Tim Minchin is a stand up comedian, a musician, a writer, a poet and a skeptic. His work on the musical version of Matilda is genuinely brilliant and the fact he’s currently writing a Groundhog Day musical has me positively giddy. He’s an immensely talented, versatile figure.
But he’s also one that I’ve never felt entirely comfortable with. This new graphic novel version of ‘Storm’ both shows why, and shows it’s time for me to move past that.
Adapted by DC Turner and Tracy King from their superb animated version linked above, ‘Storm’ is the story of a disastrous dinner party debate between Minchin and Storm. Storm is a believer in every sense of the word; a tattooed new age tornado of aromatherapy, auras and the afterlife. Minchin is the increasingly drunk, increasingly annoyed embodiment of scepticism. The battle line runs neatly down the middle of the table.
Superficially, it’s everything that drove me away from a lot of Minchin’s work and the skeptic movement in one beautifully illustrated package; an all out Kaiju war between two equally entrenched and self-righteous viewpoints. Intellectually, I sit a lot closer to Minchin than Storm but it’s a pretty uncomfortable side of the table at times. I’m a resting liberal Catholic and have a healthily skeptical interest in elements of the paranormal. Both of those were cited by an author on Minchin’s side of the table (But not Minchin to be clear) as being symptoms of mental illness a few years ago.
Like I say, uncomfortable.
The reason is that for both sides ,it’s a debate that assumes a binary state. You’re either 100% skeptic or you believe everything without question. Both sides are wrong and both sides push people away as a result.
That’s the bad news.
The good news you get a pretty great view from the middle of the table.
Minchin mines a rich seam of self-deprecation throughout and the first half of the piece is more about him trying to control himself for the sake of the other guests than Storm’s credulity tsunami. This is both endearing and remarkably well observed. This sort of situation, where civility is balanced on a knife edge, is one a lot of people have encountered and it’s explored really well. Turner and King have a great eye for physical comedy and you get the same increasingly desperate (And funny) eyeline conversations we’ve all had that end about as well as you could expect. Even the final line, which is about as epic a ‘Fuck You’ as anyone could manage in these circumstances works in this context. On the one hand it’s intensely arrogant. On the other it’s an upfront acknowledgement of how little the conversation has achieved. It’s a closing joke, but one with barbs that fire across both sides of the table.
But the highlight of both poem and book is the section that opens at around 7:40 on the video above with the line ‘Isn’t this enough?’. On the page that absolutely sings, opening with a double page starfield that draws your eye across its full scale before letting you move on. That entire section is full of the one thing some sceptic writers can’t seem to get to; emotion. There’s pure unalloyed joy in everything Minchin says there and it’s communicated on the page through wonderful, friendly, expressive artwork.
This is vital. Turner and King have an elegant, accessible approach and style that emphasizes just how inclusive Minchin’s world view is. It isn’t Storm’s views that offend him it’s the fact they’re blinding her to the incredible world around her. The second you realize this, the argument becomes more of a debate than an intellectual shoving match. It’s not that Storm isn’t thinking big, it’s that she isn’t thinking big ENOUGH.
Storm embodies everything that works about comics. Turner and King’s easy going, accessible style takes in the epic scope of the conversation but keeps it grounded and, crucially, more even handed than the original monologue. In doing so it not only ensures that the point is made but it shows both sides in a very different, light. It may not be the most relaxed dinner party but, thanks to Minchin, Turner, King and Storm it’s a far more welcoming one than it first appeared to be.
Storm will be available from the 16th of October priced £12.99