| SAD ANIMAL #1
Some famous philosopher or other once said that the ability to create
laughter was 'the only unqualified good'. That being so, you'd expect
wit to be highly valued cultural resource. Not a bit of it. Why
else is it that comedies don't get nominated for Oscars, or that
Chris Donald's name doesn't get put forward for a knighthood.
The small press is lucky in having several comedy geniuses at the
moment. Paul Hatcher is one; Ralph Kidson is another. This self-styled
'Milk and plain assortment of pointless, hate-filled non-stories,
liberally sprinkled with unnecessary swearing' is another thigh-slappin'ly
fine outing from the latter, and features a number of classic ditties
concerning daleks, submarines, glaciers, and, of course, animals
(including Captain Dolphin's return). My favourite is entitled Cuh-ah-tuh,
about a feline with 'ah-tit-tud-ah': the timing, the way the gag
is set up, the use of a silent panel for effect, the facility with
language, the way the dialogue overlaps, are all exemplary.
It's not all great. There are too many over-extended work-outs with
'was-it-worth-it' punchlines, and the strip about the British Concentration
Camp wasn't really funny enough to justify the risk of satirising
such automatically charged subject matter. What's more, the artwork
remains, frankly, pitiful. But carping aside, there is enough genuine
invention here to bring a smile to the cracked lips of even the
glummest of the glum customers of 'Glum Comics', Glumshire. In other
words, an unqualified good.
SAD ANIMAL #2
What can I say about dear old Ralphie that hasn't already been said?
Thirty six pages of badly drawn strips, involving such arbitrary
'characters' as Moss & Lichen, Vast Sea Of Regret, and 30 Million
Miles. The 'bad' drawing is appropriate somehow for the stories
the strips tell; how else could you do a strip involving the Hubble
Space Telescope getting pissed on cider?
I've read reviews describing Ralph Kidson's work as "hilariously
offensive". I must say that I wasn't offended by any of the contents
of Sad Animal #2. In fact, it's a far cry from the outright bitter
sarcasm of his strip in Sofa #4. This comic is quite good really,
but it neither lives up to it's potential or it's billing.
SAD ANIMAL [#1 28 A5 PAGES, COLOURED CARD STOCK COVER, #2 40 A7
LANDSAPE FORMAT PAGES, COLOURED CARD STOCK COVER] #1 £1, #2
70p (+P+P?). RALPH KIDSON, 3 LANGRIDGES CLOSE, NEWICK, NR. LEWES,
E. SUSSEX, BN8 4LZ.
BLUE BOOK STORIES #1
I love the cover of this one; the 3 main characters peering out
of a tiny circle in the middle of the page with the slogan, "It's
a comic book, stupid!"
On the inside, we have the same 3 guys, who I assume are flatmates
(altho' there is a faint suggestion, to me at least, that they may
be inmates in a mental home) arguing what to watch on TV. The unnamed
characters are childlike, numbed psychotics who, as the story progresses,
get into a long and fevered discussion about what kind of fruit
they may, or may not, have in the kitchen, before agreeing that
there is, in fact, melon.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the multiverse, a Texan cockroach and her
wayward daughter, fall down a hole in the "desert" and experience
what they believe to be a mystical revelation.
So far, so weird. The artwork is nicely surreal; not Paul's autobiographical
style, but more the kind of stuff he's done recently with Luke Walsh
(In fact the whole book has a certain Walshness about it...). The
3 guys are likeable and fun, if slightly lacking in depth. Where
Same unfortunately falls down is in its ending where the 2 stories
converge. It's a real anticlimax, and you're left wondering what
the point was. Weird for weird's sake never really appeals to me,
and if the point is just the old "worlds within worlds" theme, then
that's not really enough, but Same doesn't seem to be saying anything
else, and feels kind of like a wasted opportunity.
However, this is just the first issue, maybe this is just to set
the scene, and there's better twists to come. The 3 "inmates" need
names tho'.... How about Luke, Luke and Luke?
SAME [24 A5 PAGES, COLOUR CARD COVER] £1 + 1st CLASS STAMP.
PAUL SCHROEDER, 17 LIME ST, TODMORDEN, LANCS, OL14 5JN.
The whole of ZUM!'s copy of this comic is disfigured by a copier
drum error that leaves big scratch lines through the toner on each
page. All strips aren't equally affected and reading isn't impossible.
So I can review my way heroically through the damaged panels so
that you, ZUM! readers, may draw some critical or consumer commentary
from my reduced scrutiny.
In fact the disfigurement might not be so bad were not the bulk
of Robert Pierce's Seven taken up with an ambitious piece of work
whose parsimonies of style and construct are made into shortcomings
by the faulty photocopying. In it, Robert adapts to comic form How
Culhwch won Olwen which, as he describes in his introduction, is
one of a group of ancient Celtic tales narrated orally to audiences
by travelling storytellers or 'bards' and transcribed to writing
between the years 1200 to 1400AD to form the text known today as
the Mabinogion. How Culhwch won Olwen is also a love story, after
a fashion, in which ugly princeling Culhwch scorns his spotty-faced
stepsister as a potential marriage partner and takes off to win
the hand of Olwen, a kind of ancient Celtic Diana in slinky, see-through
frock, long blond hair and big daisies. Everything Robert Pierce
brings to this — fine lines, intricate and ornate pattering,
anachronisms, narrative tricks and graphic distortions — is
mushed by his poor and unpredictable copying. He's also done himself
a major mischief by attempting to cram more into the page than the
format allows. Seven's later, shorter strips bear out the extent
of this. They show all the graphic wit, the invention, the strong,
sure drawing and the compositional lucidity that deserves pride
of place in the main story.
