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Tea for Three: Cafe Suada, Arthur and Posy, and GART

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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. Remember, my contact details are also at the end of the column if you’re a small presser looking for some Broken Frontier coverage. 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.

After a couple of weeks off enjoying the delights of the Comica Festival in London I am back this week with reviews of Jade Sarson’s Cafe Suada, Risbridger & Johnson’s Arthur and Posy, and Anaseed Man’s GART. And, on the subject of Comica, it was a pleasure and a privilege indeed to speak to so many of you Brit small pressers – both old friends and new faces – at the Comica Comiket independent comics fair last Saturday. Thanks for all the positive feedback about Broken Frontier’s SP coverage!

And without further ado let’s jump into this week’s reviews…

Cafe Suada Cup #1 and Cup #2
Jade Sarson (writer/artist)

Some little while back in ‘Small Pressganged’ I reviewed the anthology Parallel Lives (here), a collection of work from the interns at the londonprintstudio published at the end of their time there earlier this year. Of all the talented new names worth watching out for in the future that resided within the pages of that publication  there was one that really stood out: Jade Sarson, whose ‘Siddown’ – an extract from her graphic novel-in-progress about a time-travelling commuter train – displayed a keen and clever imagination, and gained a tick in my mental notebook of projects to give greater coverage to when the appropriate time came.

Jade’s regularly updated webcomic series, the manga-influenced Cafe Suada, has been available to view online since the summer of 2010 (here) but, for the purposes of this review, I’m honing in on the first two print editions of the saga, rather cutely numbered Cup 1 and Cup 2.

Geraldine Grey is a tea connoisseur with a mission in life – to share her love of that beverage, in all its many forms, with the customers who frequent the Piyo Piyo Tea House she manages. But, when Gerry’s boss Cream opens the Dark Moon Coffee House next door to create some healthy competition, our heroine finds herself in a committed “Battle of the Beverages” with Dark Moon’s manager Ewan.

The first issue is largely set-up but it’s an engaging one with a lively and compelling cast of eccentric characters whose foibles and idiosyncrasies instantly endear them to the reader. Cup 2 sees the rivalry between Gerry and Ewan escalate as their competitive, customer-grabbing tactics become ever more outlandish until a moment of quiet beauty marks a watershed moment in their clash. And, underneath that outward veneer of hostility and tension, is there a hint of attraction developing between our feuding pair of protagonists?

It’s a simple, yet fun, storytelling foundation, but the true joy of Sarson’s book is in the execution of the idea rather than the premise itself. What is readily apparent from the first few pages of #1 is just what an assured command she has of the possibilities inherent in the canvas of the comics page. This is incredibly confident storytelling that shows a deep understanding of the language of comics and the unique potential that sequential art has for communicating ideas. The atmosphere of each page is further enhanced by the beautiful sepia-like colouring, designed to give the story’s visuals a tea-stained feel while the use of text and font to emphasise mood and project emotions is quite remarkable.

Cafe Suada joins Becky Bagley’s Tick as a small press comics project I’ve discovered this year that I’m not going to stop harping on about until you’ve all, at the very least, checked out the webcomic version. An absolute gem of a strip with true crossover appeal, and if the subject or the style isn’t your cup of Earl Grey (or Lapsang Souchong or Skinny Latte or whatever...) I’m sure you’ll agree that the proficiency of technique here is worthy of your admiration.

               

A selection of pages from Cup #1 showcasing that tannin-stained look to the interiors

And, even if after all that,you disagree with my enthusiastic praise for the book surely only the most obdurate of heart could fail to find something to like about a comic that includes a eucalyptus tea-drinking koala called Robert amongst its roll call of supporting players…?

To read Cafe Suada in its webcomic form check out  the webcomic here and for more about Jade's work visit her site here. If you prefer to read your comics in print form then Cafe Suada Cup #1 and #2 are available from Jade’s online store here priced £6.00 each.

