The Three Rooms in Valerie's Head, a new graphic novel by David Gaffney and Dan Berry explores relationships, memory, loneliness and obsession in a darkly humorous way - and debuts very soon, published by US publisher Top Shelf.
The project, originally a commission by the Lakes International Comic Art Festival that delivered a well-received live performance of a graphic novel with projected images and specially commissioned music by acclaimed recording artist Sara Lowes, will get a launch next month at London's GOSH Comics on Thursday 22nd February 2018.
The Three Rooms in Valerie's Head centres on a woman, Valerie, who has a rich interior life. Serially unlucky in love, to feel better she imagines that her previous boyfriends are dead and that their bodies are kept downstairs in the cellar in a strange, mummified state. Every day she brings them upstairs and speaks with them about what went wrong.
What follows is a series of peculiar, funny, and sometimes disturbing short tales about inept lovers, weird obsessions, and socially malfunctioning men who repeatedly fail to build a relationship with poor Valerie.
Apart from Stanley. Stanley was special.
Could he be the one to save her?
The Three Rooms in Valerie's Head is the first collaboration between ultra-short fiction writer David Gaffney and comic artist Dan Berry and is already attracting very positive reviews.
"David Gaffney has a way with words which dance around and right off the pages to stick with you forever," notes Page 45's Stephen L. Holland. "There’s nothing extraneous or laden. Instead they trill so brightly and lightly like a musical movement that’s subtle and always heading somewhere. As often as not, they’re headed somewhere far from expected."
The project began when artist Dan Berry was put in contact with the writer David Gaffney by the Lakes International Comic Art Festival.
"David’s books Sawn-Off Tales and More Sawn-Off Tales feature stories that are exactly 150 words long," says Dan. "I found them dark, funny and sad. Directly up my street.
"The Festival wanted to know if I’d be interested in adapting some of David’s stories into comics, only with a twist. Could we turn it into a performance as well? We chatted it through and figured we could do a comic that would be projected large, a dramatic reading of the stories all accompanied by live music. We managed to get together with the wonderful Sara Lowes who wrote a great soundtrack for the project.
"David and I found a way of taking these short stories and compiling them into a coherent narrative and set about the work of putting the whole thing together.
"This was a really fun project to work on," he expands. "It was initially tricky to balance the idea that it was going to be narrated, with a soundtrack and appearing on a huge cinema screen, but once we’d figured out the pacing and timing everything fell rather neatly into place. I really enjoyed trying a few new things with this book - to get the different voices of the characters, I changed the art tools I was using - I used coloured chinagraph pencils for one section and for a few pages I drew with my left hand to get a wobbly vulnerability into the artwork. It was a lot of fun."
The project was launched at Toronto Comic Art Festival in May 2015 and was performed in Kendal at the Brewery Arts Centre in October 2015, and Top Shelf decided to publish the graphic novel soon after.
"David and I are currently working on a second graphic novel," Dan revealed last year. "It's shaping up to be really good."
Hailing from Cleator Moor in West Cumbria and now living in Manchester, David Gaffney's debut came with the novel Sawn-off Tales, published in 2006. Other novels include Aromabingo, Never Never, The Half-life of Songs, the collection of short stories, More Sawn-Off Tales - and his latest book, All The Places I've Ever Lived.
He's also written Buildings Crying Out, a story using lost cat posters, published by Lancaster LitFest in 2009. David placed a series of lost cat posters in and around the town centre, telling a story of unrequited love between a Lancaster couple separated and united by the Storey Institute (where LitFest is based) at various points in their lives.
“It’s a bit of a bizarre way to get the stories out to the public, but at least it will get people talking about it and thinking about the role the Storey Institute has played in the life of Lancaster," David says. "In this increasingly digital world it's quite refreshing to be using bits of papers stuck up in the street to get your message across.” The stories were published in the collection, The Half-life Of Songs.
His diverse range of work also includes Sawn-off Opera, a set of operas with composer Ailís Ní Ríain (BBC Radio 3, RNCM, Liverpool Philharmonic and Tête a Tête festival London 2010); Station Stories, in which six writers linked to the audience with wireless headphones performed short stories in Manchester Piccadilly railway station (Manchester Literature Festival 2011); Men Who Like Women Who Smell of Their Jobs, (Manchester Literature Festival 2014) a visual art exhibition with painter Alison Erika Forde; and The Three Rooms In Valerie's Head, with artist Dan Berry and composer Sara Lowes. He's also written articles for the Guardian, Sunday Times and more, and his work has been published in a number of anthologies and magazines, from Aesthetica to Stand.
Based in Shrewsbury, Dan Berry - whose works include Sent/Not Sent, 24 by 7 (the Eisner Award-nominated Lakes International Comic Art Festival-funded anthology with Kristyna Baczynski, Joe Decie, Warwick Johnson-Cadwell, Sarah McIntyre, Fumio Obata and Jack Teagle, The Suitcase (published by Blank Slate Books) and much more, inclucding many terrific mini comics - is an illustrator, designer, cartoonist and lecturer. He's Programme Leader for the BA/MDES Illustration, Graphic Novels and Children’s Publishing degree courses at the School of Creative Arts, Wrexham Glyndwr University.
Since 2012, he has produced the podcast Make It Then Tell Everybody in which he has spoken to over a hundred other artists about what they do and how they do it. He also records a comedy podcast with Hannah Berry (no relation) entitled No YOU Hang Up. He has produced illustration work for The NME, Michael Rosen, The National Union of Teachers and more. He also makes, modifies and enthuses about pens and custom typefaces.
Sara Lowes is a musician and composer from the North East, currently based in Manchester. She's worked as a touring and recording session musician and backing vocalist for acts including King Creosote, Jim Noir, Tindersticks, Jens Lekman and Daniel Johnston as well as supporting Coldplay on their European and North American tour during her 18-month stint as keyboard player and backing vocalist for Marina and the Diamonds.
Sara has released four solo albums to date, receiving impressive reviews from the UK media. Sara’s versatile musicianship transcends into a multi-layered production of brass and piano-laden pop and progressive influences. The classically led arrangements adorn her psychedelic and jazz infused rock where West Coast sounds are submerged in seventies prog and technicolour pop.
• Dan is on most social media as @thingsbydan
• Sara Lowes is online at www.saralowes.co.uk