These are problems readily solved but you won't want to be sending
money for this issue unless you've ensured that you're not going
to get a duff one.
SEVEN #1 [32 A4 PAGES] £2 (+P+P?). ROBERT E PEARCE, 1 BLIDWORTH
LODGE, RIGG LANE, BLIDWORTH, MANSFIELD, NOTTS, NG21 0NK.
SCENES FROM THE INSIDE #5
This is easily the best issue of SFTI so far, but there's still
too much filler. For the uninitiated, it's an anthology (18 stories)
with a glossy card cover. Its sheer classiness has provoked comparisons
with both Escape and Deadline, though in truth the vibe is quite
There are 2 stand-out strips here: the first is The Insomniac, scripted
by Denny Derbyshire and drawn by Ed Pinsent, an astounding tale
about a dude in a nightcap who is rudely awakened by an electrical
storm — inside his house! This surreal scenario is finessed
in expert fashion, as detached narrative and rich imagery combine
in a succession of stark set-pieces: at one point a mysterious 'engineer'
grasps a bolt of lightning with the words "I do grab it: electric
snake". Poetic, weird, oddly involving.
The second stunner is actually 4 four-panel mini-stories by Steve
Yabsley staring Reg and Mousie, a kangaroo and a bear. Life-enhancingly
ridiculous, these yarns rely on childlike language for their charm,
and feature our 2 anthropomorphic friends living it up at the seaside,
in the classroom, at home and in the street. Their innocent-but-insane
adventures include attempting to insert a boat up Reg's nose, and
trying to find out what moles eat (bananas). They have quite a laugh
in the process, and so do we. I'd recommend buying the comic for
these stories alone: then, photocopy them, and send them to your
friends (I did).
Unfortunately, the other contributions can't match the originality
or verve of these two. There's a great deal of technical competence
here, and the artwork is often nice to look at, but there's too
much smartarsery and not enough soul. I preferred the funny stuff
to the more earnest material, (Nigel Auchterlounie's Monkey was
another amusing interlude) and I can certainly see the skill in
something like Brain Curfew, a Rory Hayes-esque Purple Ghost story
by Luke Walsh. But ultimately, 70% of the comic just didn't fry
SCENES FROM THE INSIDE #6
Scenes is often accused of putting style over content, and is fair
comment really, considering the narrow editorial eye it has. It
wants comics with punch and vigour, so aspects like charm and whimsy
are cast aside as useless things. Granted this does give the comic
a swaggering edge (almost machismo?), but it does make for a one-dimensional
inclination. (Is this the bitter rambling of an oft-rejected comics
Despite the new boy techno pagan pose it throws conformity to this
affectation is not the rule and there are many gems contained herein.
The best contributors all have the assured verve that comes from
an informed aptitude. Of these Casper Williams, Ros Garbles, Ed
Pinsent, The Runcter Corporation, Denny Derbyshire, Chris Frazer,
Farheed Choudhury, Glen Dakin and Phil Elliot (the latter 2 in collaboration)
really shine. These names should be enough to make you jump for
joy! But to reinforce this stock; chasing their heels are names
like Giles Woodward, Dave Leavesley, and Mark Stafford. There's
even a bounce in Ali Stubbs & Matt Burton's previosly flagging
Pud and Pup routine. This, in my mind, is the best Scenes so far
(this keeps being said — encouraging, is it not?).
All this and more under a mat laminate (mmm!) computer car crash
SCENES FROM THE INSIDE [EACH 68 26x21cm PAGES, FULL COLOUR GLOSSY
COVER. #5 COMES WITH 20 A5 PAGE COMIC INSERT, #6 HAS A MAT LAMINATE
COVER (MMMMM!) AND COMES WITH 8 19x14cm PAGE "BABY SUE" COMIC] £2·75
EACH (+P+P?). DRAT & BLAST BOOKS, BOX 63, 82 COLSTON ST, BRISTOL,
SILLY DADDY/KING CAT FLIP #2
An American (independent? underground?) comic consisting of two
autobiographical stories by two different artist/writers continuing
what seems to be a trend towards "real Life" comics... Oh, Joe Matt,
What have ye wrought?
First up is Joe Chiapetta's One more Reason To Revolt, His theme:
"The government keeps taking away our ability to survive as a free
peoples" (sic). Our hero (long hair, divorced, grammatically challenged,
nouveau hippie single pop) and his daughter Maria have their God
given freedoms severely curtailed by 'The Man' (Hey, surely 'The
Woman' too, in these days of P.C. and equal opps.).
