The True story of Ethel & Ernest

In the process of building a bibliography for my Family History Writing Course I discovered this Raymond Briggs graphic novel.  What a find.Ethel and Ernest book cover

Beautifully drawn, gently humorous, it hooked me from the first picture.  Should I have said cartoon?  The story of Ethel and Ernest begins, as such a title should, with the meeting of the couple, on a Monday in 1928.

How about this for an opening?Ethel and Ernest page oneEthel and Ernest page 2

This story of a working-class couple covers most of the twentieth century.  Each frame concentrates on Ethel & Ernest, and shows us how one family faces and embraces change.

I like the way it keeps its focus, and includes social and political history as part of the plot.  For instance, in one of the 1930s domestic-evening frames, Ethel is doing the ironing as Ernest reads out from his paper: “It says ‘The average family needs £6 a week to keep it above the poverty line…”

Ethel says, “What’s the poverty line?”

“Dunno,’ says Ernest.  “I just wish I earned £6 a week.”

There is an elegant economy about the way Briggs tells his story that we prose writers can learn from.  It says no more than it needs to, and trusts us readers to fill in the rest.

Look again at those first two pages, and what you see is a young woman in a black dress, apron and cap dusting a table.  Her role is clear.  The house is implied by the richness of the curtains, and her feelings by the colour that comes and goes on her cheeks.  We can imagine the rest.  The young man is crouched over his handlebars, glances back, and waves his cap.  The street is no more than a shadowy outline of prosperity.  What matters is his wide grin and the cigarette clenched between his teeth.


2 thoughts on “The True story of Ethel & Ernest

  1. What a smashing set of pictures – as you say economical and focused. I particularly like the final 3 images, you can tell what the maid is thinking, it’s all in her body posture.
    Having just finished “the once and future king” and “Persuasion” I wonder how they would be altered by turning them into a string of drawings☺

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You’ve proposed quite a challenge.

    There was the animation for Sword in The Stone by Disney, and my understanding is that much of the ‘magic’ of White’s word-play was lost. I suppose, if the story is to be economical then it must be pared down, but what to discard?

    As to Persuasion, would it be possible to capture the subtleties of J.A.s irony?

    You’ve picked out two works that have places in many hearts – always a dangerous route for an adapter to take.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s