The Listener is a graphic novel brimming with subtle ideas about life, art, creativity and politics. It’s the work of Vancouver’s David Lester, best known as one half of the rock duo Mecca Normal, but he’s also an illustrator and cartoonist and the author of a previous work of graphic non-fiction, The Gruesome Acts of Capitalism.
In the brooding The Listener Lester interweaves two stories that don’t obviously connect. A sculptor, unnerved by the death of a nascent activist inspired by one of her works, escapes to Europe. There, she meets an elderly couple who tell her the story of their involvement, or lack thereof, in the final democratic election in Germany before Hitler consolidated power. The little-known and highly compelling story of how Hitler spun the campaign in the district of Lippe ultimately overshadows the necessarily understated tale of an artist mourning for her own innocence. But as events unfold, the reader is inextricably drawn into both stories and how they relate.
The Listener achieves a unity of theme, delving deep into the nature of propaganda, passivity and the possibilities of resistance. Lester’s somewhat limited palette as an illustrator is occasionally frustrating. Hopefully readers can push past the book’s reliance on shade after shade of grey. A potent mix of historical detail, personal pathos and political reckoning, The Listener is well worth the effort. (Hal Niedzviecki)
David Lester, 310 pgs, Arbeiter Ring Publishing, arbeiterring.com, $20