The Joy of Six: Noah Van Sciver, Parallel Lives, D'Accord and More!
Posted by Andy Oliver on May 24, 2012
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.
This week’s column is another rapidfire mini-review session looking at a half dozen diverse SP books and minicomics. 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.
The Death of Elijah Lovejoy
Noah Van Sciver (writer/artist)
Noah Van Sciver’s minicomic The Death of Elijah Lovejoy provides a dramatic reconstruction of the final moments in the life of the nineteenth century newspaper editor and anti-slavery campaigner. In 1837, after becoming trapped in a warehouse defending his sole remaining printing press, Lovejoy was murdered by a baying pro-slavery mob. His legacy, however, would live on, ensuring the moral fortitude he exhibited throughout his short life would still be celebrated the best part of two centuries later.
Superficially, what we essentially get here are simply the last few violent minutes of one man’s life. But the skill of Van Sciver’s storytelling lies in the way that he manages, in that brief timeframe, to so fully encapsulate the principles and moral determination of this committed activist. By focusing largely on Lovejoy’s brutal end he places into stark perspective the bravery of his stand and his dedication in putting the fight against the iniquity of slavery above his own life. Bookended by a text-based, scene-setting preface and similar postscript, it’s a stirring account; the power of which is capably re-enforced by Van Sciver’s animated artwork and intense sense of pacing.
A graphic monument to the work of the abolitionists this is also a minicomic with a beautifully produced, tactile appeal. Van Sciver has created a biographical, historical snapshot here that is a perfect example of how the comics form can be utilised to indelibly imprint its narrative themes on the reader’s consciousness. Van Sciver's The Hypo from Fantagraphics this year can't come quickly enough...
Anthology – Various creators
Parallel Lives is a one-shot publication showcasing the work of the young comic talents who took part in a six-month internship programme at the londonprintstudio overseen by Youth Arts Co-ordinator Karrie Fransman (whose graphic novel The House That Groaned I rather enthusiastically reviewed here at Broken Frontier earlier this year). The anthology contains work by both the interns (Merlin Evans, Lily-Rose Beardshaw, Susan Yan Mach, Abraham Christie, Jade Sarson and Shamisa Debroey) and other young artists involved in the project.
What's most pleasing about Parallel Lives from the reader's perspective is the way in which it represents a dazzling array of diverse storytelling styles, approaches and techniques. The highlight for me was the imaginative and intriguing ‘Siddown!’ by Jade Sarson set on a time-travelling commuter train. The six pages presented here are apparently part of a larger graphic novel which, one feels, will most definitely bear some watching out for. I was also rather taken by the beautiful flowing stylings of Evelyn Hewitt’s ‘Julie’, Merlin Evans’s haunting visualisation of the pain of separation between Napoleon and his love in ‘To Josephine, 1796’, and Lily-Rose Beardshaw’s endearing examination of teenage bullying and isolation in ‘Ham Sandwiches’.
As Dave McKean says in his foreword to Parallel Lives, this is a wonderful opportunity to experience the creative voices of a whole new generation of future comics creators. The Indie comics scene in the U.K. is currently undergoing something of a renaissance. It’s an exciting time in terms of new writers and artists approaching the field in non-traditional, innovative and boundary-pushing ways, and projects like Parallel Lives are a fitting reflection of the talents of the next generation of creators ready to make their contributions to this welcome revitalisation of the form.
Too Much Sex & Violence #3
Rol Hirst (writer), various artists
One line particularly stuck out for me in the latest issue of Rol Hirst’s absorbing and ever unnerving multi-artist jam Too Much Sex & Violence – “But you know how they say if you eat enough chicken you’ll end up looking like a chicken? Turns out the same goes for self-loathing perverts.” It’s a soundbite that perfectly captures the sardonic wit of this book in beautifully-formed microcosm, and gives the newbie reader an idea of the creepy fun that awaits them in the pages of this ever-macabre comic.
This month in Fathomsby, the most disconcerting seaside resort in the British Isles, the various plot threads of the characters are beginning to intersect and weave around each other in intriguing and unexpected ways. Retired pensioner super-hero Harry Hall is having a guilt trip at squishing one of the annoying local kids in a fit of rage in #1, DI Sam Kamara is investigating the murder of the four-armed, double-penised gigolo from last issue, crime boss Dermot Kaye has his nose in everyone’s business, and vampire DJ Gary Gore has concerns aplenty about the welfare of his similarly afflicted sister. Oh and there’s also the usual mix of local perverts, Forrest Gump fetishists, mad scientists and shapeshifting prostitutes. That Coronation Street meets Twin Peaks meets early Peter Jackson splatstick riff isn't getting old...
After last issue’s jaw-droppingly gruesome scenes depicting what, for now, I’ll term in a semi-non-spoiler way as the awful affair of the plucked plum pudding, it was hard to see quite how Hirst could top that particular sequence in the grisly factor stakes. While he wisely doesn’t try to trump that moment of spectacular goriness in this issue, there’s still plenty of jolly lashings of morbid malevolence and humour so black it’s positively stygian, all ably backed up by an artistic troupe that includes Rob Wells, Stephen Prestwood, Nigel Lowrey, Adrian Bamforth, Kelvin Green, Andrew Cheverton, Martin Eden and Chris Askham.
Underlining its position as the darkest, weirdest, fantasy comics soap opera currently out there, Too Much Sex & Violence #3 is another disturbingly delightful foray into our favourite ghoulish coastal resort.
