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The Monster Mash: Cindy and Biscuit and Blood Across Broadway

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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’s column takes a look at two darkly comic books with a supernatural twist: Dan White’s Cindy and Biscuit and a return to this column for the work of Frank Candiloro, whose Testament of Doktor Zeitpunkt was an early subject for Small Pressganged. As ever prices quoted are the originals for point of origin. Please check out each individual store for details on international orders.

Before we jump in on those reviews, though, a quick update on ordering details for Rebecca Bagley's unmissable fantasy Tick, reviewed rather enthusiastically here at Broken Frontier a couple of weeks back. Rebecca now has an online store on her site here meaning there's no excuse now for not purchasing a copy of a small press book of which I said "If you don’t instantly fall in love with Tick after a first reading then, quite frankly, you have no soul…" This one's really rather special. You won't be disappointed!

Cindy and Biscuit #1-2
Dan White (writer/artist)

After twenty editions of this column (to date!) if you haven’t worked out by now that I have something of a passion for promoting small press comics then I think it’s fair to say  your powers of observational prowess are probably sadly at a rather embryonic stage in their development. As enthusiastic as I am for the self-publishing route and the pureness of creative vision it embodies, however, there are times when I acquire a title and find myself astonished that a professional publisher hasn’t snapped up both creator and concept yet. All of which, of course, is my roundabout segue into discussing the brilliant bittersweet charm of Dan White’s exceptional supernatural fantasy Cindy and Biscuit.

Cindy and Biscuit recounts the adventures of one angry young girl and her faithful canine chum who just so happen to bump into creatures of a paranormal, alternate-dimensional and extra-terrestrial nature on a regular basis. And give them a jolly good seeing-off each and every time to boot! Told in a series of black and white short stories, these two issues see our heroes encounter the likes of intruders from outer space, werewolves, ghosts and the odd hideous sea-creature.

What I find particularly endearing about White’s approach is the way in which each story is told from a child’s eye view of the world, complete with all those little perceived juvenile injustices that implies. Cindy may save the world from an alien invasion in Cindy and Biscuit #1 but it won’t stop her from being sent to bed early by her mum. She might fight off a fearsome mermaid on a school trip to the beach in issue #2 but she remains the object of scorn of her bullying classmates.

And that’s the genius of Cindy and Biscuit; by rooting the fantastic in the everyday, White gives his strip a humanity that elevates it above the merely cute and amusing. If you’re thinking this is an entirely whimsical gag strip then you’re very much wrong. The effectiveness of White’s approach is that he can shift from fast-paced, comedic quirkiness to eerie poignancy (as in #2’s haunting ghost story ‘Cindy & Biscuit and the Secrets of Summer’) or tense, claustrophobic terror (see also #2’s ‘The Snowman’, a kind of hybrid of Raymond Briggs and the doom-laden unease of an M.R. James story) at the drop of a hat.

             

Mermaids, aliens and werewolves... all in a day's work for Cindy and Biscuit!

White’s cartooning is full of subtle nuance. A look of sulkiness, or delight, on Cindy’s face speaking volumes about her childlike perception of her environment; a look of fear or anger on Biscuit’s propelling the story forward with comic ease. Instantly likeable and engaging, the visuals of Cindy and Biscuit have what I can only term as a kind of knowing innocence to them.

I can’t finish a discussion of Dan White’s work without also mentioning that the three print editions of his webcomic Terminus are also still available from his online store. These one-page surreal, darkly comic, fantasy vignettes are described by the author as “twisted micro-tales”. Originally published online, these forays into the bizarre and the dreamlike showcase his magnificently warped imagination at its distorted very best.

Like the aforementioned Tick,  Cindy and Biscuit is one of those books that will inevitably be discovered by a much deserved larger audience. While it’s too late to say you were one of the ultra-cool kids who were following the Cindy and Biscuit phenomenon from the very beginning there’s still plenty of time to jump in well ahead of the rest of the pack. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Cindy and Biscuit #1-2 are priced £2.50 plus postage & packing and £3.50 plus postage and packing respectively. Visit Dan White’s online store here to purchase copies of his work and his blog can also be read here.

Blood Across Broadway
Frank Candiloro (writer/artist)

I’ve reviewed the rather idiosyncratic work of Australian creator Frank Candiloro before for Broken Frontier and have found it an absolute visual treat that will appeal to anyone with a love for the history of film. His latest offering is Blood Across Broadway which, if you can quite believe it, draws in equal parts from the source material of classic F.W. Murnau silent vampire film Nosferatu, The Jazz Singer and Broadway musicals!

Blood Across Broadway tells the story of Morlook, a wizened, debilitated vampire with a fervent love for jazz and musicals, much to the chagrin of his son Cartorius. With the unlikely help of that celebrated star of stage and screen Al Jolson, Morlook begins to learn the arts of the theatre. But can a creature of the night ever really attain the heady heights of stardom in the bright lights of Broadway…?

From that improbable premise you’ll have gathered that this is not a book that takes itself too seriously and, indeed, the audience will have as much fun reading this as I’m certain Frank Candiloro had putting it together.  It’s a splendidly implausible romp that revels in its own self-aware silliness, and has no compunctions whatsoever about flaunting its unashamedly camp magic.

Where Blood Across Broadway does struggle slightly, though, is in its pacing. It takes a long time for the reader to really comprehend where the story is going and whether they’re reading a horror tale, a comedy or the outright pastiche that it eventually turns out to be. Seventy pages may be a little long to work up to the punchline of Blood Across Broadway and it’s here that, perhaps, the author’s background in animation shows. Sometimes you do get the feeling that you’re looking at a cartoon storyboard rather than reading a standalone graphic novel.

             

A selection of pages from Blood Across Broadway showcasing Candiloro's distinctive visual style

As always with a Frank Candiloro comic though, each and every page of Blood Across Broadway is a feast for the eyes. Just look at that art above… that beautiful, quirky, angular art with its atmospheric eccentricity and defiantly unconventional storytelling style. Jaggedly elaborate, its monochromatic elegance seamlessly resurrects the bygone silent cinematic era of inter-titles and organ music that it seeks to emulate.

Whatever my small quibbles above about story structure, I have to confess that Candiloro’s obvious passion towards the material that inspires his work is utterly infectious. After reading his comics I have an instant desire to reach up to my DVD shelves and pull down the likes of Metropolis or Nosferatu. There’s an inherent irony that work designed as an obvious homage to an abundance of cinematic influences retains an individuality and a voice all of its own. It really is quite unlike anything else you’re likely to come across on your comics-buying travels!

Blood Across Broadway is available from Frank’s online store here priced AUS$9.00. To find out more about his work check out his website 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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