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A Transatlantic Blaze of Glory: The Strumpet, Nurse Nurse and Le Mime

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Small Pressganged is Broken Frontier’s weekly column designed to shine a spotlight on the often overlooked world of small press, self-published and altcomics. Every week we provide a mix of review round-ups of the best of current small press comics and spot interviews with some of the movers and shakers of the scene.

This week’s column looks at three projects with diverse methods of content distribution that highlight the healthily varied ways which SP creators/publishers are adopting to deliver material to their audience base. First up we have crowd-funded anthology The Strumpet which recently returned for its second bumper annual issue. Secondly this time around I’m looking at the first print collection of Zarina Liew’s Le Mime with its origins in the webcomic arena. And, finishing up, we have Sparkplug’s collection of Katie Skelly’s Nurse Nurse minicomics, reminding us of a growing trend of smaller publishers picking up small press books for compilation volumes.

As ever, prices quoted are those given at point of origin. Please check out each individual store for details on international orders and postage and packaging costs.

The Strumpet #2
Anthology – Various creators

For those yet to be introduced to the “Transatlantic Flight of Comix Fancy” that is The Strumpet, this vibrant anthology offering is the spiritual successor to the acclaimed Whores of Mensa; a compilation of short comic stories by women creators from the U.K. and the U.S., overseen by the esteemed editorial team of Jeremy Day and Ellen Lindner, notable contributors to the small press scene on both sides of the pond.

This is a project I’ve backed twice via Kickstarter now, based initially on the strength of its forerunner (the aforementioned Whores of Mensa). But the talent involved in this second issue particularly caught my imagination this time. It includes a number of creators whose work I have covered here at Broken Frontier of late and been rather in awe of, including the likes of Karrie Fransman (The House That Groaned reviewed here) and Nicola Streeten (Billy, Me & You reviewed here). And, of course, for any small press enthusiast the anthology comic always offers that extra enticement: the possibility of being introduced to the work of creators you may not be so aware of... and there was a welcome sprinkling of that in these pages as well.

The theme of this second issue is “Going Places”; a topic that is interpreted very traditionally by some creators and only tangentially by others, providing a delightfully eclectic mix of stories, styles and situations. Long-term ‘Small Pressganged’ readers know the familiar drill for anthologies at this juncture: I apologise for not being able to give a mention to everyone whose work is contained in the comic in question and then proceed to pick out a small handful of gems that particularly resonated with me. But on this occasion the apologies are more profuse, and the guilt multiplied, simply because of the sheer polished excellence of the work on show here across the board.

I was unaware before this point of Robin Ha but her anecdotal travelogue piece ‘Trenitalia’ marked her out as someone whose work needs immediate further investigation. Again, regular followers of the column will know by now that the diary strand of comics storytelling is one that I have a particular fondness for, and Ha’s account of two bookend train journeys containing vastly contrasting experiences with the representatives of railway officialdom pulls the reader in with a comfortable and engaging authorial presence.  Similarly Badaude (whose London Walks!, as an aside, is heartily recommended) provides an autobio-style  tale ‘At the Studio’ which showcases her engagingly cluttered panels to marvellous effect, and Ellen Lindner projects an immensely likeable narrative persona with her affable recounting of life as a film extra on a Bill Murray movie set. Towards the tail-end of this issue Julia Scheele’s  memorable short  ‘The 171 Bus Route’ also finds something captivating in the mundane as a daily commute is transformed from the routine to a far more personal moment of careful reflection.

Above - the original video accompaniment to last Autumn's Kickstarter campaign giving a taster of the strips included in this issue.

On a more fantastic level, Rachael Ball’s ‘Shadows’ is one of the absolute standout entries in these pages – her gorgeous storybook visuals bringing chilling life to a darkly magical tale. J. Homersham’s ‘A Peep at the Deep’, featuring a split perspective on a deep sea diving bell trip from the points of view of those within the apparatus and those denizens of the aquatic netherworld without, is an immensely witty strip, cleverly constructed and guaranteed to bring a toothy grin to the sourest of sourpusses. And Jeremy Day’s dreamy ‘Halfway Home’ feels almost a touch Quentin Blake in its delivery.

At a chunky 90-odd pages The Strumpet #2 is further evidence, if we needed it, of the rude health of the comics anthology; a format we have been persistently told is dead and buried by the mainstream yet remains hale and hearty in the world of the small press and micro-publishing. I can’t recommend this one highly enough – not just for the material contained between its covers but also because it’s an excellent gateway to the work of the twenty-odd creators spotlighted here.

For more on The Strumpet check out the anthology’s site here. Copies are available here online priced $10.00. U.K. readers may want to check out Gosh or Orbital Comics for availability of issue #2 while The Strumpet #1 can be ordered from the ink + PAPER site here.   

Le Mime Volume 1
Zarina Liew (writer/artist)

Fashion illustrator and comics creator Zarina Liew’s Le Mime began life as a webcomic on her site here back in 2010 and last year saw the publication of a chunky, slightly-larger-than-digest compilation of strips in a physical format.  

