In the hot Australian summer of 1939, young factory manager Robert Wells and his friends are still trying to work their way out of the Depression, while hearing the not-so-distant rumbles of another war. Robert is an avowed pacifist, his friends run the gamut from Communist to militant patriot, and it is through their discussions that Australian history comes alive in this riveting graphic novel, the first volume in the Robert Wells trilogy.
The conversations in the Russian teahouse, the bars, and in each other’s homes introduce the reader to the culture, politics, and slang of the time. Adding to the depth of the story are Robert’s guilt—over having a good job and his own apartment, over his religious doubts, and over his attraction to an underage Austrian refugee, Mata Krautshammer, whose dreams of being a chanteuse seem destined to create trouble. Robert’s offer of his apartment to the Krautshammer family alleviates some of his inner turmoil, but causes consternation and gossip among his associates.
As the threat of war becomes reality and the fighting moves closer to Australia, the many layers of the story form a web that draws the reader in to Robert’s personal struggles as well as the larger historical one. The illustrations deftly capture the melting pot of Melbourne and the array of people and attitudes jostling for space and recognition in a chaotic time, and this reader eagerly awaits the 2014 release of the next volume (The Fight) to see what happens next.