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The Joy of Six II: Let's Get Ready to Rumble!

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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.

Because bad puns are made to be repeated, this week I’m following up on May’s “Joy of Six” edition of Small Pressganged with another column of half a dozen rapid fire mini-reviews. From boxing brutality to Doctor Who fandom, consumable comics to Lovecraftian madness, it’s another whistle-stop tour through the magical diversity of the small press. 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.

Rumble
Rebecca Bagley (writer/artist)

You may remember my post-Comica Comiket edition of ‘Small Pressganged’ wherein I enthused (hopefully) infectiously about Becky Bagley’s wonderful steampunk fable Tick, my definite find of that particular comics fair. Given how I’ve taken every possible opportunity to plug Tick both here, and on Twitter, in the months since you would be forgiven for thinking this is the only self-published offering from the Bagley range.

However, Tick is just one of a number of titles available on the Bagley Books webshop which also includes the boxing themed zine Rumble. Rumble was conceived from ponderings on the primeval nature of organised fighting. In the creator’s own words: “There’s an animalistic quality to the enjoyment of observing (or taking part in) controlled fighting. It appears to exist outside of everything we are taught is acceptable within our constructed society, but still has an immense following.” To illustrate this she has recreated five of the most noted boxing matches of all time but with animal competitors substituting for the original combatants.

Hence we get the “Rumble in the Jungle” as fought by Muhammad Aligator and George Boarman, Mike Bison taking on Trevor Bearbick and so on, all accompanied by similarly pun-filled commentary. What’s rather clever about Rumble is that wherever you stand on the issue of boxing it’s going to appeal to you. Those of us who find it a primitive anachronism will see that confirmed in these bestial re-imaginings of famous fights, while others who see boxing as the ultimate contest will find it a harmless bit of anthropomorphic throwaway fun. The one thing that isn’t open to interpretation or doubt, however, is that Rumble represents another piece of hugely impressive graphic design from the Bagley camp.

For more on Rebecca Bagley’s work check out her site here. Rumble is available via her online shop priced £4.99.

The Burger Boys
Donya Todd (writer/artist)

The titular heroes of Donya Todd’s The Burger Boys are Pickle, Patti and Peet who work at the familiar looking Burger Boys outlet. When the chaps discover a discarded rancid hot dog, and subsequently chow down on it, they find themselves transported to a kind of salmonella-induced psychedelic dream world – think Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland if it was a fast food franchise. There they find themselves face-to-face with a society of strangely attired Hot Dog Girls with their only chance of escape in the hands of Peet’s girlfriend Battersea…

Todd’s visuals for this phantasmagorical Ronald McDonald meets C.S. Lewis sorta affair have something of an underground comix vibe to them and are an apt reflection of the story’s random narrative style. The Burger Boys is an appealing piece of unashamed nonsense with a frenetic energy and pace, and a small press offering that leads me to hope we don’t have much longer to wait for Donya’s previously announced Death & the Girls from Blank Slate Books.

For more on Donya Todd’s work visit her website here. The Burger Boys is available from her online store priced £3.00.

Models Forever
Philippa Rice (creator)

Another ‘Small Pressganged’ object of affection is Philippa Rice’s uniquely constructed world of My Cardboard Life, the print versions of which I have reviewed a couple of times over this column’s lifetime here and here. Following the adventures of the Charlie Brown-esque Cardboard Colin and his unattainable romantic interest Paper Pauline, it’s an astonishingly clever daily webcomic that uses photographed collage strips as its basis and has built up an entire world of memorable characters, self-referential humour and brilliant running gags.

       

Models Forever is, quite simply, a collection of photographs highlighting the physicality of Rice’s My Cardboard Life and spotlighting some of her other areas of artistic achievement in the form of carefully assembled dioramas, knitted creations and model work. One for the diehard My Cardboard Life aficionados, perhaps, but I’d challenge anyone unfamiliar with the creator’s work to flick through this charming presentation and not feel an instant urge to check out her back catalogue more fully.

And, besides, I’d commit all sorts of nefarious acts to own one of those Cardboard Colin dioramas…

For more on the world of My Cardboard Life visit the daily webcomic. Models Forever is available priced £4.00 from Philippa’s online shop.

