The black locomotive – a curious story of Crossrail


A secret extension of Project Crossrail digs a tunnel under Buckingham Palace when it encounters a strange anomaly and suddenly comes to a stop. This is how a Rian Hughes novel opens and reveals that, well, it would spoil the plot to say what was found under Buckingham Palace, but it’s safe to say it’s very big and he’s been there for a very long time.

And it is nothing like Quatermass, so get that thought out of your mind.

In any story, intrigue is king, but this book goes beyond the words on a page and has extended the story to the design, illustrations, typography, and even QR codes in the book that lead you to. audio experiences.

It’s a curious mix of artwork ranging from conceptual punctuation marks to diagrams of urban machines, but you might notice as you read that the typography looks all over the place. Until you realize that each character in the novel not only has individuality in what they say and do, but their presence on the printed page is equally unique – they all have their own font.

For this reader, it made a slightly irritating typeface a bit easier to read as the text is in a larger font, but above all it’s a smart and interesting way to give a tone of voice to characters that would have been lacking in a uniform composition.

Although fictional, the author, Rian Hughes, clearly did his extensive research as evidenced by his abandonment of terminology in the text. There are references to things like Tally Huts which are common on construction sites but are not often described outside of training manuals. Where the book can be a bit difficult to follow in some places is the presumption of familiarity with the geography of London, with references to places crossed with no general indication that they are in a part of London.

The main characters are Auston, the manager of the Crossrail site, and Lloyd, an official artist with a very strange train of thought, as well as a number of supporting characters, such as the project manager, Georgia. The tension between the methodical engineer and the dreamy artist is played out quite expertly throughout the book.

Oh, and a secret, almost Masonic fan club for people who love steam trains, whose covers of their Smokeboxer magazine look realistic enough to make you stop and wonder why you’ve never seen them in the magazine racks before. railroads. There are larger versions at the end of the book.

The steam train company seems to be a drift in history, until later things start to take a turn for the worse.

Overall this is a novel that is both a rail fan’s delight but is more than just a book thanks to the inventive design and page layout. Even the border of the pages is black to match the title, and there’s a design surprise underneath the cover.

Described as “a love letter to London, to technology, to architecture and to design, where the past and the future combine for an extraordinary climax”, the graphic novel is exciting and different.

The novel, The black locomotive is available – best of all in hardcover for illustrations – on Amazon, Foyles, Waterstones, or direct from publisher Picado Books. The author also sells Smokebox Club t-shirts, if you want to show off your membership in this secret group of train geeks.


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