Have You Met metaphrog Yet?

Five years in the making (well, sort of), <strong>metaphrog</strong>'s new book <em>Louis: Night Salad</em> is out just in time for Christmas. What is it? Read on...

Feature by Keir Hind | 30 Nov 2010

If you don’t know their work already, metaphrog (the ‘m’ is always lower case) are Glasgow-based writer John Chalmers and artist Sandra Marrs, who have been producing graphic novels since 1998. Their earliest work in this field was Strange Weather Lately, a story for older readers, but since then they’ve concentrated on producing the Louis books, tales for children that adults can enjoy too.

There have been four previous Louis books, but the newest is Louis: Night Salad. “It's been 5 and a half years since our last book” John tells me. “Obviously not all of that has been spent writing the book, there's been what we call the incubation or gestation period, and we also did a lot of work promoting Louis: Dreams Never Die. As well as that, metaphrog produced a comic book version of Edwin Morgan’s poem The First Men on Mercury, with copies provided to all Glasgow Secondary Schools. Sandra says “The very first time we had an idea for this book was back in 2003, when we did a short story for an anthology called The Round The World Rug Race, which was about 12 pages, and which we really enjoyed doing. So we'd always intended that something similar would be the next book after Louis: Dreams Never Die.”

So it’s been a long while coming, but Night Salad is a very intriguing tale which rewards multiple readings. Obviously, some of the reason for the wait was the amount of time the authors spent on the book itself. “There are 96 pages in the book,” Sandra says, “and there were probably 4 times as many as that that were completely scrapped. Some scenes I redid as many as twenty times, just to get the layouts right.” John confirms this, telling me “when we came to laying it out I think we realised that it was losing some potential emotional impact, and that it would actually be better to rewrite it a bit than rework it, which actually strengthened it.”

The book itself is a wee gem, which Sandra summarises succinctly as ‘A quest narrative,” and John elaborates on this: “It's a very simple story. It starts with an accident, and Louis is very fond of his friend F.C. (Formulaic Companion) and he sees that F.C. is damaged or broken, and it gets worse,” he says. “Louis has to strive to figure out what's gone wrong and maybe fix things”. Although the story is simple, there’s a level of complexity throughout that, I admit, confused me at times. But it all becomes clear in the end, and the journey is never an unpleasant one, with Sandra’s brightly coloured scenes contrasting with what is at first quite a dark tale. John says it’s “suffocatingly sad at first, quite miserable”. But a series of steps move away from this sadness, firstly when Louis starts his quest, and then as this quest unfolds in stages towards the resolution.

Louis: Night Salad is a book that will no doubt appeal to different age groups. Children will enjoy the journey, and the art, while adults will be able to appreciate the sadder moments and the way that the initial confusion of the story is resolved in the end. It’s a really nice piece of work, well worth the time that metaphrog put into it. I get the sense they’re becoming aware of this too: “We've had responses from readers,” John says “saying they really did care, they wanted Louis to find a cure, and I suppose in that sense we're glad that the book has worked.” In a way it’s a parallel narrative to Louis’ own – the end might be a while coming, but it's all worth it when you get there.


Louis: Night Salad is out now, cover price £9.99, from amazon.co.uk and other good retailers