Best Of British: Sean Azzopardi Calls Last Orders
by Richard Bruton
Last time we talked Sean Azzopardi, it was with his comic, 50, back in 2018. Now, a year plus on, it’s time to shine the Best of British spotlight on him again, with Last Orders, a collection of short tales on drinking issues, illness, old friends, memories of younger, better times… it might sound downbeat, but it’s anything but.
Azzopardi’s relationship with alcohol is something he’s talked about before, yet never as clearly as this. Never as honestly as this.
How about this, on page 3…
Oh yes, that’s where Azzopardi goes here. He’s always been honest about his life. But this is brutally honest, determined to look at himself, yet also managing to sit above things, more positive than he’s been before. And that shows in every acknowledgement of faults here, there’s always a sense that Azzopardi is moving in the right direction. Just very slowly. And sometimes he goes back a few before going forward.
So what you get, in short yet brilliant bursts are six tales, from that tricky relationship with alcohol, explorations of Azzopardi’s health, ideas of death, old friends bringing back good memories, and even older friends leading into a vampire tale (of sorts).
Six very different tales, each with a different visual signature for each, but all of them hang together somehow, a tonal theme, a sense of walking through Azzopardi’s mind, what makes him tick, whether it’s the bad things (drinking, depression, psoriasis) or the good (friendships, creativity).
The first tale is the headliner, obviously, Sean’s issues with drink, explored in just a few pages, yet covering so much, from the early 70s of hanging around pubs with his dad, another drinker, to his own issues with drink, and a self-destructive nature that’s been (at least partially) held in check with the creative side of his life.
But then it goes into other areas, whether it’s a meeting of old comic friends (in the pub), for a bittersweet reunion in Camden Is Burning (Again), or two tales of his youth, one leading seamlessly into the next, from The Tiny Flat On The Hill into The Summer Of The Vampire, with Sean and his mates moving to Muswell Hill in one of those perfect idyllic times of endless youthful summer, weed, mushrooms, friends, the sort of time you can only have when you’re young. All ending with Sean and the gang investigating the local cemetery.
But the highlight is in two tales, The Jab and The Body, where Sean first details his long struggle with psoriasis and the misery its misdiagnosis caused, accompanied by some truly trippy, medically creative double-pages, carried on into a very honest, brutally honest idea of what to do in the event of death: ‘I’m not going to linger long in people’s memories after I pass away.’
Artistically, he’s coming up with some of the best work yet. Just those couple of incredible pages above, from The Jab, should tell you that.
He has a way of crafting simplicity on the page at times, almost cartoonish, yet making it mean so much, and then you can turn a page and he’s off on an artistic flight of fantasy, wild and unusual layouts abounding. His line is confident, strong, but here it’s the colours that really pop out, the flat and bright palette adding to the effect of a vibrant book.
But, as always, there’s more than that in Azzopardi’s work. It’s something I’ve commented on before with his work, but there’s a beautiful sparsity in his work, most readily seen, almost veering towards the abstract, when you look at his backgrounds. For much of this, he’s keeping those backgrounds simple, but when he does add them in, you get such as this…
The more you look at it, the more you see. And as you focus, as you go deeper into the page, you see the abstraction, the looseness of the line… and it’s lovely, it truly is…
Yes, it looks great, but as with all of Sean’s comics, it’s the feel of it that sticks with you, a drifting, lingering sense of something attempting to be reached, of attaining the never available. But Sean keeps trying, keeps showing us his failings, medically, creatively, the continual look at the damaging relationship with alcohol, it’s all in here, 52 pages that cover so much and despite looking unflinchingly into the darkness, always have that glimmer of positivity, of moving forward, of a creative coming to terms with himself and how he wants to get better.
Sean Azzopardi – Last Orders, available from Sean’s website.