A Small Killing surprised me. I thought I had this thing figured out about halfway through the book, and lo and behold, the end adds whole new levels. Alan Moore called this a “deeply personal” story. If you are looking for people in tights, conspiracies, and social commentary, this isn’t the book for you. There are no explosions. It is a relatively quiet book. The story is built around introspection and is one of the more literary graphic novels I’ve read. Younger readers tend to translate that to mean “boring,” but it was nice to read a graphic novel that didn’t rely on pure action to drive the story.
The story follows ad-man Timothy Hole (pronounced “Holly”) as he returns to his childhood home in midland England. He is working on an ad for a huge account selling a diet soda in Cold War-era Russia, but he is struggling. Tim’s mind wanders through his past and the mistakes he has made. He once wanted to be an artist, but he is now middle-aged and a part of the system he once hated. On top of everything else, he thinks a young boy is following him, and perhaps, trying to kill him.
There is a disorienting tension that builds throughout the book, and parts of Tim’s inner dialogue are in a stream-of-consciousness style, which adds to the sense that Tim is losing his mind. Oscar Zarate’s dream-like artwork also adds to the overall tension. The other characters often have a Rocky Horror Picture Show look to them. Several panels depict passersby with dummy heads with no faces. In scenes with large crowds, I was reminded of the scene in Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas where the people at the bar turn into blood drinking lizards. And this all hinges on Tim’s inner crisis.
As Tim gets closer to his childhood home, his memories also return to his childhood. Overall, the book is about the loss of innocence and the compromises we make. And I’m sure this will sound politically incorrect, but I think the reader would have to be at least thirty-years-old to really feel what Moore is getting at with Timothy Hole. The book is about regret and guilt and how we end up places we never wanted to be. I’m sure younger readers will understand the concept, but they might shrug their shoulders and say, “So what.” Reading it as a thirty-something, I get why Moore said this was a personal book.