Anthology - Various creators
Solipsistic Pop, ink + PAPER, Paper Science, The Comix Reader… the list of current British SP anthologies goes on and on. Indeed, there’s been something of a veritable explosion of books providing a platform for the diverse talents of a number of Brit creators in the last couple of years.
While each of the titles mentioned has its own distinctive feel in terms of either content or presentation, there is something of an overlap in terms of the same names popping up again across some of these publications. No bad thing for an appreciative readership, of course, but what about those newer or less exposed talents looking for an outlet for their work?
Enter that great stalwart of the Brit small press, Sean Azzopardi, and his anthology title D’Accord which tasks itself with promoting a number of creators whose work you probably won’t have come across before, with a distinctly international flavour of contents. We have Marios Costantinides and Chris Malapitan from Cyprus, Shamisa Debroey from Belgium, Thomas Gosselin from France and Jessica Penfold from the U.K. And, of course, a contribution from Mr. Azzopardi himself!
Not all the material here is, strictly speaking, traditional sequential storytelling. Some of it reminded me of the (formerly) textless Nobrow Magazine offerings; lyrical imagery to visually digest and ruminate on. Other strips have a more conventional format. Shamisa Debroey’s ‘Casual Conversations’ for example, which also appears in the Parallel Lives anthology, is a witty little slice-of-lifer set in a coffee shop and given far more space to breathe on the larger pages of D’Accord. And I was rather taken by the Mike McMahon-isms of Thomas Gosselin’s tale of undead class divisions in ‘English Zombie’. The standout for me, though, was Jessica Penfold’s ‘Second guess’ which employs one of the most individual relationships between text and illustration that I’ve seen in a long while in a comic.
D'Accord is a great little taster for the work of a new(er) group of artists in a handsomely produced, slightly larger format. Outlets like this for exposing deserving unseen talent to a larger audience should always be appreciated for the welcome opportunity they provide for both creator and readership alike.
The Lengths #6
Howard Hardiman (writer/artist)
Howard Hardiman’s tale of “dog-headed whores” is one of those books regular Small Pressganged readers will have noticed I’ve championed on a couple of previous occasions in this column. For those unfamiliar with this bleak but addictive strip it follows former art school student Eddie who lives a duplicitous second life as gay escort “Ford”. Hardiman renders every character in anthropomorphised dog form, effectively applying that old comics standby to imbue his cast with a resonant humanity ironically accentuated by their canine visual appearances.
Three quarters of the way through the series now and our protagonist is in a very dark place, no longer entirely sure where his life as prostitute Ford ends and his previous existence as Eddie begins. There’s something quite hallucinatory in the brilliantly disquieting way in which Hardiman visually portrays Eddie’s fractured sense of identity in this issue; his shattered mindscape exposed in expansive, flowing shots that often use whole haunting pages as single frames. The rambling, stream-of-consciousness narration emphasising this critical juncture in his life to cutting effect.
At this point in time if you’ve been reading this column since its inception and haven’t been persuaded to pick up The Lengths (from my reviews of #1-4 here and #5 here) then I’m probably not going to convince you to this late in the game. That would be a real shame, though, because if you’re not following The Lengths then, quite simply, you’re not reading one of the most compelling, contemporary comics dramas in recent memory.
Daniel Bell (writer/artist), Katja Lindblom (artist), Iain Buchanan (artist)
Three interconnected stories make up creator Daniel Bell’s portmanteau offering that combines asylum-based horror, super-powered assassins and a covert organisation run by none other than that great American showman P.T. Barnum! In ‘Kathy Isn’t Right’ we learn some of the background of Barnum’s mind-reading operative in the eponymous Psircus in a creepy tale with supernatural overtones. Then we’re treated to some insights into the disturbing past of the telekinetic weapon known as Icarus, before being re-introduced to all three characters once again in their role as “the Psircus” when they use their gifts to bring a deeply unpleasant slimeball to poetic justice in the final story ‘The Pull’.
The main drawback on a first reading of Psircus is that these three stories placed together, without any framing sequence, present a disjointed, slightly confusing narrative. It took me a couple of read-throughs to work out the full structural relationship between each story and, even then, there’s still a jerky, fragmented feel to the proceedings. Now that’s not to say there isn’t promise in the premise. On the strength of the unsettling but effective third story I’m interested in seeing where Bell takes the strip in the future. He certainly knows how to structure the short story, that most difficult of all narrative forms to master. But I can’t help thinking that a greater tying together of the disparate tales in this first offering, and an acknowledgement of the questions they posed, would have provided a stronger hook to entice the readership back.
However, there’s a definite adult 2000AD Future Shocks vibe to the proceedings here that is certainly appealing, and the set-up is refreshingly different. The art is strong throughout, with each segment having its own distinct mood; from Lindblom’s gloomy gothic environment in ‘Kathy Isn’t Right’ to the tonal clarity of Buchanan’s actioner ‘Icarus’, through to Bell’s own tight and atmospheric visuals in ‘The Pull’. I’ll be intrigued to see how Bell develops the concept in the future. If a second issue elaborates on the premise to a greater degree, and emphasises the relationships between the cast more fully, this book should have a strong foundation to build on.
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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Richard Boom May 25, 2012 at 12:35am
interesting... always very cool to read them articles you craft!
Andy Oliver May 28, 2012 at 8:35pm
Thanks for the feedback Richard. Promoting this material is a real passion for me so feedback is always appreciated.
Richard Boom May 29, 2012 at 12:30am
from your articles I see a diversity of cool comics... some appear so cool that they make me think I am really silly about not liking them but others (like Psicircus) seem to have a real promise to me personally. I like that feeling :)
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