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Travellers' Tales: From Paper Science to The Red Ten

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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.

After a couple of interview columns, it’s time this week to jump back into some more reviews with a look at three titles I've bunched together under the most tenuous of thematic links. The last (only for the moment hopefully!) issue of broadsheet anthology Paper Science takes "travel" as its central topic, then we take a tourist trip to seaside town Fathomsby ...home of Rol Hirst’s Too Much Sex & Violence, and finally we're stranded on a remote island in ComixTribe’s super-powered mystery book The Red Ten…

Paper Science #7
Matthew Sheret (editor), various creators

The seventh issue of Paper Science, the newspaper format showcase for some of the top creative talents of the British small press scene, is out now with the theme of the latest edition being “Travel”. This is the last Paper Science for the moment, as the title goes on hiatus from this issue but, as ever, it’s a wonderfully eclectic mix of presentational styles and comics storytelling; that larger broadsheet canvas really giving each (generally one-page) strip the opportunity to breathe.

Once again, the joy of this compilation of material is in its diversity. Not just in the differing styles and approaches of the creators involved, but also very much in their varied interpretation of this issue’s subject. Each contributor is working with that starting point of “travel” but the results are entertainingly disparate, from Octavia Raitt’s stylish piece of nostalgic graphic design, to James Downing’s surreal and brilliantly bizarre “Toughby Goes Travelling”, through to Meryl Trussler and Marc Ellerby’s slice-of-life “The Minke Whale”.

This time around I particularly enjoyed Rob Cureton’s witty and familiar-feeling account of listening to holiday bores, and John Cei Douglas’s “Follow Me”, a magical novella in a page that seduces the reader’s imagination with its charmingly storybook narrative approach. Kayla Marie Hillier provides a pensive piece on her new adopted hometown which acts as something of a coda to her autobiographical travelogue Galavant, reviewed enthusiastically here in Small Pressganged a few weeks back, while David O’Connell, guiding light of UK anthology ink + PAPER, gives us a delightfully understated tale of moving on while on holiday. Those are my highlights from the issue but, in truth, there’s not a weak offering amongst the bunch.

                 

Interior pages from Paper Science #7 highlighting the comic's "newspaper" presentational feel...

Bravo to the We are Words + Pictures team and all the contributors for seven memorable and beautifully produced issues. The paper has provided a great taster for further investigation of the work of individual talents over the last couple of years. Let’s hope it’s only a temporary leave of absence for Paper Science but, regardless, I’ll be keeping a watchful eye in WAWAP’s direction for future projects/publications.

You can buy the latest Paper Science priced £3.00 plus a selection of back issues here. You can also download the first two issues for free here.

Too Much Sex & Violence #2
Rol Hirst (writer) various artists

Get ready to squirm chaps because the latest issue of Rol Hirst’s surreal black comedy/morbid fantasy soap opera has a pivotal scene this issue that will not so much make your eyes water as make them explode across the room and splatter all over the opposite wall…

Our welcome (?) return this issue to the depraved seaside town of Fathomsby - with its mixed population of the super-powered, the supernatural and the degenerate - provides us with both continuations of the storylines already set up last time, and introductions to new inhabitants of this disturbing locale.

Cantankerous super-powered pensioner Harry Hall gets an unwelcome visit in a tense sequence illustrated by Neil Cavenham. We’re introduced to vampire DJ Gary Gore’s monstrous studio rival Frank Epstein in a banter-filled segment quirkily realised by Ryan Taylor. And Rob Wells is the artist with the unenviable task of bringing to life the scene mentioned in the first paragraph between the penitance-seeking Piers Dougherty and Sister Serena, a nun with a shudder-inducing method of providing redemption. There are also a number of hints about the origins and nature of Fathomsby, a controlling local crime boss, a naïve and bullied Detective Inspector, and the corpse of a four-armed gigolo with two penises. See, don't get that very often in the X-Men now do you...?

When the multi-artists approach for Too Much Sex & Violence was originally announced – Hirst works with a plethora of British small press artists on the book, each providing a handful of pages each edition – I assumed that the same pencillers would work on the sub-plots featuring the same characters from issue to issue. With the second issue it’s clear that isn’t going to be the case and the visual realisations of Hirst’s individual story threads will be interpreted by a variety of different creators. This is already providing some interesting contrasts and gives TMS&V a distinctive patchwork feel. An approach I would have thought would be jarring and disjointed in practice is actually proving to be surprisingly effective.

