relives his roots in Sheffield (1964-1979), with his marriage and idealistic art college education.

Just who is the little boy? Well, I’ll leave that up to those of you interested in this novel to discover. But I will divulge that the “small killing” mentioned in the title refers to the unjustified sacrifices (small killings) most of us make in “growing up” from child to adult. Specifically, where do our noble purposes and intents go? What happens to the childlike innocence and wonder we possess? And, perhaps most damning, what do we do with our bravery and boldness? Are all these attributes subverted or (worse) extinguished?

This is the focus of author Alan Moore, but rather than bludgeoning us or belaboring the point, Moore wisely allows the “moral” to be revealed through Hole’s folly.

As Hole moves into the “Old Buildings” section of his tale (1954-1964), he has recognized the child, and terrified of the truth, tries to run away. But our pasts, as Hole is about to discover, are part of us.

Hole the adult may be an object of our contempt, but he becomes ultimately sympathetic thanks to Moore’s skill. The conversations are lifelike and the characters entirely believable.

The advantage to this format as opposed to conventional prose is that the drawings provide impact for the story. There’s no need for unnecessary description as artist Oscar Zárate depicts the surroundings.

This review fails to reveal the fullness and maturity of this work. As a fable for modern existence or morality play, A Small Killing deserves attention from more than just the world of comic books.

Check out more from the SLUG Archives:
Literature: February 1993
Literature: September 1992