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On the Comica Comiket Treasure Trail: Tick, My Cardboard Life and Cat Island

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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.

In this week’s column I’m looking at three titles I picked up at the Comica Festival’s recent Comiket Independent Comics Fair. We have new work from two old Small Pressganged faves: Philippa Rice’s latest My Cardboard Life print collection and Dan Berry’s impressive Cat Island. But first up, a new face to BF’s weekly small press round-ups in the shape of versatile SP creator Rebecca Bagley.

Tick
Rebecca Bagley (writer/artist)

Ah, the excitement prior to an upcoming Comica Festival Comiket Independent Comics Fair – the anticipation before attending fast recreating that childhood Christmas Eve feeling for this long-time comics fan on the wrong side of 40. In my last (pre-Comiket) column I spoke about how one of the great joys of an event like this is in unearthing that hidden gem of a comic; of finding a creator whose work is brand new to you, has a distinctive voice, and feels fresh and exciting.

Comiket, like any similar Indie comics event, has many facets to it – you may value it for its sense of comics community and democracy, enjoy it as a celebration of diversity and innovation, or simply see it as a social event to meet up with chums on the small press scene – but for me its most exhilarating aspect is in that pleasure of discovery, and the subsequent opportunity this weekly column gives me of spreading the word about worthy new projects/artists that others may not be aware of.

So, in that spirit of proffered pop cultural dissemination, I’d like to draw your attention this week to a book I happened upon at Comiket: Rebecca Bagley’s steampunk fable Tick. This 36-page colour offering’s starting point centres on a new homeowner’s discovery of a curious, kettle-headed, mechanical creature hidden away in the house she has just purchased. Obviously sentient, but forlornly uncommunicative, it soon becomes obvious that this hi-tech-yet-retro homunculus’s original function has been lost to the mists of time.

The “Tick” of the book’s title refers to the fact that this little metal man’s mechanism seems also to be faulty and, while he ticks, he does not tock. As the story progresses, the readers observe the author’s ponderings on the origins of the character and her various attempts to find him a new role within the domestic arrangements of the house. Trapped out of time in a world he never made can our tiny robot ever find contentedness again?

          

Above and below left: a selection of pages from throughout the interiors of Tick

We speak a lot about “all-ages” material in the comics media these days, perhaps to the extent that the original meaning of the term seems to have been lost somewhere along the line. To me the label “all-ages” should mean more than just “suitable whatever your chronological longevity”; it should also be defined as material that speaks to each reader in differing ways as befits their relative life experience. Tick is a near-perfect example of this. Younger readers will love it as an enchanting tale of a lost robot in a contemporary world. Adult readers will find it speaking to them on much deeper levels because Tick is as much a story about feelings of redundancy and isolation, of the importance of a sense of purpose and of knowing our place in the world, as it is an urban fairy tale.

From the accompanying preview pages you can get an immediate idea of how Bagley juxtaposes the bizarre and the everyday in her collaged artwork to outstanding effect. In mood and composition her pages effortlessly shift from the dark and the sombre through to the uplifting and the triumphant, as and when appropriate to the narrative. Should I dare to say that I had the odd Dave McKean flash when thinking of pro creators to compare her art with? Well, there you go – I did and I have.

While Rebecca has no online store at the moment you can e-mail her (see below) for details about ordering copies of her work. It may take a further step or two in the clickability stakes than you’re used to but it’s absolutely worth the extra effort to get hold of this little treasure of a small press book [UPDATE:.Rebecca now has an online shop you can order her comics from!] Bagley presents a layered and captivating tale here, brought to visual life with an exquisite eye for detail and a remarkably assured and confident storytelling style. If you don’t instantly fall in love with Tick after a first reading then, quite frankly, you have no soul…

Tick is available priced £6.00 plus postage from Rebecca's online store. To find out more about Rebecca’s work check out her website here.

St. Colin and the Dragon
Philippa Rice (writer/artist)

A few months back in this column I reviewed the print collection of Philippa Rice’s wildly inventive webcomic My Cardboard Life (here). To recap for those unfamiliar with the strip, Rice’s work is a clever use of collage incorporating everyday ephemera (tin foil, plasters, small coins, string, elastic bands and the like) to create an unforgettable, childlike, fantasy world populated by its hero Cardboard Colin, his paper doll object of affection Pauline and a whole host of memorable supporting characters.