Fortunately (or unfortunately, drama fans) this is no Rodney King-type
scenario as Joe and his wonderfully precious daughter (as Joe, like
all doting dads, keeps reminding us) are cautioned by a cop against
lighting an illegal fire in a dense woodland where they have gone,
somewhat inexplicably, to cook junior's lunch. The policeman has
been alerted by vigilant neighbours concerned by the sight of Joe,
a stranger, taking a small child into the wood.
Anyone with half on ounce of humour would have accepted this irksome
but understandable intrusion with good grace but irascible Joe launches
into a tirade (in thought balloons at least) against this racist
fascist pig cop daring to inhibit his right to commune with nature
(the cop is caricatured in time-honoured porcine fashion). Joe amply
exhibits all the hostility and mindless prejudice that he fondly
imagines the 'police state' of America embodies.
This is partnered by a short piece of incomprehensible gobbledegook
starring Joe and Maria as superior alien intelligences (if only!)
gazing down on all the 'bad' humans, murdering and polluting to
their hearts' content (and lighting illegal fires?).
If the message is naff, the medium isn't half bad. Chiapetta draws
convincingly in a detailed semi-serious style and can tell a story
in an engaging manner. There are some good panel compositions and
interesting affects caused by the lack of panel borders. The stand-out
scene in the story shows us the woodland through his daughters eyes
in a fresh charming manner.
In fact, the artwork is the main reason for buying this comic. Another
joe, John Porcellino, contributes Mountain Song which is drawn in
an enjoyable "faux naif" style (that evokes, to my eye, John Bagnal's
work) is about John's day as a rural mosquito exterminator. It documents
a fairly uneventful days work but makes one envious of the beautiful
countryside he must work in and ends on a small existential moment
in which John momentarily steps back from the concerns of his job
to reflect on the otherness of nature. An illuminating insight into
an odd profession.
SILLY DADDY KING DAT FLIP [36 27x17cm PAGES, GLOSSY COLOUR COVER]
$3 (+$1 P+P). JOE CHIAPPETTA, 2209 NORTHGATE N. RIVERSIDE, IL 60546,
USA. WEB SITE: http://www.redweb.com/sillydaddy
SIX DEGREES #1
This isn't published by DC and it's in B&W, but other than that
it's every inch a Vertigo comic, right down to the pseudo-Dave McKean
cover. This sets the scene for a six-issue story arc: it begins
in a 19th Century courtroom where 2 children are about to be tried
for the murder of an infant. We then break to the modern day where
a priest is hearing a woman confess how her children are getting
out of control, and then we watch with a growing feeling of déjà
vu as 2 kids head off to a shopping centre. This is another comic
spawned by the murder of James Bulger, and wether it'll closely
follow the tragic events of the real life case is not yet clear,
but it's looking that way. Personally, after having read Mike Weller's
superb but harrowing, Boys Are Back in Town*, I don't have the stomach
for this kind of thing any more, there are simply some things I'd
like to forget, but that's just me. For everyone else this looks
an intriguing story, complemented by strong, detailed artwork which
should appeal to any Vertigo fan.
SIX DEGREES #1 [28 26x17cm PAGES, FULL COLOUR COVER] £1·80,
SIX ISSUE SUBSCRIPTION £10·80, $29·50(U.S.). HIGH
HEELS PRODUCTIONS, 96 FISHERTON ST, SALISBURY, WILTSHIRE, SP2 7QR.
*See review ZUM!#9
THE SLAB SELECTION
Behind a surprisingly lacklustre Simon Gane cover, lies a collection
of strips by many of the major players in the UK small press scene;
an interview with current fan fave Megan Kelso; and a few foreign
artists perhaps not so well known to some readers. The Slab Selection's
raison d'être is to showcase some of the creators that publish
comix distributed by the Slab empire and in this, it works well
and I'd have no hesitation recommending it to those newcomers who
want to know what the non-superhero small press has to offer. Those
readers who've been around a while could probably, sight unseen
guess the artists featured (Kennedy, Risdale, House, Pinsent, Butler/Hogg,
Gane, Tappenden etc etc) which might not be a bad thing in itself
as quality is assured, but it does mean there's few surprises. I've
not come across any of the strips myself, but I'm led to believe
some might be reprints*.
THE SLAB SELECTION [92 PAGES, 2 COLOUR LAMINATED CARD COVER, PERFECT
BOUND] £4·50 SLAB-O-CONCRETE, PO BOX 148, HOVE, BN3 3DQ.
*Mooncat: The only specific case I remember is Gavin McInnes' reefer
strip reprinted from his Pervert comic (although I fail to remember
which issue). I only really flicked through the comic before I passed
it onto Andy, which frustrates me a little now as I meant to read
SLEAZE CASTLE: DIRECTOR'S CUT #1
I'd never read an issue of Sleaze Castle until I was given this
collection of the first three to review. It started in a fairly
promising way, making me interested in Jo Dribble, and seemed to
be telling a story. Then the narrative pace evaporated and by the
middle of the book it was just a sequence of directionless conversations
about sci-fi clichés. Terry Wiley has some strong cartooning
skills, particularly in terms of timing, but nearly all the main
characters are unattractively rendered. Backgrounds are drab and
unappealing. I did like the funny one-page Damp Patch interlude.
