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The Lost Boys: From Killjoy to The Lengths

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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 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 we’re back with another round of quick-fire reviews with a flashback to Robert Brown’s childhood as a cub scout in Killjoy and the latest issue of Howard Hardiman’s tale of dog-headed male escorts in The Lengths. Remember, if you register as a member of the Broken Frontier community, you are very welcome to leave comments on each week’s Small Pressganged at the bottom of the column.

Killjoy #1
Robert Brown (writer/artist)

While I would obviously never wish to presume on the familiarity of every reader perusing the latest column with my weekly ramblings here, those that have been following my small press round-ups regularly over the last few months will know I have a particular love for those projects that fall under the “slice-of-life” or autobiographical subject heading. In past columns I’ve waxed enthusiastically about SP titles like Liam Cobb’s reminiscences in The Cab Driver, Kayla Marie Hillier’s travelogue Galavant and the reflective observations on the minutiae of life that make up much of Sean Azzopardi’s work, amongst a number of others.

What struck me the most about Robert Brown’s Killjoy, which falls squarely into that selfsame first-person documentary category, was how frighteningly recognisable it all felt. Brown describes Killjoy as “a comic for the discerning nostalgist”. For this reader that cover copy felt horribly pertinent, as Brown’s remembrances of attending his first cub scout camp brought back a number of vivid flashbacks to a period of my childhood I’d long felt I’d left compartmentalised in a large, chained-up mental box in a dank, dark, hidden corner in the cellar of my subconscious.

The first in a planned series of accounts of Brown’s formative years this “cartoon memoir” is essentially a series of vignettes that will ring true with generations of British chaps who experienced the eccentricities and rituals of the scouting movement in their younger years. Like Robert Brown’s younger counterpart I, too, remember suffering the casual cruelty of peers at camp and the indifferent disciplinary injustices meted out by those sometimes disinterested adults in charge. And while I can’t ever profess to the vicarious thrill of finding the discarded instructions from a used packet of condoms – as is memorably retold in one of the issue’s sequences – I do remember similar discoveries of seemingly illicit abandoned ephemera, as a child, that provided a comparable window to a “forbidden” adult world.

Brown’s art in the pages of Killjoy has an open, slightly cartoony style that still resonates with an appropriate and often detailed realism. He’s often minimal with captions and explanatory text but he can afford to be because his ability to move the story forward with just his characters’ facial expressions is really rather wonderful. One has only to look at the visage of an excited and eager Robert arriving at camp at the beginning of this opening issue and the look of dejection on the same, defeated young boy on leaving, at the comic’s end, to appreciate that. Killjoy tangibly captures the sense of embarking on that first big adventure away from the safety of the family home and the attendant, sudden isolation that follows on the realisation that the parental comfort blanket has been removed.

As is the case with many similar comics in this genre you shouldn’t come to Killjoy looking for a convoluted plot or intricate story structure. What you’re getting here are the most memorable snippets of fractured memories; anecdotal fragments filtered through the lens of the intervening years. A brisk read it may be, but Killjoy has a remarkable knack for turning back the years for the reader and allowing them to briefly see the world with childhood eyes again. Definitely one to watch out for.

Killjoy can bought from Robert Brown’s online shop here priced £2.00.For more on Robert's work check out his blog here.

The Lengths #5
Howard Hardiman (writer/artist)

The latest issue of The Lengths, writer/artist Howard Hardiman’s tale of tortuously tangled relationships and double identities, is on sale now and continues to chronicle the exploits of former art student turned male prostitute Eddie, as he spirals downwards into his self-created world of deception. Since I last covered The Lengths at BF, towards the end of 2011, the book has been gaining well-deserved momentum in terms of press, with coverage in the likes of Attitude and Out There. If you’re unfamiliar with The Lengths it embraces comics’ anthropomorphic animals motif to deliver a unique and compelling study of what constitutes “self” and our own inherent dualities, perhaps summed up best by its memorable tagline “It's hard being Mister Right when, for a hundred pounds an hour, you're anyone’s Mister Right Now.”

With this fifth instalment of the series Eddie’s duplicitous lifestyle is beginning to unravel. He’s making little mistakes (that you suspect will come back to haunt him in the near future) in maintaining that wall between his two lives; of being both supposedly attentive boyfriend to Dan and clandestine gay prostitute. Most intriguingly, though, the lines of identity are blurring and it’s no longer possible to perceive quite where Eddie ends and “Ford”, his escort guise, begins. Whether the pivotal scenes at this issue’s conclusion represent a crossroads for the character or a point of no return remain to be seen. His casual betrayals of trust, and deceptive lifestyle, should make Eddie a character it’s almost impossible to empathise with. One of the true beauties of Hardiman’s narrative, however, is that it remains objective throughout; the audience invited in to share events as fellow observers not judges.

Once again this issue, the stark black and white art takes full advantage of the tonal extremes to reflect the often sombre mood of the storyline.  A juxtaposition of expansive, moody splash pages with more traditional sequential storytelling techniques combines expertly in setting scene and moving characters forward. Beyond even its dog-headed cast of players, The Lengths has an assured visual identity that just gets more confident with every issue!

I’ve mentioned in past columns how exciting it is to see professional publishers like Blank Slate, Myriad Editions and Titan Books picking up small press work for collected editions. Without the teensiest, tiniest doubt The Lengths is a comic that deserves similar attention. Its layered narrative, with those revelatory chronological shifts back and forth, and intense, multi-faceted characterisation mark it out as one of the most unique and thought-provoking comics - small press or otherwise - out there at the moment.

All issues of The Lengths so far can be ordered here. For more on Howard’s work check out his website here and the official The Lengths site 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

  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Mar 9, 2012 at 6:22am

    Why oh why don't you live next door from me so I could read all these wonderful ephemeral works!

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Mar 9, 2012 at 11:07am

    Heh! Well you can always check out the sites for international rates Bart. ;-) But, yep, I know what you mean about the slightly unobtainable just out of reach. I always feel that way about some of the Euro comics you've highlighted that are awaiting translation into English. It's a good time to be a comics reader (as long as you're not into super-hero comics!).

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