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Diaries and Depravity: Too Much Sex & Violence, Same Day Return and Golden Campaign

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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 books all submitted for review directly by their respective creators so do remember if you’d like to see a short review of your work here then my contact details are available at the bottom of this column. 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.

Too Much Sex & Violence #4
Rol Hirst (writer) Various creators (artists)

Rol Hirst’s dark fantasy soap opera Too Much Sex & Violence has hit its fourth issue and the weirdness inherent in Fathomsby, the eerie seaside town where the series is set, is showing no signs of abating. DI Sam Kamara, the detective exiled here when his uncovering of police corruption elsewhere proved unpopular with his superiors, continues to adjust to life in a locale full of untouchable crime bosses, mad scientists, vampire DJs, retired super-beings and ghosts. Meanwhile, local crimelord Dermot Kaye is facing rebellion in the ranks of his undead call girls, journalist Kathy Marr (who can see the most depraved thoughts of those she talks to) continues her search for missing boyfriend Rusty, and the local tearaway kids look for a way to resurrect their recently squashed chum Alfie. Oh and there’s a new rash of cattle mutilations for Fathomsby’s denizens to contend with...

For those coming in late, Too Much Sex & Violence is a comic with, to drop into crass marketing vernacular for a moment, a rather unique selling point structurally. Writer Rol Hirst, realising the likelihood of one small press artist being able to commit to an ongoing series for any length of time was unlikely, instead opted to produce this project with a roster of British SP talents each drawing between 2-4 pages of each issue. TMS&V #4, for example, contains the disparate, yet strangely complementary, visual styles of Stephen Prestwood, Paul Rainey, Nigel Lowrey, Neil Cavenham, Andrew Cheverton, Mark Renhard, Ryan Taylor and Dave Metcalfe-Carr. What originally felt like an interesting patchwork storytelling experiment has now evolved into a comic with a narrative rhythm and cadence all of its own; something that could have proved a weakness has instead turned out to be an assured strength, lending the book a distinctive flavour and character.

When Too Much Sex & Violence started it was difficult to see how the stories of the sprawling cast of characters were connected but many of the comic’s diverse strands are now proving to be not so standalone as their complex inter-relations become more apparent. Hirst’s plotting is tight, intricate and cleverly realised as revelations slowly seep out and much of the fun here is in trying to connect the dots and anticipate the twists and relationships between characters before they are spelt out. Like a more self-indulgent version of Dark Shadows, TMS&V remains one of the most knowing, darkly cheekly and lovingly self-mocking small press comics on the market.

For more on Too Much Sex & Violence visit Rol Hirst's site here. Copies are available here priced £2.75.

Same Day Return
Sean Azzopardi (writer/artist)

There are times when I read a Sean Azzopardi comic, immerse myself in that often raw, self-doubting vibe he builds up around his narrative voice, and almost feel the need to shout at the page just how eminently readable and rewarding his self-analytical autobio comics are. But that would probably largely defeat the object because that same self-deprecating air is such an intrinsic part of his slice-of-life work’s appeal. Intriguingly, though, in the introduction to this latest collection of diary comics and sketchbook pages, Sean talks about how some of the events depicted in these pages has fostered a new, more optimistic outlook on life that will inform work to come in the future.

In the meantime the main story in Same Day Return is a beautifully poignant piece about revisiting family and the memories of the past that evokes that utilises a disjointed narrative jumping between different periods of time in Azzopardi’s life. I’m probably of a similar age to Sean so perhaps I find it particularly easy to identify with some of the themes of the vignettes presented here: meditations on ageing, the evolving nature of long-held friendships, our perception of time and its relationship with memory... admittedly they all strike a particular chord with me.

The honesty of Azzopardi’s work is probably best showcased here in the story ‘The Day of Goodbye!’ that juxtaposes an awkward leaving party with death of a friend’s mother to dramatic effect, allowing perspective, and separating life’s trivial annoyances from its truly affecting moments of loss. As signalled in the aforementioned intro, the philosophical self-reflection of Same Day Return does lead to a more positive upbeat conclusion to this collection that creates a sense of moving on and embracing the future. I’m fascinated to see where Sean goes next with his autobiographical comics and the tone they take. He’s one of the best graphic diarists currently out there and, dare I say it, one of the most underrated. Pick up Same Day Return and I’m sure you’ll agree.

           

For more on Sean Azzopardi’s work visit his blog here. You can order a copy of Same Day Return from his online store here priced £2.75.

Golden Campaign Volume 1
Cristian Ortiz and Daniel Martin (writers) Cristian Ortiz (artist)

Now this is an out of the ordinary set-up for a series! Golden Campaign is actually an autobiographical story hidden in the metaphor of an ongoing fantasy series set in a world replete with political intrigue and mechanical military manoeuvring. Its initial inspiration comes from creator Cristian Ortiz’s own experiences coming to Europe as a teenager and beginning a new life, echoed in this first volume by his central character arriving at the slightly dystopic Key City, at the centre of the Key-Lords Empire.

After initially attempting to eke out a living sketching on the streets of the city our young protagonist Monty soon finds himself drawn into the war that has engulfed the surrounding lands as we meet his fellow recruits and terrifying superiors in the mercenary forces, and begin to learn more about the history and geography of Ortiz’s fantastical realm.

There’s a healthy mix of genres and influences to be found here in what is essentially a coming-of-age story about discovering one’s place in the world. While the true nature of many of the allegorical elements will obviously be apparent only to Cristian himself, the reader can still draw many obvious parallels with the decisions and struggles we all make and face as we emerge into adulthood from those formative teen years. And, visually, it’s something of a treat, using a carefully subdued colour palette to create an air of oppression and menace, all wrapped up in a beautiful washed, watercolour look.

What we have here is only the first chapter in a projected multi-part saga but Ortiz has already created a rich storytelling landscape, and I’m looking forward to seeing where he takes this concept of autobio comics masquerading as sweeping epic in the months to come.

           

While the limited print run of this series is now sold out it is available to read as a webcomic on the Golden Campaign website where you can also find out more about Cristian Ortiz’s work.

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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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Comments

  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Jan 16, 2013 at 4:30am

    Ah The Golden Campaign, missed out on that one! Shame.

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Jan 16, 2013 at 3:08pm

    Ah but you can read it in its entirety online. And bookmark Cristian's site. You never know when small pressers might go back to print...

  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Jan 17, 2013 at 9:28am

    I'm a print man, Andy. and I am keeping track of christian's site :)

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