SLEAZE CASTLE: DIRECTOR'S CUT #2
I read the first collection of this series and instantly fell in
love with the sheer quality of the thing, so when this second collection
arrived I was ecstatic. The art is even more accomplished than that
of the first volume with the main characters becoming more defined
visually, and the script is as excellent as ever; so on the creative
side — this is wonderful.
However, the time travel aspects of the plot have earned this series
a reputation as a hard story to follow and understand. This is something
I didn't find true with the first volume, but within pages of starting
this edition I began to wish that I'd reread the earlier stories
because you do get lost. Fortunately it's only for a short while
every now and then, and the fun and quality of the overall product
should be enough to carry you through. If it doesn't you can and
search for all the pop culture references, covering stuff like Aliens,
Sub Genius and Through the Keyhole. Initially disorienting, this
is nevertheless a top buy and highly recommended.
SLEAZE CASTLE: DIRECTER'S CUT [BOTH 78 25x18cm PAGES 3 COLOUR GLOSSY
COVERS, PERFECT BOUND] £3·49 (+P+P?) TERRY WILEY, GRATUITOUS
BUNNY COMICS, 1 WATSON GARDENS, HOWDON, WALLSEND, TYNE& WEAR,
NE28 0NA. EMAIL: email@example.com WEB PAGE: http://www.compulink.co.uk/recombo-dna-lab/sleaze1.htm
SLEAZE CASTLE #7
Gratuitous Bunny Comix's Sleaze Castle series interlinking tales
is a notable success for nineties comics self-publishing in Britain.
Most cheering about the series is the bold underlying assumption
that a visual culture like Japan's exists in the UK; a visual culture
bold enough to absorb Wiley and McKinnons' Sleaze Castle saga. Episode
seven has a manga-style back cover complete with kanji-type lettering
to spell the message out if the reader hasn't heard it. Wether this
assumption is true or not — Sleaze Castle's Alice Through
The Looking-Glass multiverse is an engaging one for the comics fans
who enjoy their picture stories spelt out for them. McKinnon and
Wiley do not disappoint. Characters hop across time, space and 'boingy'
dimensions without losing a sense of structure.
Terry Wiley, one half of the creative partnership, brings well-defined
human characters, fantasy morphs, sci-fi aliens, characters playing
other characters, plus a lexicon of purpose-drawn pop and comic
references to very accomplished animated life. Creative and productive
divisions of labour are sharply perceived by partner Dave McKinnon,
judging from his short introduction to episode seven. He hints at
chronic comics fatigue and number seven of Sleaze Castle could be
the penultimate or even ultimate episode of his writing contribution.
SLEAZE CASTLE [28 25x17cm PAGES, 2 COLOUR GLOSSY COVER] £1·50
+ SAE. TERRY WILEY, GRATUITOUS BUNNY COMICS, 1 WATSON GARDENS, HOWDON,
WALLSEND, TYNE & WEAR, NE28 0NA.
WEB PAGE: http://www.compulink.co.uk/recombo-dna-lab/sleaze1.htm
HARD AS NAILS
'Slick' is a hard-boiled, gun toting private eye. 'Noel' is a little
blob who lives in a glass canister suspended on a chain from Slick's
neck. Noel is Slick's conscience. Slick and Noel chat to each other
about the neurosis of the bad guys they fight. This idea is the
most interesting thing about the comic, but it's not used imaginatively
enough to compensate for the sterility otherwise on offer.
Rol is fairly good at furnishing a complete 19 story with a beginning
and ending (he forgot about a middle here, though). But why do stories
like this always have to take place in an America gleaned from episodes
of T.J.Hooker? There's gang violence, drug barons, and criminal
club owners in every British city, so why can't the would-be genre-hack
rip off Cracker instead? Similarly, instead of ending with a dull
shoot-out where everyone blasts everyone else (Rol refers to this
as a 'pastiche' of Reservoir Dogs, evincing a distinct lack of familiarity
with technical terms), why not find a way of introducing real tension
using the comics form? Just lifting a scene from a film won't do
Adrian Bamforth's art is Stateside-realistic in a harsh, ugly way.
Women look like supermodels. Vicious expressions, guns and tough
guys are drawn with evident enthusiasm. Interiors are convincing,
but bland. Adrian is currently lying inside a large cannon targeted
for a burning hoop labelled 'mainstream success'.
SLICK: HARD AS NAILS [24 A5 PAGES, COLOUR STOCK COVER] 75p. ROL
HIRST, RUSHGROVE FARM, HOLTHEAD, SLAITHEWAITE, HUDDERSFIELD, W.
YORKS, HD7 5TY.
Brighton: resting place of O.A.P.s, gay capital of Britain and,
for some mysterious reason, it has (probably) the greatest per capita
density of small press comics creators of any large town or city.
Sofa is a collection of short strips from these people, and the
majority centre in or around Brighton. Now, I live in the Midlands,
so all the tales about the wonders of living on the south coast
are completely lost on me.
