I enjoyed this. A quick read that I think I could go back and spend some more time dealing with the bigger ideas it touches upon.
I often see these kinds of comic zines or this style labelled as experimental, but I’m not sure the label fits as well as alternative would. I feel there’s too much in the history of comics, I was immediately reminded of the cartooning on Dick Tracy as soon as I looked at this. The story approach is similarly easy to follow and parse, with its brevity seeming at points both dreamlike and histrionic, by which I mean there are strips where each line is designed to be dialogue delivering drama rather than naturalistic speech so it all seems like high drama pounding out the beats.
There are a couple of nice one pagers that amused me, such as the one below.
But there were a couple of strips that I found much more interesting, that got me actually thinking. They both deal with current society in its post-Thatcherite state, one obliquely and one more directly. Specifically ‘Disaster!’ and ‘Problem Solving’.
They’re both still short snippets, respectively four pages and one page, but together there is a personal thesis about post-Thatcherite UK society that I think bears expanding upon. It’s not so much that the thoughts are necessarily in depth in those stories but the combination of the two coming at the subject manages to make it so that we get a more rounded understanding of that thesis. It’s an interesting way to experience opinions without having to commit to reading a long heavy storyline exploring the subject.
I particularly like the approach to sci-fi in ‘Disaster’, it’s a very New Wave of Science Fiction attempt to look at matters, with a good use of ‘disaster’ as metaphor. I’d personally like to see that idea expanded as I think that world has some legs, but it doesn’t need expanding for the story to work as it is.
UKPLC also touches on current affairs in a nicely timed and confidently cartooned way. I like the visual approach and the somewhat abrupt approach to timing in the strips. Not all of the ideas work for me, either they’re a bit too pat or didn’t have that much of a new idea (‘Writing’ and ‘New Name’), but the work itself is strong and individual whilst still feeling part of a contemporary comic scene.
About 3 weeks ago I gave this as a recommendation and every Friday there’s been another episode to listen to which I have enjoyed immensely. So I thought I’d do a proper review.
This is a good show. Firstly, it’s funny, always funny and fun,. There’s an atmosphere, which certainly comes from some good decisions by Kev F Sutherland, of friendliness and openness that makes it feel inviting to listen to.
Secondly, these are good guests, willing to be involved as well as interesting in their own rights. It makes for good listening because they bring a bounce to the whole proceedings. They all have interesting stories to tell. It’s also interesting to see the breadth of people involved in comics as fans and creators. Without saying so, it’s putting the lie to the image of comic fans and creators as boring middle aged men pedantic about the smallest detail. I think this is deliberate in itself and nice to see.
Third and last, it’s a good format for the fun above, but also for getting little mini-interviews with the guests who are, as noted before, very interesting in their own right.
I think it was a tweet in which I compared Kev F to Nicholas Parsons, somewhat flippantly. It strikes me as the best possible comparison because this show reminds me of nothing less than a Radio 4 panel show, interesting people given something interesting to do with a host that pulls it all together and keeps it light and insightful.
BARKING is the story of a woman whose breaking heart also breaks her mind. Death cracked her reality, making the black dog her new shadow in life.
This is a harrowing book. Bleak and painful with no easy solutions and little in the way of kindness shown throughout. At this time of lockdown, it was affecting in odd ways. The most emotionally charged scene for me was when the main character walked through an underpass, it captured the scene so perfectly I was suddenly struck by the reality of being locked in for months now. Similarly, that sense of an altered reality felt uncomfortably close, like a shadow casting over me, like an itch scratching at the back of my head throughout.
I mean to say, you’re not going to walk away from a reading with the sense that all’s well and good with the world. You are going to walk in someone else’s footstep for a time though. For me, there are times that it’s a walk uncomfortably close to my own path. I can tell you that there are moments where it feels very much like reality is on the page, even when that reality is genuinely all in the mind.
BARKING is a bravura work. A work centred wholly on emotion and the depiction of personal experience.
BARKING swims in black, mental and physical. Scratched onto paper; sometimes kinetic and neurotic, sometimes fluid and loose and occasionally still and filled with captured life and place. It’s hard reading, mentally but easy to follow. It’s no simple drama, it is a gothic horror drenched in sturm und drang, the melodrama turned up loud.
In terms of story, it starts with Alix fully immersed in a psychotic episode, being chased by the police. She is sectioned and admitted to a hospital for treatment where details of what led to her breakdown come out as Alix slowly walks back to reality. It’s a simple story of breaking and climbing from the wreckage. As well, though, it is a highly structured and carefully put forward work of literature that is neither linear nor straightforward. It drops you in the reality of Alix straight away and plays one little game with plot. The real heart is not the plot, nor the skills, it’s the story as experienced, the altered reality that you’re dropped into. A first-person narrative constructed as a first-person reality. Visually building delirium in a way that first-person prose never could.
To slip back to prosaic for a second – this is a work where it’s got so much going on you can almost never know what to talk about. I could just list the amount of moments where the drawings are beautiful, the images reflect each other structurally or the textures just look totally incredible. I could detail story moments that pulled me up and hit close to home, but that would never give a flavour of the whole experience.
So, I’m going to do something a bit looser here – different ways to think around this book.
The river runs through as an itchy line of darkness
In literary studies the use of themes, similes and metaphor are very important. Often what marks the literary worth is the quality of language, the intelligent use of simile, and how it helps highlight themes and character traits. Maintaining consistency of subject can reinforce your major and minor themes. It is similar in music as well as film. Characters will have the same tune or the same framing to create a consistency that allows the creator to trigger reactions and connections that build subconsciously within a work. Leitmotif, in other words.
Lucy runs the River Thames through the work constantly, the lines of the drawings hark back to the lines of the dark waters. The river is both the site where reality fractured and the altered reality that Alix treads through every day. She can’t help walking through it, dripping and at points almost drowning in it. Whether it’s hanging over her head or rushing round her ankles, the tow of the dark tides is as constant a companion as the black dog belittling her.
And really that scratching active line is the major leitmotif at work, it holds up players as puppets, it drags bodies around and down and curls them into balls. The free, loose movements and their frantic pace fluid along the width of the page are suddenly dragged upward and tied together in the cramped environs of the hospital.
The lines scratch in and out of the narrative darkening and lifting with Alix’s own distance from reality.
Staring reality in the face
Lucy communicates a lot of what happens through her art, whether that’s the chaos in the mind or the emotional state of her characters. The way Alix holds her hands to her chest and peeks round corners that aren’t there tells you all you need to know about her mental state and how fragile she feels at that time.
Her environs blur off into lines of black so that you know they just aren’t reaching her, reality is just floating out of reach. What strikes hardest though, for me at least, are those moment where detailed sketches of real places are included. There’s something about the nature and approach of those drawings that’s so rich that it interrupts the darkness and identifies itself as REAL reality, the world truly impinging on Alix’s mind. It’s a strong metaphor and a simple method of communicating an incredibly complex concept. They are also very beautiful images that you could happily look at for a long time, so they also provide much needed breathing space in a difficult read.
Leaning on genre to create form
Whilst reading and re-reading BARKING for this review a couple of things popped up that struck me as very relevant to BARKING and how Lucy handles the story.
The latter was a blog post by M John Harrison that I’ll quote in full.
‘For maybe five decades, maybe more, I didn’t want my life to be what it was. It was perfectly ordinary, but I didn’t want to be in it. Writing and climbing were escape routes; I developed a bad memory to deal with the rest. Only now, after I’ve spent a few years in a life I want, do I see what an odd admission that is to make. People seem quite horrified by it; I don’t want to live among people who aren’t. How do you write about a life like that, legacy of your own poor management of childhood & adolescence, except veiled in concepts such as “haunting”, “navigation failure” or,” behaviour after a disaster”? I wouldn’t know where to begin. Living is the endless discovery that you’re weirder than you thought, & you’ll never retrieve any of it except via the metaphors you’ve had all along. That seems to have been one of the advantages of genre fiction for me’
A great way of talking about where genre transcends its own limits and becomes literature where tropes and ideas become a way of making the normal seem strange so we can more easily examine it.
Before that, on international women’s day, there was a thread on Frankenstein and Mary Shelley that discussed the backstory of its creation with many comments chimed in that she had created a whole new genre of fiction from that one novel. Now you can argue the case for or against that, and I would say what she did was build upon the existing structure of gothic novels and make that her own. What made it her own was that she had something to say and took a form and structure that helped get her point across whilst adding what she needed, where she needed it to keep to the path of personal truth. You could also argue for it being proto surrealism convincingly and likewise you could say it leans heavily into symbolism or romantic poetry. Whatever you want to take from a discussion of the structure of that story, the reality is, what drives it is not clever genre tropes, no inversion of expectation, what drives it is the very human drama it describes and plays out. However much lightning and drama it blows at you, at the heart you care because those characters exist as real emotional beings that speak truthfully about someone’s feelings or experience and you engage with those and that drives your interest.
BARKING certainly shares themes with Frankenstein, with its questioning of who or what is a monster and the worth of science. But more importantly, it deals with the humanising of the monster, of building a portrait of the world experienced by that monster to drive an axe through accepted norms with the sharp blade of humanism.
