Small Press - The Next Generation: The Zoom!, Spandex and Gargoyle by Moonlight
Posted by Andy Oliver on Jan 4, 2013
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 I’m looking at the work of pre-teen comics creator Zoom Rockman, the dramatic wrap-up of a major story arc in that ‘Small Pressganged’ favourite Spandex, and some traditionalist heroics in the fast-paced fun of Timothy Bach’s Gargoyle by Moonlight. 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 Zoom! #7
Zoom Rockman (writer/artist)
Firstly this week I would like to draw your attention – should it not already have been piqued – to the phenomenon that is 12-year-old creator Zoom Rockman and his comic The Zoom!; a publication that has been gaining growing press attention over the last year via the likes of The Independent Magazine, Dazed Digital, Vogue’s Hot List and the Spirit of London Awards just for starters. That’s quite a clamour of influential press movers and shakers seeking to push Zoom’s work and it’s long overdue that ‘Small Pressganged’ also did its small part to publicise the youngest artist I’ve covered in this column to date.
The Zoom! comprises mainly one-page, tightly panelled humour strips featuring a variety of characters, some of whom loosely fit into the traditions of IPC/DC Thomson weekly papers like mischievous schoolboy Crasher or cantankerous oldster Grumpa. But it’s important, I feel, to emphasise that The Zoom! isn’t merely some sort of homage-fest to our largely long-gone British children’s comics industry – what’s very evident is that Zoom Rockman has found his own voice and style of presentation, and what we have here is a comic that is infectiously fun in both approach and content.
What immediately strikes you about this London-themed seventh issue is just how witty so much of the material is. I loved the notion of a spit of reconstituted lamb meat coming to life and terrorising sheep farmers in Kebab Shop of Horrors! for example, and I’m not sure whether or not Zoom Meets Brian the Snail’s No.1 Fan! was an homage to Stephen King’s Misery or not but it certainly felt like it.
There's even a spot of apparent social commentary in TV soap send-up Wantheloo Road wherein burger chain Muckdonald’s takes the role of school sponsors with ominous results, and a smidgeon of experimentation with metafiction in one of the early strips this issue will certainly bring a smile to your face.
The Zoom! represents an opportunity to witness one of the next generation of Brit small pressers in their formative years. Alongside the hard-working teens of The Wizzo (reviewed here last year in ‘Small Pressganged’) this is work that should be admired, encouraged and, most importantly, supported.
Martin Eden (writer/artist)
When I was compiling my ‘Small Pressganged’ end of the year highlights column here just before Christmas I ended up with a shortlist of sixteen books, all of which I wanted to feature in that final ten! Martin Eden’s Spandex was one of those books on the periphery of inclusion and, in 2012, had the distinction of being one of only a tiny number of current super-hero comics that I still looked forward to with eager anticipation.
Spandex #7 is the culmination of most of the major plotlines of the series and acts as both an ending and a new beginning for the characters. There’s one final special to come in the latter half of 2013 where we will get a chance to visit the team one last time but, in many ways, this seventh issue does feel like the end of a most eventful journey with Eden’s colourful cast of heroes.
For those who are unaware of the book’s premise, Spandex are a team of all-gay super-heroes based in the British coastal town of Brighton. A number of heroes have been counted among the group’s roster over the course of the book’s run including the likes of Diva, Liberty, Glitter, Mr. Muscles, Butch, Prowler, Indigo and Neon, all of whom had elaborately constructed back stories that have been slowly revealed to the readership as the months have gone by. It’s a comic that has approached the super-hero genre with an interesting, and almost contradictory, mix of both tongue-in-cheek self-indulgence and reverence for the traditions of capes-and-costumes soap operatics.
In preparing for this review I went back and re-read all the issues to date and what really hit home was how carefully structured the various sub-plots were in terms of the greater narrative. Given that the book’s original set-up changed quite significantly as Martin’s direction for the project evolved it’s quite a feat that the intersecting plotlines have such a seamless feel to them. Seven issues in, of course, it becomes more difficult to discuss the story arcs to date without giving away major plot twists and negating the point of this write-up in drawing in the potential newbie readers I’m pitching this at. What I will say about #7’s final confrontation with the team’s archenemies Les Girlz is that it rewards the readers who have been following Spandex since the beginning with a story that is full of revelations about the team’s history, some dramatic loss and more unexpected plot turns.
Spandex represents that rarest of things within the parameters of its genre: a super-hero comic that actually feels like it’s written for its readers rather than for a trade paperback collection or as the sounding board for cross-media developments. In parts it’s witty, it’s touching, it’s dramatic and, most importantly of all, it’s fun. If Marvel and DC were still publishing comics as good as this then I wouldn’t have largely walked away from their output.
Gargoyle by Moonlight #1
Timothy Bach (writer), Brian Atkins and Jeremiah Lambert (art), Juan Romera (colourist)
Doomed to change into a stone gargoyle in the nocturnal hours, Gary Doyle simultaneously uses his newfound abilities to fight the forces of darkness while searching for a cure for his condition. When a museum janitor is possessed by the spirit of the Serpent King, an ancient supernatural entity, our reluctant hero must ally himself with archaeologist Chloe Anders and the enigmatic gypsy Drina to drive out this ages-old menace.
Gargoyle by Moonlight reminded me very much of the style and tone of the ‘70s Marvel comics of my childhood, particularly the strand that straddled the borders of super-heroes and horror in that publishing era. We have a protagonist cursed with a monstrous alter ego that separates him from his civilian life and remains a permanent obstacle between himself and those around him. It’s tried and tested melodrama in the old school manner with suitable and confident art from Atkins and Lambert.
There’s nothing here that you haven’t seen before but I don’t think for a second that Bach is actually trying to innovate or revolutionise the medium. What he seems to be aiming for is good old-fashioned, super-heroic storytelling with a comforting familiarity, and on that level he absolutely succeeds. If current Marvel and DC output fails to float your boat, and you yearn for a more traditional approach to the genre, then Gargoyle by Moonlight will probably tick all the requisite boxes for you. An enjoyably diverting romp!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org for further details. You can also follow Andy on Twitter here.
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