The best strip is Ralph Kidson's bitterly Sarcastic I love Crusties;
one can almost taste the bile in dialogue such as, "The police are
bad people", "Are they really? You are a subversive man". Most of
the other creators featured in Sofa are obviously talented people,
but wether they have anything of value to say is entirely another
matter. For example, old chestnuts such as the 'Big Issue seller'
and 'giving people such as jugglers and conceptual artists a good
kicking because they annoy me' appear. The ZUM! editor wrote to
me and said, "Thank God I don't have to review Sofa again"*. Who
am I to doubt such an authoritative source? Sofa is alright as a
'taster' of the Brighton small press scene, but presented as a 'whole'
it lacks any real substance.
SOFA #4  £1·50. THE SOFA, GAVIN BURROWS, 34 LINCOLN
ST, BRIGHTON, BN2 2UH. *Mooncat: Ah, hmmm, yes... I think an explanation
might be wise... Well, y'see ...when I sent Matthew these comics
I expressed relief at not having to review this comic again it wasn't
a comment on the quality of the comic (as he interpreted it) but
the fact that I've reviewed it before and didn't relish the chore
of dredging out a review that would probably be a repeat of a previous
one. I wanted his perspective.
THE STARING EYE #4
"A journal of the fantastic in comic strips" by Ed Pinsent and Denny
Derbyshire; sometimes in collaboration, sometimes apart.
Regular ZUM! readers will probably know the name of Pinsent, one
of the long-standing giants of the small press over the last 15
years or so (and just as well too as I moronically forgot to include
him in my article on small press originators in ZUM!#1!).
His work may well be an acquired taste, but one worth acquiring.
Certainly his dream-logic approach to storytelling is far from what
you'd call linear. When Staring I proclaims "stories are full of
lies and each word an empty straw. Sing instead!" it's almost Pinsent's
theme tune — pushing comics away from empty plotting, nearer
to music, poetry and the like. While this is something he shared
with his early eighties contemporaries (Campbell, Elliot etc), it
may well be him that took it the furthest.
It's interesting to chart his development by looking back from Staring
Eye through his recent collections Primitif* and Windy Wilberforce**.
This shows Pinsent moving in a still more metaphysical direction
— away from his iconic and 'heroic' protagonists into multifaceted
symbolic beings who appear in ever stranger manifestations.
It's equally interesting to see his art develop, from the simple
2D renderings at the start (50% William Blake, 50% Oliver Postgate)
to the crisp, bold and fluid brushstrokes of today — like
modernist versions of stained glass windows.
Perhaps it's this new approach which has taken Pinsent into collaboration
— the only previous stuff I can recall was an occasional series
with Elliot. He's now worked not only with Derbyshire, but with
Butler and Cunningham and maybe others I've forgot.
Why the Barn Owls Screech (drawn by Denny) relies on the many forms
the Devil may take — or turn us into. Similarly, Staring I
himself may appear one minute as a dashing Thirties hero-type, and
a lookalike for Primitif the next.
Denny Derbyshire is someone I did manage to cite in ZUM!'s dawning
days — in my article on rising small press stars in ZUM!#3
(principally for a brilliant mini-strip called Choam). despite some
excellent showings (particularly in the early Trident anthologies)
I'm not sure she quite lived up to her promise after that. While
always worth reading, she somehow seemed content to serve up more
of the same rather than push at her horizons.
However, while I don't want to suggest that it's working with Pinsent
which has revitalised her, her stuff in Staring Eye has been excellent.
The Old Couple re-uses her oft-used device of presenting child's-eye
views of the world — but with such strong imagery that it
doesn't really matter. Moreover, while we're treated to the child's
baroque fantasy, we're kept aware of the real events in the adult
world that have created it.
Better still is Thro' the Broken Glass (drawn by Pinsent), which
takes on the potential cliché territory of breaking relationships
but comes up trumps. Too many tell this stuff by faithfully recounting
who slept with who borrowed whose records without bringing them
back and end up telling nothing. Derbyshire penetrates to the bleak
heart of such matters without being distracted by surface stuff.
There's also a fine irony in it being winter which defines their
relationship, and the rays of summer which end it.
While I enjoyed my ZUM! review allocation this time round, the others
were merely recycling small press clichés (dead-end jobs,
etc), and it was merely a matter of how well they told it. Staring
Eye tramples over those clichés without even deigning to
notice them, and goes off to live in a land of it's own. Best of
the bunch by far!
THE STARING EYE #4 [28 A5 PAGES, COLOUR STOCK COVER] £1·60.
ED PINSENT, BM Bemused, London WC1N 3XX, UK. *Reviewed
ZUM!#2 **Reviewed ZUM!#9
ollowing the example of Paul Grist, Gary Spencer Millidge has turned
proprietor of his own life to get this comic before a reading public.
This is an American comic book, made in Britain but solicited, printed
and distributed in the USA. We get it in England, of course, because
the direct market — an American comic system in Britain because
it's just one of its regional centres. For Gary Spencer Millidge,
this is a bloody good thing too.
It'd be highly unlikely that a comic like his would survive a journey
through the British newstrade. Prohibitive start-up costs and the
enormous wastage typical of the trade almost certainly means that
the project would ever reach launch. The dearth of origination here
also makes this story, all nuance eerie transitional and gradual
build-up, an unlikely contender for inclusion in a British weekly.