BARKING is not setting fire to genre and making something new. What it’s doing is building a work with a frame of genre and in reality, it doesn’t lean into those tropes in any meaningful sense. What I mean by this is that some may see the haunting in this novel as a ghostly experience, the tarot reading as a supernatural signifier. What I experienced when I read it felt utterly divorced from trope and genre style. You’re not seeing someone writing a spooky or scary story for the sake of shocks, it’s an affecting method of portraying the experience of Alix, a way of putting that experience out there for you to go through and experience yourself. The genre elements are almost like a sugar coating for those who don’t want to deal with the idea that this experience is a reality, the reality of Alix. It cushions the blow for those unable to accept altered reality is still reality for those in it.
By which I mean, it seems a genre story but it’s not using supernatural elements for terror, but to make explicit the hidden experiences of the mind. It is a work of surrealism in the true sense. Surrealisms aim was, according to leader André Breton, to “resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality into an absolute reality, a super-reality“, or surreality. That, for me, is clearly what BARKING both aims to do and delivers with great élan.
You’re always talking nonsense
Oddly, in comics, particularly literary comics, the use of lettering and ‘sound effects’ is rarely used to convey much either psychological or audible experience. There are few works that aim to make use of integrating words in design and layout, at least with western traditions. The two series that took these techniques and ran with them to astounding effect both appeared in the 1980’s and we’ve rarely seen any experiments drawing upon either Cerebus or American Flagg. In fact, with the consigning of thought balloons to the ‘childish’ era of comics, psychological insight has come to be delivered through literary dialogues that read more like journal entries than experienced existence. Distinctly purple prose revealing no personality or emotion.
Lucy digs heavily into the opportunity that words in comics can deliver, sometimes drowning the scene in the negative aggressive self-hating screed constantly playing in Alix’s head. A screed at point almost completely unintelligible, sometimes rolling along in the background and sometime on point, ripping into her in the moment.
It’s an odd thing to call a comic creator brave for using one of the basic tools within their arsenal, but equally, considering how frowned upon the technique has become, it shows a commitment to delivering her message with all of the powers available to her to make it work.
BARKING is a big work. A work that roars with power and rage in the hope of making people feel the terror experienced by many encountering the mental health system and societies reactions to those in the grip of mental health issues.
all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.
content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2020
At the beginning of the year I wrote about 5 works that I thought deserved recognition. One of these was Star Bright and you’ll find what I wrote about it here, this will be a very specific dig into just a little thing I noticed in the work that struck me.
I keep coming back to this work for a couple of personal reasons, not the least of which is that it’s really a good world to spend time in. By that I mean that, I enjoy how calm it is, that it’s filled with kindness, but most of all, the strongest sense that brings me back is how it models acceptance. Sometimes showing an answer is the best way to help someone with hard questions.
So, I guess I’ve read it four or five times by now, critically read it I should qualify and then the other night, that’s mid-April 2020 or mid COVID-19 lockdown, I just sat down to enjoy it and not dig in.
Then I started noticing something I’d not picked up before, which is one of the joys of re-reading really. Now, I can’t say for definite whether it was intentional, whether it was the writer or the artist or the team figuring it out. I can say it doesn’t matter, sometimes you’re a good story because things happened that came together well. I can tell you that I had seen these things, but not consciously considered them before. To unpack that, my mind has felt the story being built those actions, but until now I’d never THOUGHT about how that was achieved.
I’m going to stop being coy in just a few more lines, but I want one more piece of context before I do that. When you write a story, you will have actions, scenarios and often similes and analogies in your story. It’s considered good literature if you manage these in a consistent way, so all similes relate to water or fire. In visual media you can achieve the same but in a slightly different manner, they are often repeated visual cues. Critics have picked apart works like Watchmen for its use of such literary techniques.
Well, here I was stuck inside and facing another seven weeks before I could go out. I have a child we’re having to shield and had spent two weeks with them having to be separated from my other two children and then from me as we showed symptoms. Then I was reading and seeing all these panels with hands clutched away from friends, afraid to reach out as well as panels of hands just gently held, friends in love with their friends. It was like fire through my veins, but it was also so very simple and very human and that’s why I keep coming back to this beautiful little comic.
Robin and Sarah in the background holding hands
all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.
What I like about Emily Brymer’s work is the loose lines, they give it a sense of life and motion on the page.
She also manages a page so cleverly – look at this page below, it manages so much complexity whilst reading so easily.
Panel beats – introduce the character, introduce the context, next row then hits a great set of continuity panels.
But it’s not just that, there are these zones set up that emphasise connections. The top two left side panels make their own little zone, the three on the top right are again their own area. Even though the bottom left is this heavy hitting black, tight cropped single image, it’s still balanced by the blacks in the top and bottom right.
Essentially – this is a very lively page, full of motion and energy, it make all of these connections across the page, tying together actions, making it exciting to read, but also managing what the story is telling you about what’s happening, driving the thoughts you have about the story by making the connections subliminally right there in the image.
Just great storytelling!
The winner is Nick Prolix with his Pannonica series (and experience)
Originally, I included this as a dig at all those bests of lists that come out in December thereby blowing off everything that comes out in December.
Then in October and again In November I read part of an ongoing series that struck me as amazing and original, but also as something that concretised a feeling I’d had for a while about UK comics and zines and where I’m seeing work that I would consider vital and important.
Petrichor, our initial award winner, is part of that wave. A wave that drives its visuals with non-representational art married to real life thoughts and emotions. It has narrative, but not story. Structure but not linearity.
Sort of a comic slipstream fiction, but nothing like it.
Why name it?
Pannonica was something very surprising to me, considering Nick’s normal mode of comics are very representational and timebound. Here’s this printed and hand made zine with abstract images. A zine related to tweets and Instagram posts. World building by building in the world rather than the fictional page. Yet, amazingly, it’s a work that still manages to be structured, human and about matters of life. Dealing with the humanity of his thoughts, his present concerns, his art history and art future. Not necessarily universal, but personally meaningful to me and timely – like it froze a wave and made a statue for generations to come to look upon.
What’s striking about Pannonica is how it creates narrative structure in the same manner as Nick’s story work, with call backs, shadowing plot points and running a theme through its paces.
This may be the most controversial award. I’ve had feedback that it might feel like a backhanded compliment. So, to clarify.
This award recognises a work that inspired me to recognise its impact upon me. Rather than inspiring a creative reaction it stirred me by being a great read; moving and affecting. It’s about enjoy things not for what they drive me to do, but for the enjoyment of experiencing them.
I hope that makes sense.
Star Bright is a low stake look at teenage life. It is a strong argument for acceptance. There is no melodrama, no angry railing at society, no big story moments. Yet it forcefully makes an argument for it cause. It’s a beautiful and emotional work that relies on creating empathy with the reader, quietly telling a meaningful story about people, loneliness and eventual acceptance.
It uses simple methods with, what one could almost call a utopian spirit, to make a big argument about life, diversity and accepting differences.
The art has a strong personality and communicates emotions and relationships extremely well. It works perfectly with the story to deliver its argument for equality by showing a world that is accepting and how it essentially functions the same as our world but without the hating. It delivers a window to another world and shows you that it won’t hurt or damage you, in fact, its existence will not affect your life at all, but it will make the life of others much better.
Cute and simple looking artwork that communicates the human experience and a simple and eloquent story that shows how the world can be rather than raising a fist to the world as is. I completely respect anything the raises the quiet voice of reason to make its argument to the wide world.
I literally only know Sarah’s work from online – but god I wish I owned everything she has ever made.
I love her colour work; her choices of texture and pattern; her colour combinations are so vibrant, living and communicative I’d sink deep down into their glowing acid power like people claim to do with a Rothko.
What she achieves with computer textures makes me want to grab a pen and a brush and get that physically down on paper. Her art affects me the same Bill Sienkiewicz’s affected my childhood mind. I want to cut out and paste, to splash paint and hatch and scratch and design the page into perfect life. I want to perfect what they’ve put on paper, with my own hand because then I’ll have achieved a skill and greatness I could easily respect.
Which, I suppose, makes my choice either odd or contrary.
When I saw her post this double page from her current comic Aorta I contacted her straight away because it was just so impressive. All that texture to lose myself in – I actually put it up across the double screens I have at work. I saw it and just imagined holding a big – A3 page size big – hardback book; textured paper, almost like watercolour paper and that image crisply set into that paper, so deep it stretches beyond the edge of vision, like an IMAX movie. Comics suffers to keep itself cheap and avoid ‘being elitist’. But I don’t see why we can’t have expensive, deeply beautiful objects as vehicles to portray these works. I think this art deserve engaging with in a manner that let’s you obscure the world around and just sink into this glorious world of marks, movement, design and texture, like you’re climbing through a dark forest.
Being able to immerse yourself into the reality on paper and letting the work argue for the respect it so readily deserves.
Until I read Gareth’s work, I would never have said that either romance or auto-biography would be the most important and urgent style I’m encountering in comics.
Yet, when I read this book I was moved nearly to tears, to rethink my own attitudes and to a sense of admiration for what was being said on these pages. I think Gareth’s work is amazing. I always have, from the moment I first saw it. But, generally, I’ve admired the images and the textures, structures, marks and sequencing. His work was very much visual pleasure.
Then he wrote Petrichor and later worked on Intercorstal: Extension which I’ve previously reviewed. Intercorstal: Extension was published prior to Petrichor, even though it was created after it. In both works the writing developed an elliptical, poetic and rhythmic style that dealt with life and memory as experiences rather than narrative. It’s almost poetry, but it’s not. I’d say it’s a clipped version similar in style to JG Ballard’s early novels, like The Drowned World. But somehow warm and human and emotionally affecting, whereas Ballard’s words are the experience of ennui.
