Once upon a time, Britain was covered almost entirely in forest. The population lived in constant contact with nature, where there were wild spaces in which the imagination could run free and mythology emanated from the sheer age of the land.
Nowadays, for Londoners, most of this link has been lost, except for one huge anomaly.
“In a city like this, to have a space like this, it’s close to a miracle,” says graphic novelist Oscar Zarate, who is just one of a multitude of us who are in love with Hampstead Heath.
“It offers the possibility of being connected. If you lean against one of those trees, you feel something – it’s 500 years of life there. It’s a pure gut response to this place.”
This is the fervour and romanticism which colours his new graphic novel – The Park. It tells the stories of four characters whose lives intersect as a result of their common connection to what might be considered the central protagonist, the Heath.
Interplay between characters and the vibrant natural world
The seeds of the book grew out of a conversation Zarate overheard on the Heath, in which a man was being very disagreeable. “There was an incredible clash between the physical environment and what this human was saying.”
Zarate creates an interplay between his characters and that vibrant natural world, sometimes using a frame to zoom in for a bug’s eye view of the battles raging beneath the grass blades, or to soar above with the birds.
Previously he has worked with graphic novelist superstar Alan Moore on the book A Small Killing, but now in this – Zarate’s first solo project – his expert hand has both written and drawn this jubilant homage to the Heath.
Much of the pleasure of The Park comes from any true Heath-lover recognising the geographical accuracy of the routes that the characters take, including one’s favourite locations – be it Kite Hill, Bird Bridge or more secluded spots that only an expert eye will recognise by the curve of a footpath or the shape of a fallen tree trunk.
Here is a video in which the graphic novelist lets us have a sneak peek at the book and his working methods:
Originally published by The Ham & High.