That said, it's a very British story, despite its arrival staggering
under the weight of comparisons with David Lynch's Twin Peaks. Although
set in an eponymous village, the plot draws on a strain of native
British weirdness that stretches from Robert Hardy's The Wicker
Man to Alan Garner's Owl Service, linking David Rudkin's occult
teleplays with Denis Wheatley's and Dion Fortune's novels in a familiar
warped and twisted genealogy. Also, on the evidence of this first
issue, it handles its provenance with the sure grasp of an Anglo-aristo
on his pedigree.
The strip exploits the convention of the innocent stranger who stumbles
across a village with horrifying secrets and who is dragged inexorably
into a web of intrigue. Alex Hunter is the stranger, and he encounters
an uncanny Devonshire landscape, filled with eccentrics and anomalous
magical resonances from the Amazonian basin. Each contact is drawn
in naturalistic line and chiaroscuro that relies heavily on photographic
reference and is fixed tautly in a nine-panel page grid. Apart from
an occasional unevenness in the hatching, the story's lay-outs use
precise and careful compositions to build a detailed and unflagging
mystery and suspense.
Strangehaven has few antecedents in comics, although it's clearly
swimming in at least one cultural mainstream. It has successfully
evaded the constraints of today's hope-damaged comics mainstream
and this is important; but not as important as that you take this
gripping story on its own terms.
I'm completely lazy when it comes to reading this comic. The plot
is full of mysteries, hints, teasers. Internet groups discuss its
contents, the name Twin Peaks is constantly bandied around in the
lettercolumn (I've never seen it, so those references mean nothing
to me) and it's fast becoming a cult among mystery-loving comics
None of that really interests me. I'm content just to follow its
slow unfolding and savour the atmosphere it conjures up of an idyllic,
rural England which perhaps never existed except in works of art.
Forget Twin Peaks, think of Powell and Pressburgers's A Canterbury
Tale. Find a recording of Vaughan Williams' Forth Symphony, listen
to it while reading this and enjoy the sense of pure Englishness
mixed with unease at the prospect of it all crumbling and decaying...
For those who don't know it, the story concerns a sleepy English
village which Alex Hunter, in retreat from his past life, can't
seem to leave. If you want to read it, don't start here —
go back to the first issue and work your way forward, because it
makes little sense the other way.
Kudos to Gary Spencer Millidge not only for producing something
worth reading but for packaging it beautifully and marketing it
very astutely. He's self-publishing at the Dave Sim level, and looks
set to achieve the same kind of success as Sim. If he does, this
could turn out to be a milestone in the history of British comics.
STRANGEHAVEN [#1 40, #2 32, #3 36 26x17cm PAGES, FULL COLOUR GLOSSY
COVERS] £2·20 EACH, 6 ISSUE SUBSCRIPTION £12. GARY
SPENCER MILLAGE, ABOIGENESIS PRESS, P.O. BOX, 448, SOUTHEND-ON-SEA,
ESSEX, SS1 2FN.
1997: In a single night 2 hit-men try to dispose of the body of
a victim. They end up murdering a cop, a petrol pump attendant and,
by dawn, just about anyone who comes near them. As they blunder
their way through one killing after another the mental faculties
of one of the men disintegrates completely. The true nature of his
relationship to the original victim becomes apparent and the story
grinds to an appropriately bloody climax.
1977: A lonely schoolgirl, bullied and abused by insensitive classmates
strikes out and almost kills one of them. They seek revenge and
exact it in eerie circumstances with a child's pitiless ineptitude.
These are but the first 2 stories from the first 2 issues of David
Lapham's Stray Bullets.
One of the salient features of this remarkable series is his exploration
into the nature of relationships between children and adults. Another
is an examination of people unable to control their lives and the
bizarre and often ugly circumstances in which they find themselves.
The strength of Lapham's is its ability to instantly engage the
readers attention, despite a large cast of characters and a story
arc stretching over 2 decades. He does this by ensuring each issue
can be read individually whilst remaining part of a greater whole;
an extraordinary achievement. Each issue is neatly plotted and cleverly
executed. His dialogue positively sparkles.
Lapham's rigid 8-panel a page grid gives his stories a remorseless,
unrelenting quality. His art is quite wonderful — everything
he draws is perfectly realised, especially people. Faces are cartooned
and lively and hugely expressive combined with richly detailed buildings
and backgrounds to give a superb sense of a dirty, down-at-heel
blue collar American landscape.
All this, and I still haven't mentioned Amy Racecar.
STRAY BULLETS [EACH @36 26x17cm PAGES, FULL COLOUR GLOSSY COVER]
$5 EACH, 6 ISSUE SUBSCRIPTION $24. EL CAPITÁN, LAPHAM Inc.,
PO BOX 487, TOMS RIVER, NJ 08754, USA.
LE STYLO A STRIP-TEASE
Caroline Sury is a drawing machine. You put here down — anywhere
— and she draws. Wherever she travels, the pages of her sketchpad
fill up with drawings of the people she meets in the scenes she
sees. There are many drawings on each page, made both on the hoof
and back either at the hotel or hovel where she's staying. Later,
when she's returned home to her flat in France or to Le Dernier
Cri's fume-shrouded screenprinting studios, she selects from the
pile of drawings she has amassed those that she'll incorporate into
The book under review here is compiled from her South American trip.