Many works are labelled as being about love and death, it’s a great review cliché – this work is truly about the experience of both, of how living life comes with waves and troughs, how we change whilst staying the same person, maybe with altered priorities.
To be fair – it’s not going to be for everyone, it’s not narrative, it’s got no images of things, there’s marks and short, clipped lines of text. But if you let yourself experience it, it’s like being in the heart and mind of that person as life happens around them. Beautiful and poignant. Ultimately, it’s satisfying to see a book dedicated to sharing an individual’s humanity and love.
These are my way of thinking about what has mattered to me in zines and comics this year.
As much as they’re a way of recognising what I’ve found excellent, they’re also a thank you and a chart of what mattered to me at a time and place.
I don’t know whether these will matter to people, but then I’m not going to not do something from fear of embarrassing silence.
Originally there were going to be 5 awards, for the terribly practical reason that I could roll out an award a day over a week. Then something big happened in 2019 so now there’s going to be 6.
I think in the end, I’d like to see other people respond in kind to these awards and just do something that tells other people, but particularly the creators, why they liked their work in a little bit more detail and depth than a like, a purchase or an ‘Awesome’ – nothing wrong with that, but I think it’s great for people to take a minute and engage with the question of what they enjoyed about a certain work, consider the essential ‘thing’ within them that it satisfied.
Here are the categories:
1- Most Romantic work
2- Work that I wish I had published in a large deluxe limited edition
3- Work that is something I’d never want to make, but really appreciated anyway
4- Originally I said that this would be – Best discovery I made in November (but it was really just being sarcastic) Then I received something in October that fitted the bill
I enjoyed reading this. There are some interesting subtexts to chew over and some skilled pacing and design. I really love that cover a lot!
The ongoing serial A Witch’s Penance had me interested to follow it. It was certainly my favourite story.
As an anthology, it felt consistent and well balanced. It mixed up approaches to story telling and left me thinking about some of its themes. It’s a solidly created anthology with some interesting and more personal moments. Essentially, it delivered a good read and I was left thinking.
This is an anthology mixing prose and comics works. It uses a traditional ‘horror story with a twist’ format that, when I’m looking at it, seems well handled. Nothing comes from left field in terms of the twists. It manages the foreshadowing and punchlines well.
Now that probably sounds cold coming from me and that’s really a matter of my reading of the work. ‘Horror story with a twist ending’ is low on my list of likes unfortunately. However, there’s a bit more at work in these stories than just that format. Maybe I’m reading more in there, maybe I’m not, but I’m going to come back to both Sprouting and Hanging in the Darkness to get into my thoughts about what they made me think about.
First, I want to discuss Finders Keepers, the prose story, then go onto A Witch’s Penance.
Finders Keepers is a fine prose story but, for me, didn’t move me too much. It’s paced well, it develops it’s plot well, it builds its tension well. But that’s it, which is not a complaint or a method of damning anything, it’s a recognition that I don’t really get into these stories. The prose is clear, avoiding being purple and that’s to its benefit. I guess the only thing I wonder is what it’s trying to tell me or talk about? I hate saying that, because I hate anytime when someone says, ‘it was done well, but…’ because that’s just an awful snipe. Things have a right to exist the way the are without having to meet my sense of meaningful.
Unpicking my thoughts really does just bring me back to the fact that the style of story is not one I am personally invested in, with the other stories I feel like there’s enough extra there to dig hooks into me, where this one feels like a nice pot boiler without much to say for itself outside of being well executed. If you like stories with twist endings, it’s well made for you.
I like the illustrations style for the story. It reminds me of a Ladybird books and that matches the tones of the story and age of the characters well. They also given some very lively acting, giving a good sense of personality and action.
A Witch’s Penance, the only ongoing story in the book, and the other two tales gave me much more of an idea that there’s something at work under the surface. I picked A Witch’s Penance out from the other two for a reason though. This story, at the moment, seems to have less of a theme and have more of a plot. Unlike the others, this is not a ‘twist at the end’ plot. This is very much a ‘revenge doubled’ plot. By which I mean, a mysterious figure with a past seems to be revenging something, but exacting this revenge sets up an excuse for the antagonist to also seek revenge. The circle of revenge is spinning and pulling in unwitting victims all around.
It’s not the plot, or even the characters that interest me as much as the approach to storytelling. Here, it’s very much that delivery which makes it my favourite in the anthology. The pacing and rhyming between panels is handled poetically. It’s got that bouncy rhythm of doggerel verse. Plain, driving, seemingly simple but incredibly effective at dragging you along. To mix my metaphors. It’s a catchy pop chorus, very simple structure delivering something immediate and accessible and hiding some very clever production techniques underneath it all.
This piece comes into its own in the chase through the wood, with panel layout and the positioning of figures (and a tree!) creating rhythm, leading to comparisons between characters circumstances, if that makes sense? To pick that apart, I get a lovely, punchy sense of action happening. It’s tense here, because there’s a sense of the figures moving around each other, of proximity and the level of danger and luck involved in trying to escape and how thin the line between success and failure will be. The end delivers a couple of cliff-hangers that set the future wheels in motion and maintain that sense of things happening and matters to learn.
It’s difficult to know how the layout was decided, where writer and artist begin and end, but I would say that the layout and characterisation achieved in the woodland scene by Michelle Marham impressed me and I thought delivered the tightest storytelling in the anthology. Whoever worked it out, did a good job, but the delivery sells it well.
As mentioned, Hanging in The Darkness and Sprouting gave me a sense of subtext in the work. Each has a nice little plot. For both, the artwork is a little rough in places in terms of anatomy and expressing emotion but paces itself well. It adds atmosphere and I like the colouring on Hanging in The Darkness most of all, I’m not sure whether there was a single colourist, or if each artist did their own. As no colourist is named, it seems likely that each artist did their own work.
Hanging in The Darkness seems to me to be a study in the slow eroding of memory and the chill and dread that comes with the loss of that memory and, as such, the art is very much telling a separate story to the text. It’s atmospheric but lacks a bite of good character work to it. The art has a hard task as it’s there depicting a story that’s less engaging than the text, which gets to delve into and explore the deeper psychological content of the piece. The art is there to deliver the chills, which it does very nicely, but I can’t quite work out what point that was serving other than as a plot device.
Sprouting on the other hand has art that is very much in sync with the writing, adding layer to the words and working together to deliver additional depth to the plot. Where Hanging in The Darkness played with loss of identity and personality, Sprouting is dealing with a sense of dysmorphia and the ability to come to a safe space where we accept our form and ourselves. Where we find friends that accept us for who we are and, through that, a place in the world.
I very much feel like this idea needed more space to develop a sense of the person, to make them meaningful, for my tastes a story dealing with such themes needs to get me to see the lead as a person rather than delivering plot beats. I think the limit of the space and the scope of the storyline conspired against it making its message deeper and more meaningful by affecting me emotionally. It ended up delivering something polemical rather than persuasive or personal.
They’re both good ideas though, ways of dealing with their subjects that I thought were quite effective concepts, interesting ways to explore those concepts and personify the psychological physically.
I do feel like there was room for these two stories to breathe more and get down to the bone. It’s a bit grisly here, you can feel it roll around as you’re chewing over the idea. To be clearer, and I can’t second guess creators, but to me these seem like strong ideas that either space or time didn’t allow for a full resolution to. I didn’t come away with a sure image of what the creator was trying to say about these things, or whether they were meant more as hooks to hang a good story on. That may be on me, and that may indeed have been the intent here all along, but to me it felt like there was room to go deeper and more personal in these stories, to commit to an opinion. They had interesting things to bring up and interesting ways of personifying the abstract, I just wanted to know more about what they personally felt about these subjects, because I think there’s an interesting set of voices here.
all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.
At the start, this may seem like I’m going in hard on this comic and also going in hard for choosing to be something I don’t like.
So, I want to say this clearly up front.
I like this comic, it’s a work forming for sure. So if you want the slick, mature work of creators fully situated in their styles, or a very settled format of superhero comic similar to corporate comics, this is not what you’re looking for. I think it’s not yet formed, and I think it’s still firmly rooted in its genre work, but it does nothing badly. For most people who read the kind of thing I’ve reviewed before it’s likely not the kind of work that will interest them, and I’ll argue why I can fit this in my mind in the same space as those works at the end and why I think it has a virtue worth investing in. It’s entirely possible these are patronising things to say and I’m going to hold my hand up to that if I’m called out on it.
I also add the extra caveat that all comments about style and genre are not to be considered as a definition of the creators’ interests, influences or personal systems of categorising. They are comments upon my thoughts, values, and ways of thinking. They deal with what I’ve put together and brought to this work. Talk to the creators for their opinion.
It all gets quite deep and specific as I parse those things out for you.
On that sinister note, let’s go!
This is an interesting comic
Maybe you’re old enough, maybe this will mean nothing to you, but this really reminds me of the comics put out by Adventure Comics in the black and white glut. Now, I really like them, in fact, I’d say that I actually own comics just like this one.
They’re the sort of comics that mix ideas the creators have seen in fiction and thought, ‘Oh my god, I want to do a story with that in it because it’s so COOOOOOOL!’ Then there are moments where there is something so personal and out of context with the stuff in it that it throws you sideways. I like them for the very reason that they’re often just this weird stew of genre cliché and they’re often characterised by being about plot point and cool scenes and some stuff to string them together. I just like sitting down and parsing all of those influences out and enjoying how clearly these are people fulfilling their kid comic dreams.