Comicake - Edible Comic
Sally-Anne Hickman (writer/artist)

Now this is a neat little idea and, by its very nature, one that doesn’t lend itself to too much critical dissection. But it’s such a witty little conceit from Sally-Anne Hickman (whose latest Diary Comic I reviewed a couple of weeks back) that I wanted to draw your attention to it. Comicake is the “world’s first edible comic” made on vanilla and strawberry rice paper with edible glitter, ink and glue, and handily sewn together with dental floss for that convenient post- comic-munching oral hygiene session. This one’s all about the fun of the concept and its physicality - so the fact the comic itself is a few pages of cake drawings is largely irrelevant. It may be something of a novelty item but it’s one that brought a big smile to my face.

And, hey, try replicating that digitally!

You can find Sally-Anne Hickman’s website here. To buy your own edible comic for £3.00 then visit her online shop.

The Dream Quest of Randolph Carter #1
Charles Cutting (writer/artist) – adapted from the work of H.P. Lovecraft

Here’s where I probably alienate the H.P. Lovecraft fans by stating up front that of all the author’s work The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath is the one story I most struggled with. Unlike his tales of oppressive, eldritch horror I found this rambling expedition through the dreamlands of the collective unconsciousness to be only borderline readable, and it’s one of the few Lovecraft stories I have felt little desire to revisit over the years.

Perhaps it’s that difficulty in appreciating a novella which, apparently, even Lovecraft himself had little positive to say about, that has drawn me to graphic novel interpretations of it. I picked up one of the Eureka series of Graphic Classics volumes a few years back on the basis that Kadath was included therein and, when I heard from Oxford-based illustrator Charles Cutting about his IndieGoGo campaign to bring part one of his webcomic version (first published on the Illustrated Ape site) of the story into print I was very keen to give it a look.

         

Charles describes his The Dream Quest of Randolph Carter as an “irreverent” take on the original and it’s most certainly a more playful approach than the rather turgid prose of the source material. In fact there’s something of a sense of fun to this retelling which is not a word one would normally associate with Lovecraft. But by far the greatest achievement here is the truly beautiful artwork that brings whole new dimensions to the ethereal worlds of the dreamlands. Cutting’s re-imaginings of these disparate locations are a visual feast and his use of colour, in particular, quite stunning. It adds a level of majesty and richness to events and places that had always been dark and gloomy when I had previously mentally pictured them.

A treat for Lovecraft fans and non-Lovecraftians alike.

The Dream Quest of Randolph Carter #1 costs £4.00. You can order a copy via the 'Contact' section of Charles Cutting's site here.

Doctor WTF?!
Owen Watts (Editor) Anthology – Various creators

A self-published comics anthology dedicated to comics strips about venerable British sci-fi institution and unofficial national treasure Doctor Who? I can already sense a large hardcore of small press fans moving their mouse to the top of the browser ready to hit “back”. But don’t get too trigger-happy with that clicking because Doctor WTF?! defies easy expectations – this most assuredly isn’t humdrum fannish pandering –  and proves itself to be a clever little collection of Who-related shorts, both playful and inventive in their delivery.

Amongst the diverse variety of storytelling and visual styles you’ll meet a gorilla incarnation of the Doctor, follow a day in the life of The Master, witness an unusual use of the Tardis’s chameleon circuit and savour a “crossover” with a great British comics icon. The quirky array of approaches to the subject matter on display here, and the staccato pacing of the shorts on offer, ensuring the reader’s rapt attention is kept throughout.

What makes this rather fun compilation all the more impressive, however, is its accessibility. It’s not bogged down in the minutiae of continuity or the worst excesses of obsessive fandom; rather it’s a surprisingly reader-friendly book (given the cult TV element) with many of the contributors taking only the very basic premise of the television show as a starting point and then fashioning their stories from there. A timely reminder of how entertaining fan fiction can actually be when done right.

You can order a copy of Dr. WTF?! from the comic's Facebook page or via e-mail 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 2, 2012 at 11:02am

    A laugh out loud review, thanks Andy!

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Aug 2, 2012 at 2:59pm

    You're very welcome! ;-)

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