The indian and hispanic peoples of Mexico City, Oaxaca, Puerto Angel,
San Cristobal de las Casas, Palenke, Lake Atitlan, Antigua and Tikal,
and the streets, alleys, churches, bars and buses they inhabit,
are transposed via Caroline's drawn images Le Dernier Cri's photo-screen
stencils to the thick creamy art paper pages that bulk out this
To Sury's line drawings are added the colours of Mexico. This book
has the gaudiness of Mexican popular artifacts, the saturated colour
produced by the tropical sun. Each spread carries a page of brown
monochrome scrawled French recounting her trip in deadpan irony,
counterpointed graphically by drawings and doodles that derive from
each locale. Opposite black line drawings sit on top of layers of
bright red, yellow and blue, that bleed off the page like a minor
character in a Jim Thompson novel.
Sury cartoons space, warping the objects and figures in it from
the outside. She's taken three of the most conventional drawing
resources — the handy sketchpad, the dip pen, the compulsion
to draw till you drop — and applied them to cartooning's metonymic
LE STYLO DE STRIP-TEASE [48 215x265mm PAGES] 100_ LE DERNIER CRI,
38 RUE FLEGIER, 13001, FRANCE.
The creators of this rather fey little fabrication are obviously
enamoured of ancient myth and legend. It opens with an illustrated
retelling of the traditional Irish story The Birth of Shannon, and
closes with part 1 of a serialisation of the roots of the Cinderella
story. In between and roundabout we have some shorter pieces, including
2 by a precocious five year old, which round out this issue nicely.
For my own tastes, the text is too insubstantial and the art has
too little balancing black in it; it's sort of like Beardsley, a
style designed for engraving. There is however, a great delicacy
to this magazine which will appeal to many. Add to this some delightful
hand colouring on portions of the first story and a sprinkling of
foil stars on one page, and we have a publication which while not
to my taste, is still a minor joy.
David A Simpson
SOFT #2 [24 A5 B&W PAGES, COLOUR STOCK CARD COVER, SOME INTERIOR
HAND TIPPING] £1. SARAH GUNN, 47 HALDON RD, EXETER, EX4 4DZ.
SURREAL SCHOOL STORIES #2
Terry Wiley is a clever able popular boy, often top of his form.
He is however prone to daydreaming and was once caught reading an
Enid Blyton book in class (an expellable offence). Must try harder
at Eng. Lit. Improvement is expected next term.
Surreal School Stories is set in the late 70's in an exclusive girls
school; exclusive especially if you're unfamiliar with the inhabitants
of Sleaze Castle world. The story opens on Jocosta (the central
character) being initiated into Tycho School's secret society. She
then goes on to skip games, meets the very laid back headmistress
and goes through her second kind of initiation — her first
Trouble is, it's all slightly uninvolving. Things happen like they
do in the plot of a short story, (yes folks this is literature)
we're told how the characters think, feel, act and react. Surrealism's
pretty thin on the ground too, apart from a brief appearance of
a pygmy pupil with mahogany feet. Nice bit about the girls who slack
off though — they cut classes, pull strokes but they don't
get expelled, just sort of drift away, "They're always on their
way to somewhere nobody else seems to go. They even seem to stop
doing games altogether — it's weird".
One of the problems with the piece is Jo. As the central character
she's not really fleshed out enough. Another problem is focus —
all the plot points are dealt with at the same pitch which doesn't
do much for the pace. No obvious emphasis on any one event, so little
Still, you have to admire Terry Wiley's ambition and no doubt Surreal
School Stories will appeal to all Sleaze Castle fans out there —
those who've been initiated into the strange Wiley world.
By the way, the illustrations — of which there are many, get
top marks of course. Though it does make one wish this had been
SURREAL SCHOOL STORIES [24 A4 PAGES, COLOUR STOCK COVER] £1
(+P+P?). TERRY WILEY, GRATUITOUS BUNNY COMICS, 1 WATSON GARDENS,
HOWDON, WALLSEND, TYNE & WEAR, NE28 0NA.
innish Annual anthology. A thick skin for cover, flesh spiced with
effort, plenty of seeds. The finer level of verbal humour is almost
impossible to translate with a dictionary but the area of difficulty
opened by an unknown language contains many interesting questions
about the use of words in comics. Personal and local identity, edges
as boxes of panels — limits which reveal global patterns of
concern and humour. Travel — when 'stuck' in space —
planetary location — how our minds move beyond, or circle,
present circumstances. Limits, style, direction — fractal
experience of recognition.
Two of the best strips — Intergalactic Rhythm (by the editor
P. Kallio with V. Pirinen p.2-5) and Lolitan Meets an Adventure,
'deaf and dumb series' (Max Anderson, p.10-15) use no words. Unique
styles and strong narratives and are very funny. Space Station —
'love orders all' (Matti Hagelberg, p.6-9) is worth translating
as the words add laconic laughs onto a self-evident story, visually
solid, excellent and unusual.