This work is near to that experience, but there’s something more than that about it. It’s one of those ones where you can see it has potential for the creators to get better an not just sit making their own weird stew of fan-fiction.
Which is to say that this is a work that leans heavily on its inspirations, has not shaken off that inspiration enough to call itself its own thing yet, but it has these moments and ideas that could really be exploited if they dig into it. It’s a work you can see where the creators are figuring out their choices and solutions a hitting some and missing others.
Which is an appallingly long way of saying that this is the work of a team finding its feet between doing the stuff they’ve loved reading and wanted to make since they began wanting to make stuff and finding their own style and purpose and their own way to say it. They have made some quick steps between issues though.
I found the second issue, for example, much more interesting than the first both story and art wise.
Let’s go back in time
Now, we have to establish a bit here. This is a ‘modern’ superhero comic and I am genuinely not a fan of modern superhero comics, they take too long to get to anything and they don’t know that they’re too serious or how to package an idea. They equate heroic poses with emotional gravitas and, as with all modern media, angry emoting is seen as ‘character’ and ‘depicting male emotions’. I’m not a fan of either thing, it’s hysteria not emotion, its going ‘BOO’ when you could sneak up and tap someone quietly on their shoulder. It’s a smiling emoji rather than laughing with your friends.
That’s definitely a taste and age thing. It’s also a bit damn unfair of me to knock something for reminding me of a style that I’m not a fan of. However – there’s work in here that has a much more interesting nature than the genre it’s leaning into, so I need to deal with why I feel this could ‘move up’ (in my estimation). It is also the nature of this blog that I’m talking about my reaction to thing, so honesty around that is required.
To me, this story doesn’t get going into the characters quickly enough because it has decompressed its story too much. Its story also seems more plot than story, as in, stories have character arcs not just things that happen. Stories talk about something relatable to their audience, not relying on a familiarity with genre to carry the weight of identification.
Put another way, these could be interesting characters, but we don’t know them. We know their plot points, not their personality and those two things are very different in my head. We know the main character got his powers in a disaster and that there are shadowy powers at work and a superhero team at work. Just looking at things, we can also see that we’re dealing with a battle between diversity and racism/fascism/the shadow government.
All we know about the personality of the main character is that he’s a bit shy around a pretty girl, loves his family and gets angry when confused. We’re two issues in, for me that’s two chapters of this story, which means two chapters in and I’m still not comfortable about whether these he’s going to be an interesting character to read about. I know he’s there to be a cypher for the reader to identify with so they can be led into this new world through him, but he’s too much of a cypher, really too much of a stereotype and not a person yet. Sometimes you need to know the head of a character before you trust their heart and their insight.
As to the Secret Protectors, the same is true for them, except that there are some moments where you get a little ‘in’ on their relationships. I’m unsure whether issue 2 delivers more interest because of their presence, or their presence in issue 2 mean that they’re treated with more skill and so come across as more interesting.
I think the art also needs to work harder at selling this comic at this point as well. It’s uneven at the moment and fluctuates in ability sometimes panel to panel. There are moments where the anatomy is bang on, followed by some really awkward posing or poorly executed foreshortening and that throws around the reading of the story. On the whole though, those anatomy issues are about time and practice. There are more fundamental decisions here about the approach to the story where there’s an uneven approach that throws the story out. Choices of posing and pacing and sequencing that at points flatten the character portrayal or the excitement of the action, but at other points serve to really punch it up a notch.
Diving down into the detail
Now – I’m going to get into a quite close read of this here and this is where I talk about why I enjoyed this comic and what I see as its virtues. That all comes with the caveat that I’m neither writer, nor artist, nor editor and that none of these things are anything other than the reasons I have for reviewing and recommending this.
So, lets begin by picking 2 pages from issue 2 to compare, page 2 and a detail from page 5.
Page 2 is the first half of a double page spread and we’re seeing what should be a really impactful moment where a mech droid is confronting the Secret Protectors. I’ve decontextualized this a lot by removing the big robot, because I want to talk about character and the depiction of those characters.
Secret Protectors 2 page 2
Secret Protectors 2 page 5 detail
If you look at the poses being struck here, I find them vey static and generic. There’s nothing individual about those poses where you couldn’t reverse the costumes and be showing them as having the same personality. Also, the composition relies very heavily on the action lines to feel dynamic. That barn in the background carries as much dynamic force as the figures themselves in my reading of the scene.
Compare that to the action shown on page 5, the position and shape of the body, the placing in the frame and the composition of the action between those two panels. They’re small on the page in the actual comic, but they carry much more action and punch and show more of the character’s personality, The writing here adds an extra element to the character depiction, seemingly at odds with the ‘go in there and do it’ look of the action we can see someone concerned with not causing harm to their enemy.
Then you look at that pose in the panel and instead of opting for a typical ‘blasting out flames’ pose, the arms are thrown backwards whilst getting into position, so now I see that the writing explains why they are thrown back without banging you on the head with a hammer.
Interestingly, the anatomy in both drawings is no better on a ‘realistic’ scale, it’s just that the flame panels have their own rhythm where those shapes put together make sense as a person running fast. Also the shapes made by the flames between each panel match up dynamically, twisting the eye around in a near circle, moving your eye down from top to bottom before retuning it to the right so you move on to the next panel. My eye moves quickly, like the action it’s depicting.
Even the computer art works differently; the orange flames, though very painterly, sit within the context of the image; whereas, the action lines on page 2 stand apart, almost speaking a different language to the image on the page.
The computer art has a nice pace of its own at points in this comic as well. There’s a panel on page 4 of the 1st issue that is just orange colour with a white speed line filter applied. It works, at that point, as a nice story beat, it’s very otherness serving to break out the rhythm of the story. The approach is not used in such a considered manner throughout though.
The 1st page of issue 2 also has an interesting moment like this and shows my point more clearly, I think. If you look at the whole page, the middle panel again uses some computer made speed lines to give a sense of dynamism. This time, I feel, they’re working against the real dynamism achieved in the figure drawing and panel composition. They’re dumped so artificially onto the panel it breaks up the flow of the story where it should move dynamically. Then you get that final panel, where there’s this amazing, expressionistic depiction of the van shown very realistically in the first panel. Break beat. Sinister yellow eyes glowing out. Impact of the message driven home. Game changer engaged. Essentially, such a different outcome.
I guess the point that’s being skirted around is that there is some really good work here, but I’m not sure that it’s a choice as part of the story delivery. I hope so for the creators, because these are interesting techniques to employ consciously. Personally, it doesn’t matter so much, intent doesn’t stop me from stopping and looking at that and thinking it is awesome.
But the application is inconsistent throughout the two issues and that’s a shame as it can really block the story at points.
Maybe one last group of examples might make my point clearer.
The use of computer colour and design on the drawings, particularly on the buildings, has a sort of deadening effect on the art quite often, as do the pacing and drawing choices. If you look at the 1st page of the 1st issue, the very precise nature of that building, the point of view disappearing into the centre of the building, the matching tones of most of the page, all of these serve to force you to just stare at the centre of the hospital complex. It’s a real work of effort to move your eye on.
When you do, it’s the same battle over again to move your eyes off those repeated panels, then again, the first panels of the bottom tier are matched so closely that the final panel of the page seems like it’s clipped from a completely different story. That page is just hard reading all the way through. Yet I can feel that it’s trying to create a rhyme on the page, a pace to draw you through.
I get the same feeling about the pacing set up on pages 8-9 of issue 1. Just looking at page 9, you can see the rhythm being aimed for. Yet it’s so flat, the characters aren’t made interesting in either drawing or writing. It’s stiff at all points. Maybe not stiff, forced, like the creators know they’ve got something to get across and they’re going to make it happen.
Now, why I’m interested in this comic can be seen when you contrast that with issue 2 page 13. Just stop and look out the layout and how it rhymes and matches up, window panes below matching panel layout above, colours in top and bottom tiers balancing yet contrasting. Even the way that the panels show the change in character personality. The anatomy may be no better or more consistent, but the pacing is on point so it doesn’t matter to me.
Look at how the relationship of characters is mirrored between their powers at work, the story beats are well chosen and well depicted. They sell the relationship of those characters to each other, rather than labouring the point. It’s subtler already. It’s unfolds before you rather than TELLING you about itself.
One last dive
I just want to look at this last page, mainly because of those bottom three panels and the way I like the look of them! Also though, because that middle panel works so well to deliver an emotional moment. Simple, good facial expression and body language and colours focussing the moment. Then those last three panels delivering such a different artistic style, changing the rhythm of the comic instantly. It’s moments like this that make me enjoy this comic.
It’s served up in a way that shows me some character and emotion, in a way that feels like it’s a personal solution for its creators. It’s fine entertainment and I’m all about that at times.
all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.
It’s a funny thing getting something you’ve watched grow and come to life over a long time. It’s funnier when you realise, suddenly, how the experience of watching it grow is little to no indicator of what it is you end up getting. Which is a loopy sort of way to say, I’d never thought about this as a story and surprised myself upon reading it, reacting to the comic as a story rather than the artwork as ART.
That’s still not picked apart terribly well, so let’s talk about my background with this comic.
