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The Magical Mystery Tour

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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 seven days 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.

After a Christmas and New Year break, Small Pressganged returns this week with festivities of a different sort as we celebrate the diversity of self-published comics with a short review round-up of three very different SP books: John Riordan and Dan Cox’s funky Hitsville UK, Kayla Marie Hillier’s wonderfully individual autobio-comic Galavant, and Joey Esposito’s stylish noir-with-a-twist book Footprints.

Hitsville UK #1
John Riordan and Dan Cox (writers ), John Riordan (artist)

Welcome to Hitsville UK – an independent record label owned by Gerry Corden (a gent who seems somewhat out of his time, yearning for the bands down the Legion “You know, good bands. With songs”) and his “super-producer” Greg Studio (a cynical music biz sort with an apparently dark past and soundbites like “Music is NOT fun” and “This is the shite we will turn into gold”). Together with their netherworldly accountant Stan Van Horne, these chaps are our guides to a world of the weirdest bands imaginable as they seek to find the acts that will bring Hitsville the success they crave.

And what a glorious grouping of misfits and oddballs those performers are: The Carrie Nation’s Revenge, a band who have Scooby-Doo style adventures fighting the undead and the supernatural when not performing; Jack Spatz, a Flash Harry-type cheeky chappie whose musical oeuvre is Spiv Hop; socially awkward country singer Gwillum who bears an uncanny resemblance to a certain ring-obsessed Tolkien character; bespectacled, schoolboy DJ “Haunted By Robots” who appears to have a phantom automaton whispering ominous, revenge-fuelled thoughts in his head, and so many others…

This is the sort of strip that would have been very at home in the pages of the influential, late, great ‘90s comics/style mag Deadline. Mad as a bag of rabid ferrets, Hitsville UK is Vertigo does Jabberjaw and the Neptunes on acid; less a coherent narrative and more a maniacal, freaky stream-of-consciousness kind of thing. Indeed, there are few, if any, concessions made to providing any level of lucidity in terms of story structure and that’s half the fun of the book. It’s a furious, frantic procession of reality-challenged protagonists with a unique pull all of its own.

                 

It’s just too, too easy to use words like psychedelic and surreal to describe John Riordan’s art here. He jumps tracks so often in terms of style and feel to fit each segment’s mood that I had to flip back to the credits at one point to double-check that the book didn’t have a jam of artists working on it. Hitsville’s visuals are an intoxicating and vibrant fusion of Shaky Kane and Brendan McCarthy, imbued with extra life by the gorgeous, kaleidoscopic colouring.

In Hitsville UK, Cox and Riordan have united to create something quite unlike anything else you’re likely to read this year. A riotous, frenzied whirlwind of a comic book. I’ll be pre-booking my tickets for the next gig!

Hitsville UK is available priced £3.50 from the official site here or available to read online here.

Galavant
Kayla Marie Hillier (writer/artist)

When I made my first forays into small press publications in the early ‘90s there was one genre, if that’s the right word to use in this context, that I found myself immediately drawn to: the “slice-of-life” autobiographical comic. Maybe it’s the vicarious thrill of experiencing a gamut of emotions by proxy without any of the attendant responsibility or consequences… or perhaps I’m just a nosey sod at heart. Either way, there’s always something strangely enticing at being briefly invited in to share a period of someone else’s life in comic strip form.

Galavant is Canadian writer/artist Kayla Marie Hillier’s account of a spur of the moment decision to uproot herself from her native Toronto and make a three-month trip to the U.K., her exploits here and the life-changing ramifications those events had. Arriving in London in 2010, Hillier’s adventures crashing at friends’ flats, socialising with her chums in the U.K. small press, touristy musings, and eating (oh yes, there’s lots of side commentary on eating!) form the initial spine of the book.

But aside from the frivolous fun and gently amusing observational annotations, there’s a more pensive and thoughtful side to Galavant that will speak to anyone who has ever found themselves at a crossroads in their life. As the book progresses, its central theme quickly becomes an account of Hillier’s growing relationship with Brit small press creator Adam Cadwell and her reflections on where said relationship will be when the three months of her trip is up.

              

Admittedly, diary comics aren’t going to be every reader’s cup of Earl Grey, but this mixture of breezy, anecdotal ramblings and quieter introspective moments is well worth your consideration, and potential readers will find Hillier an open, engaging and jolly amiable hostess throughout. Galavant also embodies one of my favourite aspects of small press publishing: work crafted for the sake of crafting it... work that exists as much for the creator as it does for their audience.

Part travelogue, part outsider’s commentary on our peculiar British idiosyncrasies and part quirky romance, Galavant has an eccentric and warm charm all of its own.

You can buy a print copy of Galavant here priced £8.00. To read Galavant online check Kayla’s Galavant site here.

Footprints #1-3
Joey Esposito (writer), Jonathan Moore (artist)

As the mainstream comics industry continues its destructive and seemingly relentless mission of self-cannibalisation, one of the more reassuring signs that there’s plenty of original life left elsewhere within the medium is the growing number of initially self-published books that are being picked up by professional publishers. Over here in the U.K. we have people like Myriad Editions and Blank Slate doing a sterling job giving former small pressers a chance at their turn in the spotlight. More generally, though, we have the encouraging possibilities that the combined opportunities of digital delivery, and fundraising sites like Kickstarter, provide in establishing an audience exists for a product, giving hope that stronger backing for a project will eventually step in.

Footprints represents the perfect example of this latter route. The first issue was a self-published affair, via Kickstarter, that caught readers’ imaginations to such a degree that publishers 215 Ink stepped in, ensuring this unusually premised book would reach a wider customer base. Joey Esposito and Jonathan Moore’s basic concept revolves around  Bigfoot as a chiselled but hirsute Private Eye investigating the murder of his brother the Yeti, found dead with the word “Mother” scrawled over his head. Seeking to solve the unanswered questions behind his sibling’s death, Bigfoot brings together a team of colleagues from the old days that includes the Loch Ness Monster, the Jersey Devil, the Chupacabra and Megalodon. As the mystery deepens, relationships are fractured and a disturbing and far-reaching conspiracy begins to rear its ugly head…

What is rather splendidly appropriate here is that all those familiar elements from the classic era of noir films are present amongst the cryptids and fabled fauna. We have the world-weary anti-hero caught up in circumstances apparently beyond his control, the multi-layered “whodunnit” that is as much a puzzler to the audience as the cast, characters who border on self-destructive and a femme fatale who really does redefine the fatale part of that epithet. Moore’s distinctive art has a definite look of classic British comics artist John Ridgway’s grainy realism to it and provides the perfect complement for Esposito’s taut, dark script.

At this point, with the fourth, and concluding, issue imminent I don’t want to give away too many plot elements from more recent issues. There is a trade collection available for those wanting to check out the whole series coming in February after all. However, one of the main factors in why this book works so well is that Esposito and Moore play it absolutely straight. They’re not going for laughs; this isn’t satire or yet another tiresome parody of the genre. It’s a real noir crime drama where a number of the cast just happen to be mythical monsters. Perhaps the nearest thing to it at moment is Image Comics’s Proof but Footprints remains very much its own beast, so to speak.

Proving that grim and gritty still has its place in comics, and can apply to even the most outlandish fantasy premises, Footprints is an intelligently and deliberately playful, character-driven take on the hardboiled detective classics.

For more on Footprints check out Joey Esposito’s blog here. Issue #1 can be read for free here saving you $2.99. The Footprints trade, collecting all four issues of the miniseries is available from 215 Ink in February.

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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.

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