Divas and Daydreams: Decie, Mardou, Spandex and The Wizzo


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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 and self-published comics. Every Thursday 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 takes a rapidfire look at four very diverse small press offerings that include delightful absurdity, perceptive slice-of-life  observations, camp super-heroic fun and a charming homage to British weekly humour comics…

Pocket Full of Coffee
Joe Decie (writer/artist)

Published by alt-comics champion Retrofit, Pocket Full of Coffee provides another chance to visit Joe Decie’s wonderful world of enticing mundanity and daydreams written large. The back cover describes it as “It’s autobiography, but with lies” which is a description so apt that you’ll forgive me this once if I simply lazily quote it rather than attempt any deft wordplay of my own to introduce the book.

Regular Small Pressganged readers may recall that I recently covered Decie’s The Accidental Salad, part of Blank Slate Books’s Chalk Marks imprint, which has a very similar feel to Pocket Full of Coffee. The difference here is that Decie’s random thoughts, observations and witticisms are embedded within a more traditional narrative structure. This is the story of one dreamy Wednesday where Joe is looking after his young son. In the pages of this offering you’ll learn just why he keeps coffee grains in that aforementioned pocket, reflect on dead bread roadkill, find out about his work for the National Dandruff Hotline and discover exactly what the best type of twins are.

It’s wry, knowing humour envisaged in his usual beautifully inkwashed illustration. Decie proves himself once more to be a creator who takes the contradiction out of non-sequiturs and makes the bizarre seem positively understated.

Pocket Full of Coffee is available here for readers in the U.K./Europe priced £3.00 or from the Retrofit site here priced $5.00 for the U.S. audience. For more on Joe Decie’s work check out his site here.

The Sky in Stereo
Mardou (writer/artist)

Mardou’s The Sky in Stereo is a 50-page minicomic that acts as an opening chapter for a larger proposed graphic novel. Set in early ‘90s Manchester it follows the exploits of teenager Iris as she deals with a “going nowhere” job and a similarly ill-starred fixation on her fellow fast food employee Glen. We observe as Iris lives her day-to-day existence, surviving the daily grind of a dead end job and becoming more involved with her unsuitable workmate. But as Glen’s dabbling in drugs escalates to ever greater levels events take on a more sinister air…

What I found most significant about The Sky in Stereo is that so compelling is the characterisation that, as a reader, you don’t just empathise with Iris’s feelings you recognise them. The Sky in Stereo perfectly captures that point in time when we enter adulthood, when we’re unsure of who we are and our place in the world, and when we become preoccupied with relationships that we know are doomed from the start but we pursue nonetheless.

With a great ear for dialogue and visuals that have a simple, expressive realism to them, Mardou creates a cast of very human players full of familiar failings, delusions and aspirations that every reader will relate to. The Sky in Stereo is powerful but subtle character-led storytelling; like gritty ‘60s British kitchen sink drama but with a compelling contemporary twist.

The Sky in Stereo is available from Mardou’s online store priced $5.00. For more on Mardou’s work check out her site here.

Spandex #6
Martin Eden (writer/artist)

As I review this latest issue of Spandex we’re also on the cusp of Titan’s publication of the first few issues of this gay super-hero team’s title in trade paperback form. A remarkable success story for a small press book and a fantastic opportunity for any readers out there who have yet to check out Spandex to jump on board.

When we last left the Spandex guys and gals they’d just been defeated by their archenemies Les Girlz in a storyline that had also had a cheeky and witty dig at the current excesses of mainstream super-hero comics. One of Spandex’s signature elements to date has been in the jaw-dropping twists and turns the book has adopted as a regular part of its narrative. This issue is replete with stunning revelations as we finally learn the origins of a number of the cast. Just when you thought creator Martin Eden had expended this issue's WTF?-quota, however, you get to this issue’s final page and the whoa-didn’t-see-that-coming factor is ramped up into overdrive…

Also included with #6 are three minicomics giving Bear-Man and Twinkle, Hag and Cherry Blossom Girl some time in the spotlight. All three make playful use of the possibilities afforded by the physicality of the minicomic to present their material in very different ways. It’s the sort of tactile experience that, for old farts like myself, gives us a moment to gloat in the knowledge that there are some storytelling experiences in print that digital delivery cannot even begin to match!

At a point in time where I’ve practically given up entirely on contemporary super-hero comics it’s taken this splendid little small press book to remind me just how much fun can still be had from the genre. With an effortless ability to shift from mischievous silliness to deeply resonant pathos, Eden’s Spandex continues to play the Big Two at their own game and show them exactly how super-hero comics should be done!

Ordering details for Spandex can be found here for the U.K. and here for the U.S. Check out the Spandex site here for more information on the book.

The Wizzo #3
Harry Rickard (editor), Anthology – various creators

Once upon a time, in what seems like a universe far, far away, there was a British comics industry that published more anthology comics on a weekly basis than even the most ardent of completists could ever have kept up with. A high proportion of those were humour titles and that output from IPC and DC Thomson is still fondly remembered. Today we have just The Dandy and The Beano with new kid on the block The Phoenix doing its utmost to put a contemporary spin on the traditional Brit anthology.

The Wizzo is a rather wonderful homage to that style of UK comics storytelling made all the more remarkable by the fact that all the creators involved are in their early to mid-teens.  It’s a knowing collection of boy inventors, troublesome toddlers and authority-defying miscreants that lovingly emulates a largely bygone era of U.K. comics. Most of the strips have something of a traditional DC Thomson “house style” to them but, interestingly, I also noted the influence of the “new-look” The Dandy at play on occasion. There are some very occasional problems with pixelation on a couple of strips but that’s a minor concern in the big scheme of things.

While the contributors display varying levels of technical proficiency, all are united in a level of enthusiasm that is quite simply infectious in its delivery. The Wizzo is an object lesson in positivity; an admirable example of young people getting out there and contributing something tangible that celebrates their love of the medium. Bravo to all concerned!

The Wizzo is available from the official site here priced £3.50 for a print copy and 50p for a digital edition. For more on the comic check out the site here.

And, after ending on that jolly uplifting note, just a quick mention that Saturday April 21st sees the next Comiket independent comics fair at the Bishopsgate Institute in London. Full details can be found on the Comica Festival site here. If you need a reminder of just what a fabulous event the last Comiket was then refresh your memory with my report on it here. It promises to be another top day out!


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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  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Apr 24, 2012 at 3:43pm

    Pocketful of Coffee has arrived last week and really loved it. Thx for the recommendation.

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Apr 26, 2012 at 3:31pm

    That's great to hear Bart! Lots of top stuff coming up in future columns including someone whose work I discovered at Comica Comiket and was really wowed by!

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