I knew Simon for a while before he started posting images for the comic. When I first saw Simon’s art on Instagram; these big splodges of messy colour, no form and all texture and space for the imagination; I immediately just loved them.
Absolutely wanted to take those images, run away with them and make things with them. Then I watched him carve and inscribe meaning to them, hewing image out of those spacious textures, making space into form.
They still LOOKED cool and I knew I’d buy the comic because I wanted to see that art and stare at it, all together. Compare it to what I’d seen made, space to form to object.
I backed it and recently picked up my copy from Simon and sat down at work, thinking I’d flip through and wallow a bit in all that mark making. Now, to digress from my own point a minute, the art is great, the writing too.
There’s a lovely moment in this spread I particularly like. That little image set at the end of the left page telling a story in just two panels. Succinct but meaningful, art and words punching together to tell it all with impact.
There’s also just this lovely balance and variety. That first panel stretching, summarising. How it places the end of the story told in those two bottom panels as a single moment before retelling the same story with greater emotional impact. That small panel/ large panel combination flipping on the next page. The story focus moving from past to present, from fire to ice. From one enemy to another. That first summary panel that stretches time reflected by the final summary panel that concatenates moments. Frozen memory, action bursting from the frozen castle.
This tale tells itself so simply whilst using this very clever structuring, pulling in colours and textures, balancing pacing and time patterns seamlessly. The images rhyme and pace and create new contexts without you even really paying that much attention to it. It’s structured so that it’s just there to tell the tale, it gets out of its own way and does the job it needs to do. Yet it’s so well thought out if you want to pay attention.
The strength of this comic, though, is the story-telling, the emotion it delivers. You don’t need to appreciate the art, you don’t need to admire the structuring. None of it is done to impress you. It’s written in word and image to make you feel, feel what is going on and nothing is getting in its way.
When I sat flipping through it at work I just read the odd word but had to turn back to the start to read from the beginning. I got to the end and just felt this welling up of sadness about what happened to the two of them. I don’t know whether we’re meant to feel like it was inevitable, whether it was good that it was fleeting, but I felt like it was a terrible and sad outcome to it all. It should have worked, they should have had the chance to stay and be. Sorry to be oblique but still spoil the story for you!
It’s now over a week later and I see that cover and I think about how I want to read it again and imagine how they could make it work, find the answer to their problem.
Njord and Skadi, that is, not the creators. My memory is fixed on the story and the creators and the creation don’t really matter at all.
To put a context to this, when I sat down to write this, I went back to look at my notes and realised that my plan was to talk about how awesome it was to see all of these marks off a flickering screen and sat on a page, how much I loved the mark making and how it was exciting to follow its journey; space to form to object. That’s not what was actually exciting at all. Reading the story, how the words and images were so in tune, was exciting. How all of it just wanted to tell this story, in fact the story itself, that’s what mattered.
Another slight digression, but I want to be a bit clearer here, when I’m talking about words and images being in tune, I’m not talking action to word matching, but rhythm and style. No words rhyme, they’re not epic couplets, yet it has that ‘rhyming’ rhythm one associates with poetry. Everything is told in these simple beats. Short clipped captions condense time to a feeling, a synopsis, to pack a punch. The same with time between and in the panels. You’re not getting a linear transcription of time passing here. You’re getting a succinct timeline carefully weighed up to deliver an emotional punch.
When I put the comic down I didn’t think about the art or the language. What I thought about was how sad it all was and kept thinking about that. About how differences can, in the end, tear us all down, keep us all apart. That’s what’s stayed with me. Just that crushing sense of emotion, of promise failed. It’s maybe a mirror of my mood, maybe a door into my feelings, maybe just melodrama on my part. But it’s there. That sense of being broken hearted, of seeing a story that’s an oblique observation of actual life and people; not just structure, characters and plot. A tale telling us what it feels like being broken and let down by life and how you can snatch a gift from that. That may be the message of the story, but it’s not how I felt afterwards, I felt like the world had let me and these people down by not having space for them to be together and it made me sad.
I like this series, it’s got a real charm to it. Bouncy, friendly and likeable and going down into depth on the characters. The characters are likeable and engaging. You’re not seeing great story arcs, you’re seeing the quotidian increment of people’s daily lives. Bad decisions, poor choices, changing attitudes. It layers them into the storyline, rather than laying them out in front of you. I guess that’s why I class this as a friendly comic to read. It’s not shouting at you about itself, it’s putting itself out there for you to hang out with and find out about.
I’m a huge fan of the book ‘Georgie Girl’. This is a descendant of that. It’s a descendant of those New English Library books with painted people draped on each other lustily and fags hanging from their lips. This is Kitchen Sink Drama. This is also cheeky Brit comics by the like of Hunt Emerson. It’s also low life story telling about wideboys. Not the Crays, not dangerous or evil, just cheap and desperate and showy and trashy.
This is the 60’s swinging London as lived by the poor in all its genre glory. All the characters you’d expect, or the class and cultural meters are fed in. There’s not a trick missed. This is 60’s kitchen sink drama, this is ‘Angry Young Man’ world, gladly lacking the entitlement and white male hero complex I see in those other works.
I probably need to pick that apart!
Stories can be about SOMETHING and they usually foreground those things as the main character, they ‘DEAL WITH’ depravation, personal disenfranchisement and everything that happens, happens to drive that point home.
Stories can be about SOMEONE and there’s your protagonist flexing their character muscles whilst others throw shade and reflection upon them but do little else.
This story is very much about SOMEWHERE and SOMEWHEN. This is 60’s Soho.
It’s seen through the lens of genre. Maybe genres? But it’s very clear that the milieu is the character. There are interesting people, there are fine twisty little plots, there are even big themes. None of those is the purpose of this comic. This is telling you about the lives lived and the environment that bred those lives. This is telling you the history, the changes but it’s dealing with it through the experiences of lives lived. That’s the key to this comic and what I like about it. It gives you a story, then it fleshes that story out with shades of past and future, with the view of the other people involved. Turn around, turn back, look at it again. What I like about issue 4 is how it goes back in time to things that have happened but it’s not plugging a hole in your knowledge, that flashback is somehow a linear part of the way the story makes sense.
I’m not sure that’s a clear point, so I want to re-iterate this thought. There is something in issue 4 that happens before the events in the previous 3 issues. Now, although that happens to be a travel back in linear time, it’s a linear movement forward in storytelling and character depth. That’s something as I’ve thought about this work that just seems amazing. Lord know if that’s planned. But I’m not concerned by what the Lord knows, I’m concerned with how it all works together. That’s truly a very impressive writing feat to achieve, to write backwards in time and make it feel like you’re moving the story forwards linearly.
Issue 4 really is that issue where the things click as well. I’m glad I got to read it as a series as it builds well when read together, issue 4 hits the stride of the main story threads, pulling the disparate little bits back in to one story. I’m glad I got to read it as a series with issue 4 as it lays any concerns I had to bed. What concerns?
There was a feeling of likeable characters and likeable work being made here, but it hadn’t made me feel it would hit an emotional depth. I felt like I could gladly indulge my like of the genre, spot the tropes being picked off. Carrying on my long running desire to talk about things no one knows much about, it had all the niceness of DC Comics ‘’Mazing Man’. Now I love to sit down with that and enjoy the beautiful cartooning and the fun little comic stories, but that comic is no great piece of work, it’s just a very nice piece of work. That also feels like it’s ambition as well, so it feels alright to meet it on that level.
This comic really doesn’t feel like it wants to be met at that level, because this has a feeling of something more about it. Aside from anything else, there’s the environment and how well put together it is. There’s the effort to make characters that clearly have depths to reveal as well. The concern I had in those first 3 issue is that these great characters wouldn’t have space to breathe in a story that leans into its genre trappings and delivers small sized chunks of story.
Issue 4 dropped then like a sugared pill. Relief followed by that sense of something finally getting deep and taking itself seriously in a way that is totally deserved. Clever structure, characters revealing depths, not UNEXPECTED depths, the soap opera version of depth. Totally understandable and believable levels of character that we just hadn’t seen yet.
I really want to see how this goes and I really want to own a big thick book where I can experience this in one sitting. In some ways, this is like Cerebus, it works really nicely as bits, but it hits home when it’s there in a big lump to experience.
What’s true of Slang Pictorial as it is of Cerebus, is that it’s damn good at drawing its world. This is consistently great cartooning. It’s very personal in style at this moment, oddly enough, considering how much it draws on the language of comics cartooning. It follows a lineage from classic Belgian cartoonists in the 50’s/ 60’s, think ‘Lucky Luke’ and ‘Asterix’. It leans into British Jazz great Hunt Emerson. Yet it has its own distinct design sense. It builds a consistent and detailed and believable world in its pages and it’s the kind of world you drop into and don’t notice the detail and skill shown on those pages. It’s not interested in showing you how well thought out and consistent it is, it’s is there to make this story grounded, to give you the in to the world you’re looking at. It just digs in and delivers story telling chops again and again.
Little marks changing the look of a character instantly to ‘woken up and feeling rough’ by slashing in some well-placed lines on their face.
You don’t have to think about this art, it does the hand holding and hard thinking for you to get that story told. But it does it with panache and style; clever, but gracefully so.
This is a damn fine comic series and a lot more clever than it would have you believe.
It’s one that’s as much ‘what I bring to the party’ as it is one that is about the work itself. I’m going to get a mildly philosophical, political and personal – so be warned!
