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Slice-of-Lifers: Smoo Comics and Brockley Foxtrot

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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 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 offerings fall squarely under the umbrella term of slice-of-life comics. A genre well served by the small press creative community! As ever, prices quoted are the originals for point of origin. Please check out each individual store for details on international orders and postage and packaging costs.

Smoo Comics #5
Simon Moreton (writer/artist)

Some of the very, very best in autobiographical comics are those that feel they have been written as much for the creator as they have for his or her potential audience. For me, Simon Moreton’s work falls firmly under that classification. Quietly uncompromising, it has a raw and admirable honesty to it that draws the reader in and fully absorbs them in the emotive and very personal slice-of-life episodes he recreates on the comics page.

The current fifth issue of Smoo Comics details a crossroads year in Moreton’s life between 2004 and 2005 when he had moved to Cornwall as a student; a difficult and lonely time that led to clinical depression. That sense of isolation is readily apparent in the first story ‘Where I Lived’, an 8-page journey through the sights of his new hometown that uses vast, sweeping landscapes, empty streets and roads, and the sparsest of dialogue to create a sense of solitude and self-reflection.

This contemplative approach continues in the latter stories: ‘Tremough’ is a similarly observed piece dealing with mood and loneliness as Moreton arrives for his new University year and discovers his local area, while ‘I Don’t Know’ is a stark and heartrendingly effective evocation of the despair that a descent into depression brings. An unforgettable account of the way in which this illness fragments the existences of those who have to live with it. Smoo Comics #5 also contains a number of scene-setting entries that focus on life in Cornwall from historical, social and environmental perspectives (a visual ornithological guide to some rarer bird species and some anecdotal observations for example).

What I find outstanding in Moreton’s work is his ability to use scenery and depictions of the environment around him to echo and emphasise mood and emotions. Throughout the strips in #5 the minimalist style he adopts here works so efficiently by stripping things down to their core recognisable elements. By the time you reach ‘I Didn’t Know’ the illustration has been pared back to its most basic and representational, accentuating the story’s feeling of disorientation and helplessness to a most haunting degree.

             

Interior pages from 'Where I Lived', 'Beachcasters' and 'Tremough' from Smoo Comics #5

In preparing for this week’s column I ordered everything currently available from the Simon Moreton stable, some of which I may well return to in future ‘Small Pressganged’s. What became very noticeable to me in his work is his constant experimentation with illustrative styles and presentational technique. Smoo Comics #4, for example, utilises that aforementioned reductionist slant in a melancholy narrative on ageing, friendship and childhood perceptions of the world. Smoo Comics #3 has a more cartoony attitude with a very memorable sequence where Moreton anthropomorphises his anxiety as a bizarrely monstrous creature that looks like the bastard offspring of a Basil Wolverton creation and a Ken Reid grotesque.

In a strange way I almost do Smoo Comics a disservice in discussing them. This is material that should be experienced rather than analysed; work you should simply immerse yourself in rather than spend time breaking down and dissecting. Understated yet emotionally eloquent, this is slice-of-life storytelling at its most open, candid and sincere.

For more on Simon Moreton’s work check out his site here. His comics are available to buy at his online store here.

Brockley Foxtrot
Katriona Chapman (writer/artist)

For six years, while living in Brockley, London, artist Katriona Chapman’s back garden was a space in which she co-existed with a skulk of foxes and their ever-expanding brood. Over this time she built up a relationship with this vulpine family that, on finally moving away from the area, she decided to record in graphic storytelling form. Brockley Foxtrot is that chronicle: a diary-style account of the ever-converging worlds of humans and the growing U.K. population of urban foxes.

It’s incumbent on me to begin with to underline that Brockley Foxtrot is more graphic narrative than comic strip. A fine distinction, perhaps, but one that I should highlight from the start.  It’s also something of a boutique item; a beautifully, hand-bound book with a Nobrow Press-style tactile appeal. Lovingly handling gorgeously created items like this almost seems as integral a part of the whole experience of enjoying them as the actual reading itself!

Brockley Foxtrot begins with a solitary mange-ridden visitor to Chapman’s garden and details her initial attempts to improve its health through surreptitiously feeding it medicine in laced honey sandwiches. As the months go by, an entire family community of the foxes become a permanent fixture and tentative tolerance between animals and people develops into a kind of guarded rapport over the years as generations of the creatures come and go.

   

There are two essential strands to Brockley Foxtrot: one that details Katriona and her neighbour Ken’s interactions with the foxes, and another that is more observational, celebrating and commenting on the playfulness and behavioural traits of her feral guests. Throughout, Chapman’s art is quite stunning; handsomely crafted in grey tones using her original photographs as inspiration she captures the essence of the animals in elegant monochrome. Those photos are available for your perusal online here while the video below gives some insight into the handmade construction of the book.

Exquisitely produced and strikingly illustrated, Brockley Foxtrot is a charming piece of very personal anecdotal graphic storytelling. An artist’s fond farewell to a memorable period of her life that I, for one, am very pleased she chose to share with us.

Brockley Foxtrot is published by Tomatito Press and is available from Katriona’s online store here priced £10.50 in the UK including postage and packaging (check store for international prices). You can find out more about her work on her website 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

  • Kstewart

    Kstewart Aug 23, 2012 at 9:50am

    Hooray for Smoo! After buying Smoo #5 in Orbital I am a big fan too! Thanks Andy for a great review!

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Aug 23, 2012 at 8:59pm

    Glad you enjoyed it! Two great books that deserve greater recognition I feel.

  • katchapman

    katchapman Aug 26, 2012 at 5:04am

    I couldn't help buying a couple of Simon's comics after reading this... Such a lovely review, thanks Andy! Just one point about mine - the book is £10.50 including postage and packaging if you're in the UK :)

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Aug 26, 2012 at 10:37am

    That's excellent to hear Kat! Simon's work is so distinctive and deserves a wider audience. I've added an extra few words to the BROCKLEY review about international costs. (I always include a proviso about that at the top of the column each week in the second intro paragraph but, thinking about it, there's more clarity if I mention it in the body of the review itself).
    And you're very welcome on the review - it's a gorgeously-produced book!

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