Arthur and Posy #1-2
Ella Risbridger (writer), Graham Johnson (artist)

Described as “a big glittery gay fairytale fandango” on the back cover blurb of issue #1, Arthur and Posy is a story revolving around a very special childhood friendship. The titular characters are linked by a common identity-related bond: Arthur is too pretty to be a boy while Posy quite categorically doesn’t want to be a girl. We’re first introduced to Arthur in the opening issue when he is abandoned as a baby at a convent and taken in by the nuns there. They, in turn, have their own particular worldview that they seek to imprint on him...

In later years, on a rare trip outside the convent to the nearby village, Arthur meets the boisterous baker’s daughter Posy, and a connection is formed between two characters who are in some ways complete opposites and yet, simultaneously, so very much alike. While the first issue establishes the basis of the children’s relationship, the second offering takes them out to the wider world when they sneak into a cabaret club and find a further blurring of those rigid boundaries between the feminine and the masculine imposed on them by their guardians.

The very obvious observation to make about Arthur and Posy would be to underline its childrens storybook feel. While that’s a valid comparison to make – Risbridger knowingly and rather wittily writes it in that style, and Johnson’s art has a nostalgic feel to it that will certainly evoke memories of leafing through the fiction for kids section in your local library as a child – there’s something more nuanced and subtle going on here. Johnson’s art, for example, isn’t so much a replication of the visuals of juvenile literature as a portrayal of a child’s eye view of the world. That element is beautifully communicated through his realisation of Risbridger’s script, taking the reader directly into the heart of the story and allowing them to join Arthur and Posy as backseat passengers on their voyage of discovery.

               

This is a narrative that works on so many levels. In its exploration of gender and identity issues it becomes a tale about not just how we define ourselves but also about not allowing others to define us by their own standards; the book’s good-natured, understated rebelliousness conveying its message far more effectively than any more overt preaching could ever hope to. Arthur and Posy has a certain life-affirming magic to it and I’m rather surprised it hasn’t had much more of an impact in terms of critically appreciative word-of-mouth to date. Time to spread the word…

To discover more about Graham Johnson’s work check here. Arthur and Posy #1 and #2 can be bought here priced £5.00 an issue.

GART Volume 1
Anaseed Man (writer/artist)

GART began life as a webcomic from Brighton-based creator Anaseed Man and follows the anarchic exploits of its titular hero, a goblin-imp hybrid, on his mission to depose the tyrannical goblin ruler King Gobbo. As all good tales in the fantasy genre dictate there’s something of a quest element to the proceedings but that’s largely where the similarities to its progenitors end. Simply put, GART is no flowery tale of gentle elvish folk frolicking in the forest. Indeed the book’s tagline describing itself as “relentless, balls to the wall, sci-fi-fantasy-punk, action adventure” is a most appropriate soundbite given its fusion of storytelling styles.

Gart and his sidekick Nob’s assassination expedition takes them across their bizarre world as the characters encounter a motley crew of allies and enemies along the way to a final confrontation with their nemesis Gobbo. Anaseed Man has created a curious realm here that combines magical creatures with giant mechanised monstrosities giving it a kind of mystical Mad Max vibe along the way. While, essentially, it’s a plot-lite piece of tomfoolery the true appeal of GART lies in its almost Looney Tunes-style blend of violent slapstick and rebellious humour. There’s something very cartoonish about it beyond just its visual influences with plenty of gratuitous, over-the-top mayhem as its defining feature.

Anaseed Man’s layouts have a frantic energy to them and the unremitting chaos of GART’s world is readily apparent from just a casual flick through the book’s pages. The story does jump from colour to (for the main part) black and white at points with no narrative reason, which is a little jarring in places but not particularly a detriment to the reading experience.

               

GART is Tank Girl if our favourite Antipodean anti-heroine ever wandered into a Tolkien novel. It has that same unashamedly unsophisticated comedic approach. Admittedly, it’s a comfort reading experience more suited for a moment when you want something undemanding and outright silly to relax with, but it does have its own brash appeal. A definite pub-and-a-pint comic if ever there was one!

For more on GART check out Anaseed Man’s site here and the webcomic here. You can purchase a copy of GART priced £10.00 from his online store 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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