There’s a discussion to have here about the project itself, around purpose and worth. This includes the wider discussion about identity and what that means and is at points in life.
A separate discussion about the actual physical issue and its content is needed as well.
My identity and chronic illness, or; identity, it’s not for everyone
Oddly, for someone who’s pretty healthy currently, my life has a few eras of chronic illness that mark my identity. I’m not sure I should delve too much about these matters as that’s not really the point of a review, to talk about myself in detail, is it? Yet, considering the project, I think it is the point, will I find my reflection or feel left out?
There are pieces in here that are so close to the bone of my own experiences that I’m never going to manage any kind of distance to discuss quality. However, there’s an argument to make about the worth of that experience in itself, (which I’ll make shortly).
Starting at the macro then; philosophically I have an issue with the conception of identity in and of itself. It’s one of those reductive concepts that imply a person is a thing and a thing is a single whole. By which I mean, to be personal for a second, people often believe a way of feeling or an experience means you have AN identity. I’m a white, middle-class man. That’s apparently AN identity, except, I’m someone who has mental health issues and I’m someone with a history of chronic illness and I’m someone who parents a child with chronic illness and that child happens to have learning difficulties. Oh, and I grew up as the child of hippies in a working-class area, in the 80’s in Wales, in a post-industrial town. So where do I have my IDENTITY in that, as opposed to talking about the experiences that have shaped me as a person?
Also, there’s the opposite side of this which talks about the identity of a group as if it’s all the same for each one. What is the identity of those with learning difficulties, for example, it’s different for my child than it is for someone with autism or downs syndrome. I’m pretty sure the experience of a person in America is different from a person in the UK, especially, getting back to subject, when it comes to chronic illness, because at least we in the UK don’t have to worry about paying for our medication or suffering or dying because we can’t. That’s a real and true issue in America.
There’s the further issue of awareness outside of that identity group. I wonder how many people could even conjure an understanding of why I’d mention growing up in Wales in the 80’s without just thinking about neon wearing kids dancing to Duran Duran, because, you know THE 80’S. I’ll tell you, that’s literally NOT what it was like then and gives the absolutely the wrong image of what it was. So, as I say, identity is just a great way to allow stereotyping, misconception and failed understanding. Even with good intentions. I’ll also call out identity as a renamed bigotry in certain hands. Everyone knows disabled people are in wheelchairs, so only wheelchair users are disabled? Sound familiar? Thought it yourself? I encounter exactly that attitude every day.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that identity sounds simple, but I believe it is essentialist, reductive, stereotyping and exclusionary more often than not.
I’ve had a 6 month long stay in hospital because of a childhood illness, I’ve had nearly 9 months in a hospital hospice because of my first child’s initial health issues. So am I the parent who was a sick child, the parent of a sick child, the parent (who was a sick child) of a sick child. Where does my niche go and where does my experience fail to meet the description and purpose and in failing to meet that do I end up feeling like my IDENTITY is not true, angry at not seeing myself represented?
Am I seeing too narrow a stereotype or caricature and what is the impact of that being delivered to the public as well? Will they, the inexperienced, limit themselves by only understanding the issue as represented here?
That really is the matter for the project to consider and the yard stick against which to measure it. How does it deal with these matters of representation, of diversity, of essentially becoming a gate keeper simply by existing!?
That’s a heavy matter, particularly considering who it is trying to represent, people already suffering in life in some way, shape or form.
I can see why the first issue dealt with identity. It’s a matter of setting out your stall, delivering your agenda for all to see. It really does need to be up front, because it really does tell you whether you’re in or out of this project. I know I keep banging on about this, and I’ll get to it, honestly!
First though I want to talk about another matter of inclusivity outside of the politics of representation. Does the zine communicate effectively with people who have a wide range of need, including some who may have learning difficulties? Can it deal with all of these when it is a project that relies upon open submissions? Particularly when it’s dealing with the cross-over of chronic illness and artistic expression?
I think they’ve done some very clever things that mean that this project is accessible to a wide range of needs. I’m know for certain that some of these works by themselves would communicate to my child with learning difficulties. Yet the editorial approach has made the issues raised in those works accessible to them. I’m no mind reader so I won’t claim to know whether they planned that or came upon those solutions by other routes. In the end that’s not what matters, it’s accessible in a very clever and low-key manner. I want to pick up on that here, because I think it speaks clearly about the strength of this project, it’s humanity and openess.
On the second inside page they have a whole series of speech balloons summarising the content and opinions of those present in the zine. Pithy little comments that give quick insights into their experiences. It’s a clever way of priming people to the content they’re about to encounter.
It’s also a good way of making some of the internal, often expressionistic or abstract work, more accessible to those who can’t understand complex abstract ideas. It means that, although certain work will never mean much to my child, I can still have a conversation around the subject that it deals with. It frees the art up to be expressive, whilst still highlighting the content in a way that’s not forced or invasive to the art.
I’m also pleased that it’s meeting its own criteria of talking about both chronic illness and art dealing with chronic illness. The art is served well, with good reproduction and the physical item itself is on lovely paper with decent printing. More importantly, to me, it’s cleanly laid out and well labelled with details of the contributors, so it’s easy enough to go and find out more about their work if you want to. Simply put, it’s a well put together package, well edited to make it as accessible as a resource as well as a magazine to be enjoyed in and of itself. The mix and pacing of image and text is also well handled.
The project is also an interesting manner of dealing with chronic illness, dealing with aspects of daily life as well as more philosophical matters, for example, the second issue deals with having a sex life with a chronic illness. Identity is an interesting point, but it’s very BIG PICTURE. Sometimes you just want to know how to live through a day and the philosophy of it all matters much less.
I can imagine these being a great resource both online and within hospitals. A good library of these dealing with the philosophical and practical matters of life will make a good companion for someone dealing with chronic illness in their life, whether their own or someone else’s. Considering the subject, I think that’s important and appropriate. What’s the point in having this if it’s not a resource to help those it’s talking about.
So, finally, to talk about what’s in here on both the macro and micro scale, by which I mean – how well do I think it deals with the issue of identity and the associated matter of representation and what do I feel after reading the contributions included in here.
Well, firstly, some pieces are privileged with the nature of my own experience reflecting their content. There are those that aren’t and are still fascinating and there are those that aren’t my sort of thing. That’s again a ‘me’ thing though.
There’s a diverse range of experience. There are pieces that are short and blunt, some more like memoir. What all of them have in common, is that they talk about the personal, not the abstract. These are about PEOPLE talking about their experiences. Really, that’s how it gets around the matter of philosophy and politics. Everything is grounded in people and their experiences. The editorial team also take great care to identify that they are trying to reach out to as diverse a population as possible. The content is treated with respect, but the editorial tone is light, open and welcoming. It’s an encouraging approach, not a distancing one.
There is a work in here that I found fascinating as an artwork communicating the intangible. It tries to make visible the invisibleand uses such a beautifully simple idea it’s almost poetic. Considering that the solution is crumpled pieces of paper, I’m genuinely surprised by how visually interesting it is as well. I’m intrigued to see more, just because I can buy into that simple visual communication. It makes it very quick to get an insight into how day to day life can be for that person and for all suffers of endometriosis.
It also speaks of how different approaches can evoke different reactions in different people for different reasons. A piece like that, so abstract and so different from my experiences. My access into that is very much an appreciation of it as a method of communication, it’s an intellectual reaction entirely.
Very early on in this review I raised my own question about seeing myself reflected in pieces and how that skewed my ‘critical’ reaction to them, and what that meant within the context of this zine.
Well, I think it speaks volumes that there are pieces, dealing with people’s experiences of illness that are not mine, that can still evoke or trigger recognition in me. In particularthere is a very succinct piece (similar in visual style to the cover) that so sharply reflected one of the worst experiences of my child’s early illness that I was nearly shocked to tears at the memory.
I think it’s that recognition that gives this zine it’s power. I get to see someone whose illness, whose circumstances aren’t my own, reflecting my own feelings, so I get to see that not everything I experienced is niche, is my burden and mine alone. I think that I’m never going to identify with identity, but I can experience the sense of belonging to a community with shared experiences. Really, that’s the greatest comfort you can offer anyone who feels isolated and alone, the opportunity to recognise that there’s a community of people just like them in the world, even though they are not like them. This project delivers on that opportunity.
I love this little 16 pager in both thought and fact.
It’s a gathering of a whole murders row of zinesters who gang about with each other online, by which I mean, there’s the core of a whole online scene here. The thought that appeals so much here is the feeling that someone’s gathering up the troupe to put on a classic repartee performance for the audience. It’s the zine equivalent of a British ensemble cast. They all have their character they do so well that you never tire of seeing them do it. They’re all so good at what they do, they bring something new to it. They all like each other so much, that they just play together well and it’s damn fun to watch it all happen.
I love the thought that someone has finally put together this little scene as a physical object, it feels like the moment a notional thought has coalesced, a dream made reality is probably a step to far, maybe more a zine scene fest for your pocket?
The fact it’s a 16 pager of curated guests is as fitting as it gets really. Proper zine scene diy glory at its photocopied, immediate best. I should clarify why I say curated. Even if this wasn’t a by invitation production (by which I mean – I have no knowledge of whether this was by invitation, or just ended up this way) you can still see who is in touch with who in this scene here. It’s really, as I say, a murders row of all the biggies in their scene. This isn’t some exclusionary thing though, just a gang of online friends putting a best foot forward for the fun of it to let people know what they’re at and invite them all in on it.