Of the wordy strips three are interesting enuf to struggle with
the frustration of deciphering. One, a surreal landscape (Ikka U.
Pesamaa) where the bricks are seamlessly breaking up as family —
tears watering the world— the others all more or less domestic
(Mikko Karjalainen & Pippa Toivonen or Adrian Tomine). We're
sitting round with nothing to do, we're losing our identity, we're
losing our lovers, we're in a finely detailed social nightmare,
we're losing our romantic view.
SUURI KURPITSA 1996 [84 PAGES, FULL COLOUR CARD STOCK COVER, SQUAREBOUND]
WRITE TO ENQUIRE AS TO PRICE, OR YOU COULD TRY TRADING... SUURI
KURPITSA, PL 260, 33101 TAMPERE, FINLAND.
SECOND HAND & PREVIOUSLY USED TROUBLE TOWN (1994) CONTRACT WITH
TROUBLE TOWN (1995)
These 2 comic books contain strips previously published in, presumably
liberal American papers. LLoyd Dangle is not a writer to be tolerated
by those on the right that he so cuttingly caricatures.
Dangle shows us a world where politicians and corporate leaders
use the press, and the media in general, to manipulate and deceive
to their own ends. The general populace are dim-witted, malleable
and apathetic, or extreme right wing bigots, fuelled with righteous
indignation. The youth, and the liberal left are too preoccupied
with their Sushi take-away orders to be bothered with it all anyway.
Dangle focuses on economics, politics, the media, modern life and
"ordinary people". The strips are highly topical, and some of the
more specific references passed me by. Yet most were applicable
Dangle is an angry man, but he is also a very aware man. His thoughtfulness
and knowledge shines through the work like a beacon. Thus I was
not left despairing, despite the bleak picture of America careering
towards the millennium, full of hatred, rage and fear. There is
an undefinable warmth about Dangle's work. Yes, he hates the behaviour
of the people he depicts, but does he hate the people? I don't think
so, and this redeems the gloom. It's also very funny, in a painful
kind of way. Strongly recommended.
SECOND HAND & PRVIOUSLY USED TROUBLE TOWN [24 17x17cm PAGES,
BLACK & EMBOSSED RED INK ON BEUTIFUL RECYCLED THICK PAPER] $5
(+P+P?), A CONTRACT WITH TROUBLE TOWN [24 17x17cm PAGES, SILVER
INK ON BLUE CARD COVER] $5 (+P+P?) LLOYD DANGLE, PO BOX ????????,
SAN FRANCISCO, CA 94146, USA.
TOP SHELF #1
How I loathe reviewers who bemoan the task of criticising anthologies.
The task in hand is laughably simple. All that is required is to
aim your scalpel at a strip that seems broadly representative, and
then... twist the knife.
The extravagantly named Steven Lewis Ryan is spotlit by the editors
themselves. Of all the contributors, he is the only one deemed worthy
of an introductory page; a clumsy text which struggles to imply
that Steven's work has been censored by the mainstream because it
is too 'dangerous' for them to publish. In which case, the question
must reasonably be asked; "Why does it resemble nothing so much
as a back up story from Giant Size Howard The Duck ?". I shall have
to be more careful with my Man Thing comics in future — they
may be liable to combust spontaneously.
The remainder of the strips tend to exemplify the, "will this do?"
genre of anthology contributions, being presumably mainly pieces
the authors have failed to be paid for elsewhere. Only the dreamlike
discontinuities of Tom Hart's New Hat merits mention, and that only
to acknowledge that, as accomplished as it is, if I see one more
example of glib foray into the symbolism of the subconscious, I
shall be forced to join Spice Girls.
Still, the weather's been nice, hasn't it?
TOP SHELF [44 22x18cm, 4 COLOUR CARD COVER] $5. PRIMAL GROOVE PRESS,
P.O. BOX 15125, PORTLAND, OR 97215-0125, USA.
A title favoured by most reviewers it seems, but not so much by
me. Its sparse cover hides an explosion of styles and whimsies,
but not enough of them hit the mark for my liking.
Darryl Cunningham is as cool as ever, and this first hand ghost
story (of sorts) certainly sends shivers down yer spine; and Chris
Frazer's Harry Magic Duck is neat in a dumb furry kinda way, if
only for the marvellous line, "I'll smash you with my hooves." (you
had to be there I spose).
Aside from that, there's plenty of cool art, but not much in the
way of satisfying plotlines, and on too many occasions you feel
that you've walked these paths before.
Strangely it's the text based stories that offer most. Reubs' child
molestoid near miss is too darn creepy, and Chris Butler's tale
of a speech recording robot with a spell check gone mad is often
hilarious. But the overall effect is like the last step that isn't
there and stops you with a start, or that imagined last sandwich
that dematerialises when you look at the plate. The promised goodies
don't quite deliver, and what wonders there are don't quite carry
the clout to bolster up the rest.
TURN #4 [36 A4 PAGES, 2 COLOUR PHOTOCOPY COVER] £1. R. WILLMOT,
19 MELBOUNE RD, IPSWICH, SUFFOLK, IP4 5PP.