Warning: contains spoilers.
At what juncture in life do we consider ourselves victorious? Do we need to change the world? Build a legacy? Find happiness? And how long is this victory supposed to last? Is it simply enough to achieve contentment on our own terms and contribute modestly but positively to those around us?
It is questions like these that bubble beneath the gentle surface ebbs and flows of Owen D. Pomery’s latest work – Victory Point. Taking its name from the small coastal town where it is set, the graphic novella’s title also reveals its central theme – an interrogation of the idea of victory. Pomery does so through the symbolism of the town itself and the experiences of protagonist Ellen as she returns to it.
Over the course of 68 beautifully illustrated pages, Pomery ponders the moment at which anyone can be deemed victorious and ultimately what the point of any victory really is. Take the fact that none of the book’s characters know how the town got its name; its eponymous victory is unknown, lost to time, insignificant, and that is precisely Pomery’s argument. To paraphrase Ellen’s father – victory doesn’t really matter if the meaning is lost.
In discussing the book’s origins with Herald Scotland, Pomery says: “I guess it was mainly reaching a point in my life, both generally and artistically, of reflection. Taking stock of what had gone before, what had panned out and what hadn’t, and wondering what direction I would head in going forward. The origin of Victory Point is in that moment of pause.”
Ellen finds herself struggling with her future direction as she returns to the place of her childhood to visit her ageing father. At the start, she clearly lacks Pomery’s sense of reflective calm – she is at a dusty crossroads, attempting to figure out her place in the world, what she wants from life – what victory might look like for her.
As Ellen walks around the attractive modernist town, it is both a nostalgic meander and a tour of the ‘lives’ that could have been hers, other people’s ‘victories’. There is the shop owner that works in the same place she always has, but has found fulfilment in motherhood. Ellen’s praise for her classmate is so empty that a vast gulf stretches the width of the page, suggesting that children aren’t the answer Ellen is looking for.
Soon after, she visits a garage run by another old school friend. This forces her to come face to face with the notion of dating someone from school and going for happy hour drinks with classmates – Ellen’s reaction is to mentally scream: “oh god no thanks.”
The feelings evoked by coming ‘home’ will have been encountered by many of us on returning to the place of our upbringing – a distaste for the stasis, the ordinariness of it, and yet perhaps a recognition that part of us would like it.
Later that day Ellen swims naked in the cove where she first learned to swim as a child. She floats in calm embryonic waters, buoyed on nostalgia, lost to a moment. Pomery’s stunning full-page illustration offering a birds’ eye perspective that encourages the reader to visit their own similar ‘happy place’, somewhere existing outside of both time and place.
These large full-page panels are used regularly throughout Victory Point to inspire moments of reflection in the reader. The internal and external dialogue ceases, the intelligent filmic frames disappear. We are allowed to pause and think – and wallow in Pomery’s illustrative finesse.
Victory Point, as with all of Pomery’s work, is concerned with the relationship between people and the built environment. As an architectural illustrator, Pomery returns to this theme in numerous different ways across all of his comics and illustrations. Interestingly in Victory Point, architecture plays a passive role – the modernist properties are “merely home to the people that choose to live there.” In this case, it is what they represent, what the town symbolises, that is of importance.
Victory Point is a failed modernist utopia, the experimental vision of architect M. L. Schreiber. In fact, the utopia didn’t actually fail, because only a third of Schreiber’s coastal town was ever built. The ‘new principles’ it was designed to encourage, the harmony between art and science, between different ethnicities, remain painfully unrealised.
The town failed, the social experiment failed, the victory was never even close. What we are left with is a passive backdrop, a sensual gloriously rendered bleached white metaphor laid out beneath a crisp blue sky. This gives Pomery complete freedom to create the flowing curvature and art deco elegance for his (and our) enjoyment, for the sheer indulgence of it.
It is entirely deliberate that Ellen is struggling to uncover her own personal victory in a town that embodies failure. Confronting those polar sensations – the attraction of nostalgia, belonging, family, and the stagnation, backwardness it represents – is part of the process. Starting a family, a relationship, making money aren’t for Ellen. She wants something but is not sure if what she desires is enough.
Thankfully Ellen’s father is there to offer her some sage advice on the matter – Pomery in disguise perhaps, with beard and belly, from his point of calm reflection. When we first meet Ellen’s dad, he is varnishing a boat. The elderly carpenter has clearly spent many months, perhaps years, contentedly building the vessel. His project is nearing completion, bringing him closer to his own personal victory and so too the end of his life. When he eventually launches the boat, he enjoys a unique perspective on Victory Point, on the point of victory, and the life he has lived.
During their evening together, Ellen’s father reminds her that she is young and that there is always a way through, a path. On the thoughtless actions of local kids, he says: “Why should they care about the past? They just want to shape the future. Or they should anyway.”
The next day Ellen returns to the big city but her visit to Victory Point has worked. Not long after leaving the town, she starts to shape her future. She quits her job ‘selling books’ at a large commercial store and opens her own bookshop which she names Small Victories. The moniker is perfectly apt because it is exactly what it is – a small victory. Ellen has found a way to make a difference, at a manageable scale, and is happy for now.
The penultimate illustration depicts Ellen’s dream as reality – a book shop in a normal street, a facade between two buildings, defiant, incongruous, offering refuge, support and ‘something necessary’ to a community, and of course, lots of books.
Victory Point is Pomery’s way of urging us to do what we can to make a small positive difference to the lives of others. Solving big problems, achieving grand ambitions doesn’t need to be the goal and that’s fine. We should have the confidence to change direction, strive for something better until we find our own small victory, and hope it is the first of many.
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