CHARTWELL MANOR GRAPHIC NOVEL – REVIEW

Chartwell Manor by Glenn Head a Comic Memoir Published by Fantagraphics $29.99 Out in the UK on 3rd June 2021! Available for pre-order now.

Robert Crumb describes it as a masterpiece and I wholeheartedly agree. It’s an extremely important graphic novel about a truly foul American boarding school run by a Catholic pervert, Lynch, and the impact it had on generations of children who literally passed through his evil hands.

It’s appealing to a general public because it is a tale of fighting adversity and it does have a genuine upbeat ending. It’s especially relevant to survivors and professionals studying this field because it shows the effect on kids better than any print memoir or text book could ever do. The illustrations bring it to life in a way that I doubt words alone can achieve. Only a movie could top it and this graphic novel deserves to be made into one. It’s professionally plotted, written and story-boarded and feels like a three act drama.  So it’s low-hanging fruit just waiting to be picked by a director.

The first part of the book is relatively easy going, showing the hideous nature of the school without being too visually graphic.  But it’s the rest of the book, after Glenn leaves Chartwell and descends into an urban Hell, where we enter difficult and uncharted territory. And it’s here that the story really comes into its own.

At this stage, you might feel this is starting to sound depressing and back away? Please don’t. It’s actually very positive because it’s about the truth and the truth is always, ultimately, positive. Contrary to what the sneerers might say (‘Is this a “poor me” book?’ Answer – No way.). Or the stoics  (‘You’ve just got to put up with it.’ Answer – No you don’t. And being stoic doesn’t work.). Or the denialists (‘Are you sure you’re not exaggerating?’ Answer – The truth is usually far worse than our edited memories.) Yeah, the truth really does set you free.

So, after school, we see Glenn encountering denialists in the form of his parents, trying to be stoic and inevitably failing as stoics always do and paying the price. (Alcohol, relationship issues, emotionally shut down, you name it.), and hesitating to tell the story of Chartwell for fear of it being a ‘poor me’ tale. Although it’s grim, I didn’t find it remotely harrowing. We’re all adults, after all.  

It’s a classic hero’s journey with a lot of false starts, falls from grace, and frustrations along the way. Hero’s journey because this is real life, not Clark Kent bullshit, and every pupil who survived the monstrous Lynch is a hero. Eventually Glenn achieves closure which for survivors is always retaliation (preferably legal). In my experience, there is no other way that works. Certainly not forgiveness, forgetting or prozac.  His retaliation is the publication of his book.

I run an Old Boys website about my old Catholic school, St Joseph’s College, Ipswich, which was not unlike Chartwell (named after Churchill’s retreat) so I had a special interest in reading it. Naming and shaming abusive teachers and schools on a website (and in reviews) is another successful form of retaliation.  

Here’s hoping Chartwell Manor is the start of a genre of comics and graphic novels exposing these horrible and serious crimes against children, rather than a one-off volume. Graphic art is a particularly good way to dramatise the characters and the often complex issues involved. 

Glenn has shown extraordinary courage in sharing his poignant and emotional story of endurance and strength with us. I hope many more survivors’ stories will follow him.

Chartwell Manor is available in the UK on Amazon from 3 June and you can preorder it now.