Le Mime reminds me in tone of one of my favourite small press comics of last year, Jade Sarson’s Cafe Suada (reviewed here). Indeed, there’s a number of elements the two series share: a similar cast of appealingly oddball characters, a notable manga influence, their online origins, and a canny sense of understanding of the particular language of the comics page (albeit in a more rigidly structured format in Le Mime).

Each Le Mime strip comprises a four-panelled, character-led comic some of which culminate in a gag or visual punchline, while others build up longer style mini-narratives. Le Mime himself is Liew’s tribute to that perhaps much-maligned performer, the mime artist, and our silent protagonist is surrounded by an engaging cast of characters including mime artist fangirl Soni Bumblebee, his rival and nemesis Toby Club-Chaing the “mime of all mimes”, Toby’s twin sister and clown Felicity Club-Chaing, and Ruban Yogajam an antagonist character who often seems to be in denial of his love of all things miming.

              

What immediately strikes you here is Liew’s deft ability in capturing the intense physicality of the mime’s craft in sequential images. It’s something that shouldn’t translate to the printed page, such is the flowing motion of that particular art form, and yet somehow she still manages to encapsulate the very essence of the silent clown’s trade in her carefully constructed layouts.  The true heart of the strip, though, is in the characterisation, and it’s that element that I suspect will be the biggest draw to the casual reader. There’s a sense of surreal slapstick to the sometimes playfully adversarial relationships between the cast, and it’s the gentle, amiable humour that makes up that character interplay that makes Le Mime such splendidly good fun.

Visually, there’s an obvious (but not overpowering) manga inspiration here that is fused, I suspect, with influences from Zarina’s fashion illustration background. She’s certainly found a distinct artistic “voice” for Le Mime which knowingly accentuates the quirky charm of the series. I enjoyed this one immensely – it has a diverting appeal, and smile-inducing, laugh-producing qualities that ensure a significant elevation of mood as a by-product of the reading experience.

You can visit the Le Mime webcomic here and Zarina Liew’s website here. The first collection of Le Mime is available here from Zarina's online store here priced £10.00.

Nurse Nurse
Katie Skelly (writer/artist)

Collecting the series of minicomics by the same name, Katie Skelly’s Nurse Nurse is set in the year 3030 when the overpopulation of the Earth has led to humankind’s exodus into the stars. Scattered colonies exist throughout the cosmos but the artificial environments created to serve the settlers on other worlds have a tendency to also slowly poison some of their inhabitants. To combat this problem an organisation of interplanetary nurses has been set up to treat the affected astro-pioneers.

It’s to this vocation that Gemma, the protagonist of Nurse Nurse, has committed herself to when the story begins on Venus where she initially encounters a mystery surrounding a strange species of butterflies with an aphrodisiac qualities. Each chapter then jumps from one scenario to another as her adventures throughout the space settlements see her running into the likes of Panda space pirates, multiple clones of herself and Venusian boy bands...

The closest pop cultural comparison I can make here is probably the film version of Barbarella, only without so many of the obvious “Fnarr! Fnarr!” moments, and with a dash more throwaway surrealism for good measure.  Skelly’s layouts are accessible and witty throughout and there’s a sense of frenetic fun to the proceedings that is quite infectious in its delivery.

     

I would imagine the main issue some readers may have with Nurse Nurse is the lack of any neat resolution or explanation for many of the events depicted. Indeed Skelly sets up plotlines throughout without necessarily tidily tying them up. But on a superficial level that almost doesn’t seem to matter. Because, at its most basic, this is a comfort reading romp, pure and simple. It may seem a more than faintly ridiculous thing to say from a review column but there are times with our comics-reading pursuits where we need to eschew over-analysis, simply allow ourselves to be immersed in a splendidly silly piece of visual theatricality and just go with the flow. Nurse Nurse is a perfect example of that.

Ultimately this is a compilation of minicomics that were published over a longer period and the slightly meandering storyline is a reflection of that. If your mind is pre-conditioned by the need for a fastidiously packaged, rigid story arc then this won't be for you. But there’s a spontaneity to this ramblingly eccentric narrative that I, for one, actually found rather endearing. Nurse Nurse is a collection that may not have been “written for the trade” – and thus may not be to every reader’s  taste –  but in my little world that’s something to be positively embraced and celebrated rather than criticised.

Nurse Nurse has been collected by Sparkplug Books and is available priced $15.00 here. For more on Katie’s work check out her website here where you can also read the first two issues of Nurse Nurse for free.

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Andy Oliver is Broken Frontier’s Managing Editor and a contributor to Paul Gravett’s 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die.

If you are a small press comics creator, or self-publisher, and would like your work to be reviewed in a future edition of Small Pressganged then e-mail Andy at andyoliver@brokenfrontier.com for further details. You can also follow Andy on Twitter here.

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