It is a great little zine with everybody putting in a great turn. I literally liked everything in there. All killer, no filler is fair here – depending on your tastes of course. To expand a bit on that – this is just a great collection of zine creations. Its very typically zine; rough, all about the personal. It get’s in there and talks quick and cheap or it speaks it’s own poetic idiom and asks you to meet it with your arms open. By that measure, everything is great because I feel that I get to know each contributor from their single page, there’s not one where I come away wandering what that person is about. As the zine is labelled ‘a showcase of zinesters from around the world’ you can’t ask for more.
For my own personal tastes, there are some that I connected with more than the others, but that’s more about me and my tastes and nature than it is about the quality of one over the other. I’m not going to go over them all, but 2 examples that stand out are Richard Larios’s (feral publications) piece, which is just so quick and blunt and to the point it made me absolutely smile. Literally the zine equivalent of a hardcore punk 30 second blast of rage. I don’t know if anyone knows who Steve Ditko is or what his later career after SpiderMan and Doctor Strange was like, but this had that same blunt, political smash of his later work (though a different political take). Latibule’s piece just struck a chord with its cleverly poetic image. What struck me was the way they both use the same language, but one is spitting and the other is singing (both in the best way).
To stop myself disappearing into a detailed little synopsis of every piece, what I want to say is that I like how the pieces have been ordered as much as I like the pieces. I like that there’s such a range of style and approach, but I also think that the individual pieces have been placed in an order that flatters each piece as part of the whole.
I’ve used the analogy of an album of music being about the whole rather than the strength of individual tracks and I think that this is the case here. What is all the more amazing is that this is the equivalent of a scene compilation but feels like an album and not a collection.
Really glad I got this and if you’re interested in zine scenes, this is a great little taster of this group.
all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.
I don’t intend doing this often but Craig is someone who promotes zines and zinesters very effectively on his instagram account five o’clock zine – go follow that link and check out all of his reviews.
Review – Coffee & People 1 & 2
Two classic mini-zines this time round. A7 single pagers, typed and pasted up then photocopied and stuck down.
A lovely, immediate and simple format.
A format perfect for the two little stories told in these zines.
It’s very easy to say (and imagine) that such zines are just quickly thrown together, with little thought and can be quickly consumed and thrown away with little thought. In truth the medium prevents great depths; the content likewise, is seemingly small and inconsequential in the grand scheme. All of this is true. All of this misses the whole point of the worth of these items.
These little zines are the hand of friendship reached out from another world, reaching a stranger in a strange land. They’re a conversation on a bus or bumping into the friend of friend you barely know. You may share the same proximity, but not the same world. They are in essence, one of the reasons I find great virtue in zines. They open ways of seeing I never knew existed and focus my eyes for a few minutes on existence as I’ve never seen it before.
Coffee & People works this well, keeping the language simple and clear, getting out of its own way and letting it be a conversation, rather than a didactic exercise or the florid flexing of some personal neuroses. What recommends these to me is getting to sit and experience a life never lived in a world I know nothing about, (something I’m always going to immediately like, it’s my current jam).
Of the two, issue 2 is my favourite with it being more focussed on what it’s telling us. It satisfies more, even though (or maybe because?) there’s less in it that I recognise from my own life.
I also like how inexplicit it is when coming full circle at the end.
In the end, these stories will not rock your world, they will not plumb the depths of the human soul. These stories will open your eyes to another human life and let you see what it’s like to be alive as that person, even if it’s only for a few minutes. If that’s your jam, then indulge with these homemade lovelies.
I know as fact that things just happen BECAUSE. Because being my personal truth, (personal truth – the little white lies that cover the cracks). BECAUSE meaning the millions of things that are always happening that you know nothing about, refuse to acknowledge, don’t want to talk about, aren’t interested in as they’re just not important enough to waste life time on, etc.
BECAUSE being like this – Did you know microwaves were first created in the late 40’s? Not really popular until the 80’s BECAUSE. You could list cost, acceptability, blah, blah, blah. It’s just easier to accept that it was BECAUSE and get on with life. Is that the same attitude you want to take towards your future, your relationships?
Because is a default for the shoulder shrug, the pulled face, the ‘a butterfly’s wing flapping…’, the defeatist ‘oh who can be bothered’. I say or think BECAUSE as it’s so hard to face the thing I’m becausing about. The question is, is that how to live a good life (by which I mean attain contentment), (Happiness and the search for it, is a GRAIL quest, the modern search for eternal life).
Getting back to track. BECAUSE, then, is the enemy of a reviewer really. It is too often treated as a friend though. I guess that comes down to space and TL:DR. Too often a reviewer states that you’ll like a thing, rather than discussing what it does and why that should matter. It’s the gatekeeper mentality – I’m cool and I’ll tell you what’s cool, not argue why it’s worth your time.
It’s what I’ve been fighting with when thinking of a review for Warglitter. My urge is to say – get it BECAUSE it’s AWESOME, (another catchall for – too big to tell you).
I mean; it’s true, but it’s not honest. Yes, the two can be exclusive. Honesty requires the commitment to fullness, truth requires you don’t lie. I am not believer in truth, personal or universal, in case it wasn’t clear from the above. I’m going to be honest and say, I believe any search for TRUTH is the opportunity to avoid personal honesty and responsibility.
Now, you’ll be thinking, why are you telling me all this? (I like the sound of my own thoughts?) Well, because Warglitter – the person, not the zine – has crafted an amazing work where she’s starting to be honest with herself and maybe leaving the search for Truth behind. She may not even know it…
My evidence? Well, Warglitter lays out her purpose up front. She writes about why she writes a journal and tells us what commitments she made. She gives me all my clues right up front and right out clear.
These things are telling, to me at least.
write down beliefs and personal truths – having beliefs and personal truths next to each other sounds like someone being honest and then hiding a truth they don’t want to witness, saying ‘they’re not beliefs, they’re personal truths…’
A new addition to the list
dismantle your defence mechanism persona –having to go back and qualify and talk about personal psychology, about defences, seems a change in understanding. Time has given a gift of new understanding. Like 5 is the knee jerk reaction and then 8 is the slow dawning realisation of the Honest facts.
If that is the case, then these
keep up a regular tarot practice and dig deep
creating my next niche
work through depression and learn from it
are the pendulum swinging between how to be Honest and how to hide from it.
decorate this journal – make it a sacred object –says it all, fetishise that Truth. Then again, those later additions take it back down to earth – back to magic, down to earth. Pendulum swinging, swinging.
Being honest – why is this amazing?
There are so many echoes of what matters to me right now, what I’ve struggled with.
For me, this is a timely piece of work to appear before me.
It’s not what I’d do to deal with these subjects.
Likewise, Warglitter does things and holds belief that I have no personal commitment or interest in. Yet, here she is talking about things I’ve spent years struggling with, talking about things I’ve finally been able to think honestly about. Saying them in ways and contexts very different to mine and so making them clearer for me to see.
If you asked to label it, it’s a perzine verfremdung effect – I love Brecht’s idea that to make something more obvious, you should first make it appear strange.
It’s what I’m always hoping to achieve, but here made simple where I would hide it in layers of pomp.
That’s what I like about this, it’s like looking at my life but as I’ve never lived or experienced it, so I don’t have to hide from the truth it reveals.
What I take from this may not be what is meant by this and may not be what you get from this, but it is why I think this is an amazing piece of work.
I see that there is no solution to who you are, or what you’re feeling – there’s only being honest with yourself and dealing with those facts rather than just excusing yourself with BECAUSE, (because no one ever loved me, I’ll be unlovable… because I keep getting hurt, I’ll push everyone away – they’re all TRUE and you’ll never solve that TRUTH, you just have to be honest, face it and deal with it every day, but by facing it and putting it out there each day it might just get easier to be that better person, get that step closer to contentment and kindness.
This is a brave work and a hard path and deserves your attention because of the reward you may get from it.
This is one comic I found on Instagram. It was genuinely a comic I bought simply because of the art (there’s a but later, I need to get the art out of my system first!). The art is fantastic in all ways, this being a fantasy comic and all.
First, just a huge shout out for how awesome the cover is. Brilliant and beautiful and simple. Gold ink on a black background. Already setting the mood before you even open the comic.
The art inside is just as beautiful; noodled, line rich, DENSE. Everything looks like it’s been hewn from rocks and cragged masses, whether landscape, creature or person. But most of all, it’s very, VERY British adventure weekly in all the ways I love. Yes, you can point to artists whose style I’m reminded of, characters that remind me of Jim Baikie’s ‘Skizz’ and the whole of Ian Gibson, particularly ‘Halo Jones’. It reminds me of the density of Jesus Blasco certainly and you wouldn’t be wrong thinking about ‘Nemesis the Warlock’ by Kev O’Neill. But most of all what it reminds me of is that idiosyncratic, characterful approach to art they all had. Every artist making that work interesting, approaching it like any subject is worthy of being serious, even if it’s throw away.
This is not some sum of parts though, not some mash of influences, this is a world made from whole cloth. That pattern might feature a colour of Michael Moorcock, a swirl of post apocolyptica, but those are just that, the colours, a bit of patterning. They’re not the whole design, the bigger picture is much bigger. As I say, everything is hewn from the same rock and it’s a mountain I’d say.
