Old sailor, which the albatross symbolizes

Appeal for reconciliation with the battered nature

Nick Hayes: "The Ballad of Sailor and Albatross", translated from English by Henning Ahrens, Mare Verlag, Hamburg 2012, 352 pages

A yellow-billed albatross on an island of the Tristan da Cunha group in the South Atlantic (picture alliance / dpa / Harro H. Müller)

A man shoots one of nature's most magnificent creatures, an albatross, on a whim. In his new graphic novel and Coleridge adaptation "The Ballad of the Sailor and Albatross", Nick Hayes brings together poetry and drawings - in a combination of polemical agitation and beguiling beauty.

The more than 200 year old ballad "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Coleridge is a founding text of British Romanticism, which is taken up again and again in Anglo-Saxon culture. Even Donald Duck has dealt with the dead Albatross from Coleridge, as a parody according to the genre.

At Coleridge's, an old sailor banishes a wedding guest with a gloomy parable. An albatross led his ship out of an ice desert, he says, and yet he shot the divine messenger with his crossbow. Everyone on board died as punishment, only the old seaman was condemned to keep telling the story of his sin.

At Nick Hayes, Coleridge's wedding guest becomes a stressed office worker of our time. On a park bench, an old sailor forced him to tell a story: he shot an albatross on a fishing cutter and plunged the ship into an apocalyptic world: a sea of ​​plastic rubbish rushes against the cutter, a burning oil rig drifts towards it, which is sea covered in oil and poisoned animals. Vengeance rages around the ship. The cutter crew dies, only the old sailor experiences a mystical rebirth. In a quiet time he drifts through the depths of the sea, sees the beauty of nature there and finally heals on land in a healing ash grove. But he is cursed and has to wander the world like Coleridge's sailor and urge people to repent.

Nick Hayes' ballad of environmental violence and the destruction of nature becomes more and more didactic and one-dimensional in the last part. His ornamentally rampant imagery worked against this narrowing from the start. Even the division of the sheets varies freely between full-page drawings and repeatedly rhythmic sequences of smaller pictures. Nick Hayes drawing style is amazing, with only three colors - a pale blue, black and white - he creates woodcut-like tableaus of great power. The drawings clearly borrow from Art Nouveau. Like the British arts and crafts artists, Hayes played devotedly with natural ornaments and antique forms. His text aims very clearly at the present, but the images, which are deeply anchored in art history, give the graphic novel a timeless expression. Poetry and graphic storytelling rarely come together, Nick Hayes brings the genres together in a very original combination of polemical agitation and beguiling beauty.

As naive as Nick Hayes' appeal for reconciliation with battered nature is, he does not give his book a conciliatory conclusion. With Samuel Coleridge the listener of the old seaman is transformed by the story: "A serious man, a wiser man / He rose in the morning." With Nick Hayes, the listener goes away with a shrug. He throws the old sailor a few more coins, only to forget him.

Reviewed by Frank Meyer

Nick Hayes: The Ballad of the Sailor and the Albatross
Translated from English by Henning Ahrens
Mare Verlag, Hamburg 2012
352 pages, 28 euros