Earlier this year on her My Cardboard Life site, Rice presented her audience with a single image for ten potential storylines and asked them to vote for which one they would like to see expanded into a full-length tale. The winner, by a considerable margin, was St. Colin and the Dragon and that concept was duly translated into a full-length serialised adventure.

Revolving around a dragon taking up residence by a small kingdom, the story sees the locals initially pampering the creature until they become fed up of paying it livestock tributes and send a team of knights (including Colin) to rid themselves of its presence once and for all. But is the dragon really the monster they all assume it to be? Or is there another side to its fearsome nature?

St. Colin and the Dragon is a lovely recasting of the strip’s players into a mediaeval world of noble heroes, chivalry and dragon-slaying silliness that incorporates an important message about the value of friendship and family. In less competent creative hands this could have come across as twee and syrupy but Rice ensures her story is just the right side of the endearing/schmaltzy divide without ever crossing over into those realms of self-indulgent mawkishness.

If you’ve picked up the My Cardboard Life collection already then you will find St. Colin and the Dragon to be something of a different beast. The daily webcomic usually adopts a more self-contained gag strip format and that was reflected in the staccato bang-bang-bang of jokes and punchlines inherent in the last MCL book. St. Colin and the Dragon is a more traditional, longer-form comics narrative and the humour is thus less frenetic and gentler, although I hasten to add no less amusing. I particularly enjoyed the wizard who turns out to be a dragon-obsessed fanboy (above). Inspired!

As an introduction to the world of Cardboard Colin and Paper Pauline the previous collection remains the logical starting point, but St. Colin and the Dragon is still a charming fairy tale addendum to one of the most uniquely inventive uses of the medium it’s been my pleasure to discover in recent years.

St. Colin and the Dragon is available from Philippa Rice’s online store here priced £6.50. Check out the world of My Cardboard Life here.

Cat Island
Dan Berry (writer/artist)

Twenty-four hour comics are something that I’ve never felt entirely comfortable commenting on. There’s just too much compromise involved, and anyone who does attempt even the most superficial critical analysis of them is going to feel obliged to be polite and generous or risk coming across as a complete heel. And, when it comes down to it, who wants to be negative about the phenomenal achievement of completing a coherent 24-page visual narrative in such a constrained time limit anyway?

So thank you Dan Berry for making my job incredibly easy by producing a 24-hour comic that, had I not known it had been completed at Angouleme this year, I would never have imagined had been created as part of that frantic, artistic marathon process. The fact that the pages that make up Cat Island were actually finished in less than twenty hours, and Berry describes his hand as resembling a “blown-up glove” by the end of it, makes it all the more remarkable.

Cat Island is a simple tale of a married couple, their newborn baby, and the intense rivalry between the husband and the family cat. The arrival into the household of said infant affects the dynamics of the relationships between these main characters. In the case of the woman and the cat that bond is changed, with our feline friend becoming resentful of the lack of attention he is now getting from his mistress. The man and the cat, though, find that their enmity is now exacerbated to frightening levels of competitiveness. As the degree of jealousy and bitterness within this now fractured family unit escalates, both cat and man hatch sinister plans to rid themselves of their perceived nemeses…

         

The first three pages of Cat Island mixing domestic bliss and an ominous feline presence...

Man versus animal is, of course, a tried and tested staple of both animation and humour comics, and that ages-old adversarial match is magnificently exploited here. Berry’s beautifully expressive cartooning is a joy throughout, enriched by its watercoloured aesthetic and muted, autumnal hues. Yes, you can simply access the story on Dan’s site here but trust me when I say that the print version is such a gorgeously produced book that the reading experience is enhanced significantly in its tactile incarnation. Wonderful madcap mischief with a delectably darker undercurrent.

Cat Island is available to buy here priced £6.00. For more on Dan Berry’s work check out his site here.

Finally, with Free Comic Book Day coming up on Saturday – and in the spirit of promoting promoters of small press work – a very quick shout-out for Gosh Comics in London who will also be giving out small press comics as part of the celebrations. Full details about their FCBD events can be found on their site here.

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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

  • Richard Boom

    Richard Boom May 7, 2012 at 3:16am

    I want TICK!!!

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver May 22, 2012 at 8:46am

    It is, indeed, a very special comic.

  • Kstewart

    Kstewart Aug 2, 2012 at 11:02am

    I have TICK, it's great!

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Aug 2, 2012 at 2:58pm

    Everyone should pick up TICK!

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