What I love about this is how good this is. Its skilful and thought about and integrated to do the one thing you want a story to do, get you interested in what’s going on and who it’s happening to. However much it’s hewn from stone, this comic doesn’t care about being ground breaking, it doesn’t want you to praise the creator’s skill either. It wants you to enjoy the story it’s going to tell you and it puts a whole lot of effort into delivering that.
All this detail filling up pages. Fluid organic lines, straight hatching, spotted blacks. It could be a mess, indistinct and impossible to pick apart. But it’s never like the work loses focus. You know where everyone is, every group feels like a mob or a mass where they need to. The motion feels swift or sedate, you know the pace it’s happening. The character designs are purposeful, revealing, they show you the nature of the person. Not by making bad guys grotesque, and good beautiful, remember they’re all hewn from stone. They’re all grotesque here in a way; lumpen, fluid, warped; but the nature of the person shows through in line, a graceful line showing a graceful nature and stance, body language that can be read and understood. This is good character design, good draughtsmanship, skill and ability turning in a story that can be read as fluidly as it’s drawn.
This is great cartooning in the hands of a thoughtful practitioner. You’ll see melodramatic poses, but they’ll not feel out of place, they’re the tone of the work not the nature of the artist, if that makes sense. Put another way, there’s no artist making great pin-up poses to signify a point where you SHOULD feel a certain way. The artist delivers art that makes you understand, that holds your hand into the emotions of those in the story, even if those emotions are of a grand nature. That grand nature is the character’s.
The story is, again, a beautiful pattern. It’s clever, its genre for sure. It knows its genre and the history behind it. You could call on Elric as a predecessor, and Conan. You might think of Grimjaw if you know of it and all those ‘magic came back to the world when science died’ books – ‘Sword of Shannara’ is what I think of when I think of any of these things, maybe you’ll think of ‘Adventure Time’. But it’s most definitely none of those things. It’s funny and intentionally so. It gross and intentionally so. It’s pompous and intentionally so. Those are its strengths – it’s not trying to make you believe this is like reality. Its hewing its own reality from the crags and rocks filling its world. You’re meant to get in there and enjoy this world, not by the power of how much like reality it is, not by copying tropes and hoping they’ll trigger your learnt behaviours, but by the power of the story telling, the power of the art. The sense of just feeling like this is someone who knows what they’re doing and they’re going to do it with skill and with fun and deliver some fine entertainment along the way.
Let’s be clear here, so far, we are seeing fun entertainment, there’s no depth of commentary on the real world. This is imagination at work creating a new cloth, a new pattern that looks fine and feels fine and is beautiful in how it flows and because of all of that, it makes you feel good, feel like you just want to wrap yourself up in it and stay there all day.
I have a long history with Gareth Hopkins’ work, or so it feels anyway. I was away a long time from looking at anything comics and Gareth’s were some of the first comic drawings I saw when I came back. They stuck with me as they felt interesting and personal. They are also the first abstract comics I’ve seen that felt like they had something to say, rather than something to do.
That’s quite an oblique description so let me explain more. Although these comics are abstract, they are not impersonal, not formal exercises. There’s something in them that affects me, not just something I look at and think, well that’s interesting, then turn away because that’s all there is to engage with – ‘clever trick’ or ‘boring trick’.
However – until ‘Extension’ I’ve not read any of Gareth’s writing (in fact I think this may be the first comic published with Gareth’s own words. He’s recently had Petrichor published and I think that was written before Extension but published after).
I was surprised by how much emotion he evoked in this story. How evocative and captivating it was. In all honesty I never thought I’d get emotionally affected by any of this work, abstract comics essentially being a distancing concept. However, there is such a strength in this work, in the pacing of the words, the sequencing of the pages. It feels like poetry; epic, raw and deeply personal.
He achieves an amazing range of pace and depth of meaning. To me, someone who easily glazes over when met by blank verse or stream of consciousness, I thought I’d pretty much delve into the images and skirt over the words. But I quickly found myself into the rhythm of the work, I could not believe how much life this had. I was head nodding at the call backs and remixing in the text, it kept it fresh, giving a sense of cohesion, of purpose.
I was impressed by the general mood of the art – the density matched the mood of the text. I felt that the images belonged to the world of the words, even if they weren’t showing the same thing always. To make a weird analogy – it’s a piece of work similar to industrial music tracks – the images play a dark ambient music under the words that feel like a voice muttering dark and velvety. Beautiful and painful like a Leonard Cohen song.
It’s the first times I’ve not found myself admiring Gareth’s design sense. I was too busy soaking in the atmosphere. The many, many moments where art and word weave emotively together. ‘When I wake up I’m going to absolutely’ big burst on the flip, bursting out of dream, a rupture of what they were trying to hold onto. A drawing that, in the context of the other pages, could have stood out as quite light and cheesy, that instead lifted it up and hit home the sensation of a dream smashing on waking.
I soon found myself believing its rhythm, going along with it, persuaded I was reading rhyming verse where there was none. I felt like I’d been pulled along into a dance and now I understood its rhythm I could go with its steps. There was something in pithiness of the boxes that made it have that same bounce as rhyming couplets. None of it rhymed. I’m not sure how much that was intentional, and how much intuitive (don’t call it luck – that’s a disservice to it), but it sucked me in to the story at that point.
It changed my appreciation from looking at the art, to feeling part of a moment. It hit home with feeling. This was personal, someone secretly reaching out by hiding a human plea in a seemingly abstract (and so supposedly emotionless) piece of art. There is a point where the words suddenly, directly address, for me, the whole purpose of the piece, not in a meta sense, just directly, openly speaking a truth at the heart of the work. It was like someone suddenly swinging their down staring gaze to burrow into your soul whilst switching their mumble to a firebrand’s roar.
To put it a clearer way – there’s a moment where it feels like you’re seeing the whole meaning of this swirling universe, the mists part and the path to the heart of it all is laid bare for you to follow.
The pages that followed are a beautiful synchronisation of text and image. Oddly they made me smile with relief and recognition, they felt like the first moment of human warmth, even though they’re filled with frailty and fear. That happiness is a sort of prelude to deeper, fearful emotions to connect to. Some say just before you die, you suddenly get a second breath and that’s what his moment feels like, that last smile before the rattling breath brings the fear home. A good and affecting end.
That it ends on a double page spread suddenly rich with detail and therefore rich with real world context; but also rich with texture, gesture and general drawing noise, seems so apt. It’s an exclamation mark rather than a full stop or comma. It lands like a cliff hanger, but it is delivered visually; stylistically rather than through a plotted beat.
Why is it apt? The whole work is mood driven rather than plot driven or even a real world driven. This is a work all about feeling someone else’s experience, whether it’s the communication of how it feels inside the person experiencing these events or the bafflement of those viewing that experience. Barking shifts from first person suddenly to a bystanding outsider’s view and then dives back in to altered reality and differentiates between none of it. Whichever perspective is being depicted is still clearly a psychological view. Until that last panel when suddenly, the pages aren’t the paired down sets of a self-absorbed mind, they’re the detailed frame of reality. That’s what makes it a punch line, that even in the real world the nightmare still holds form. It adeptly captures Alix’s true escape from reality. She hasn’t left it, she’s inserted her fantasy as a true part of it.
Barking works so well due to the intense nature of the artwork. Cleverly designed, often layouts are echoing work from pages before. Knowingly designed, enough detail to situate the action, but managing to show the distance from physical reality Alix has travelled in her psychosis. This is a psychological landscape, where self-absorption means little of reality fixes Alix’s attention and so little of it appears on the page.
But this is not laziness or to expedite production, this is to open out what the situation FEELS like. You are not meant to impartially view this character’s experience, you are meant to be IN IT with them. You will be Alix from start to finish. That’s delivered clearly from the first page on through the whole work.
You don’t know what is happening in that first panel, but you’re there and you know what it feels like to be in that situation. That lonely foot splashing, both giving the physical experience whilst illustrating the fleeting and confusing emotional experience. This is a story starting right in there without benefiting you with an explanation to distance you from what is happening. You’re confused, it’s clearly frightening and that’s exactly what Alix is experiencing.
There is a rhythm to the work that reinforces the experiences you see as well. Page 1 running looking backwards, page nine running looking backwards. Both real, but 1 is a big black dog, 9 are police officers, you believe the police are real and the dog is not, but you can’t tell that there’s a difference and you’re not meant to be able to, the two call back and forth just like Alix has mixed reality in her head.
Many people refer to world building as one of the fun things to see in Science Fiction or Fantasy, yet here are the same skills used to build the psychological world of the main character. This is modern Gothic using the landscape and the nature of the world to illustrate the psychology of the protagonist. Just like Gothic literature, this work is ‘sturm und drang’ drama, shadows growing and warping into giant spirit animals, death wishes lived out again and again. Both the art and the feeling are relentless and breathless. Nothing to lose yourself in, except those frenetic lines and smeared fearful mess of life.
all art copyright and trademark it's respective owners. content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019
This site is here to celebrate things that I or others truly love in the zine, self-publishing and small press world.
We aim to delve into what we love and why, whether it’s people or styles; pages, pictures or panels; storylines or drawing lines this is about describing what we find awesome.
There’ll be interviews, deep reviews and hopefully discussion. If you have something you want to talk about, get in touch because this is a community space to share your love. Guidelines are simple, no plot synopsis, minimum 500 words. Tell us WHY YOU LOVE it not what happens.