           

Super-powered curmudgeon Harry Hall, ghoulish DJs Gary Gore and Frank Epstein and the chilling Sister Serena as imagined by Cavenham, Taylor and Wells...

If you read my interview with series writer Rol Hirst in an early Small Pressganged offering then you may recall mention of his long-running 1990s small press comic The Jock. As much as I loved that comic at the time, there was always a suspicion that, for want of a better phrase, Rol was largely making it up as he went along. That’s not the vibe I’m getting from Too Much Sex & Violence; there’s a sense here of characters being knowingly moved around the board, of planned intersecting storylines, and of a firm authorial control over the book’s direction.

When I was reading #2 it struck me that, for a book that delights in being both unsettling and sinister, there’s also something rather reassuring about TMS&V. Like the many British small press anthologies we’re currently blessed with, there’s an engaging air of community about this title with its (guided) group creative approach. If you haven’t visited Fathomsby as yet with your bucket and spade in hand, then it really is time you took a paddle in its murky waters. Just don’t wear that “Kiss Me Quick” hat anywhere near Sister Serena…

You can order copies of Too Much Sex & Violence here priced £2.50. Rol Hirst's blog can be read here.

The Red Ten #1-2
Tyler James (writer), Cesar Feliciano (penciller), Vic Moya (inker)

The marketing prowess of ComixTribe in providing a new distribution model for essentially self-published work has been gaining a reasonable amount of coverage online of late, and it’s pleasing to see alternative methods of getting indie work out there to the masses working so efficiently in building up a significant fanbase following. The Red Ten is a book set squarely in the super-hero stable that comes to us via that ComixTribe route, and the second issue of this murder-mystery thriller is available for your consideration now. The book takes Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (a novel now renamed twice due to its previous titles’ propensity to offend) as a starting point, in a neat little re-imagining of the mistress of mystery’s classic tale.

When super-heroine Red is brutally murdered by an unknown assailant her former kid sidekick Assistant District Attorney Daniel Lawrence, a.k.a. The Crimson Kid, comes out of retirement to help her old team-mates in The Alliance track down her killer. Believing her archenemy the Oxymoron to be responsible, the ten heroes travel to his island stronghold to bring him to justice. Arriving there, however, they discover he too has been killed and a sinister rhyme, foretelling their deaths is unearthed. Realising they themselves are trapped on the island, the super-heroes find themselves being picked off one-by-one and must answer the questions of why they are being targetted, and just who is behind this elaborate set-up, before it’s too late…

What’s most enjoyable here is that sense of consequence and air of unpredictably pertaining to the characters that is sadly missing in too many mainstream cape-and-cowls offerings. At this point it would be far too easy to meander off into a borderline rant about the state of contemporary super-hero comics but I’ll save you all the indignity of my grumpy old fart routine this time around. Suffice to say, and as writer Tyler James gets to note in his afterword to the first issue, The Red Ten is not the sort of storyline one could use in a Marvel/DC super-hero book; indeed the closest similar “closed room” counterpart I can think of is the mystery behind Mr. Terrific’s murder in Justice League of America in the 1970s and that, of course, involved the death of just one hero.

The Red Ten needed to do two important things to keep its audience’s attention. Firstly, after the demises of the early, scene-setting cannon fodder, we have to feel invested in the rest of the cast to some degree for their deaths to matter and our interest to be piqued. This James addresses by interweaving character-building flashbacks into the main narrative from the start, ensuring the audience builds up a relationship with the main players.

Secondly, it was important to ramp up the suspense beyond a procession of super-deaths which, while a vital part of the premise, were always secondary to the central plot in terms of hooking the readership. With issue #2 James does just that as he begins to layer the mystery, gently teasing us with hints and clues to the bigger overall picture.

While I suspect The Red Ten’s appeal is unlikely to extend beyond those already of a super-hero consuming mindset it’s still a fun little read that, although very mainstream in terms of presentation, is doing its bit to approach a desperately tired genre from a slightly different angle. That, in itself, is something of a rarity these days. Indeed, there's something inherently endearing about a book that plays the Big Two at their own game with such an assured and confident swagger...

You can purchase The Red Ten from the ComixTribe online shop here priced $3.99 an issue.

###

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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