Bubblegum-chewing as an erotic enterprise is a new one on me, but I guess it takes all sorts. Matilda Tristram's splendid but baffling Gum depicts a rubbery coupling between two bubblegum enthusiasts, replete with phallic bubbles and sticky, squishy, sky-bound sexual athletics. Like Matt Brinkman's work (see Teratoid Heights), Gum follows its own internal logic, the characters stylized to fit the pink and bouncy world they live in. For some unfathomable reason, the last third of this expensively-printed mini-book is taken up by a 'Notes' section. A place to jot down one's own bubblegum sex experiences, perhaps? In any case, my copy has stayed conspicuously blank. Maybe I should get out more.
Review by Nick Jones
£3.50, go to www.afootbooks.com
A collection of gentle, poignant strip-vignettes by creator Greg O'Brien, this publication offers perfect entertainment for the small press enthusiast not yet jaded by first person narratives wistfully caught in life's momentum and primitively drawn with endearing lack of know-how. The universality of its themes – realised through the juxtaposition of captions which speak of the author's inner turmoil, and pictures which illustrate this turmoil in a humorous, self-deprecating way – succeeds in sparking a connection with the reader. No, there's not a lot to get excited about, but with sure-footed rhythm, adroit, neat story telling, and curiously effective and affecting pencil-shaded panels, Ghost Of A Doubt is pleasantly beguiling; which, like, is a bit annoying really.
16 A5 pages for 2 euro. Email: Greg O'Brien
One particularly gratifying occurrence over the last year or two has been the 'rediscovery' of the Fast Fiction/Escape school of Brit cartoonists. While From Hell and the various Alec books have kept Eddie Campbell firmly in the limelight, other graduates from the mid-'80s UK small press explosion have until now enjoyed less acclaim. Happily, they're now getting the exposure they deserve - Glenn Dakin thanks to his Sunday Times 'Robot Crusoe' strip and Top Shelf's Abe collection; Phil Elliot courtesy of various Slave Labor offerings; and Ed Pinsent, Chris Reynolds and John Bagnall via their respective Kingly Books collections.
Bagnall has also been producing utterly charming mini-comics, Bushels of Coalsmoke being the third and most recent. Like its predecessors, and in common with much of the cartoonist's work, it contains parochial pleasures a-plenty, harking back to a half-remembered/half-imagined age of flat caps and flares, pie shops and pitmen. Bagnall has refined his instantly recognizable lino cut-style artwork and quirky storytelling over the years, and Bushels boasts some sterling examples of his work, particularly the distilled 'week of comic strips', which play like idiosyncratic public service announcements. There are further additions to his 'Disappearing Phrases' collection (“Nora's been working here since pussy was a kitten” being a memorable example), and a look at the Police Bottle, a forgotten working class flu remedy. Who said comics can't be educational?
Review by Nick Jones
£1.50 for Bushels or £3.50 for all three mini-comics (postage inclusive), cheques payable to John Bagnall at 4 Belgravia House, Gilesgate Moor, Durham, DH1 1DY, UK, or visit http://mysite.wanadoo-members.co.uk/johnbagnall
Part of the loose collective orbiting the USS Catastrophe website (see also Kevin Huizenga and Dan Zettwoch), Ted May stands apart from that crowd – hell, any crowd – by dint of the way his comics veer wildly between the deep and the dumbass. Often that switch occurs between one panel and the next. Sometimes it even happens within the confines of a single panel. May's peculiar genius lies in these tonal shifts never seeming forced or even out of the ordinary. You notice them, but immediately accept them, unconsciously telling yourself: it's fine; it's a Ted May comic.
Neruda originally saw print in the first issue of Jordan Crane's Non anthology in 1997. Eight years on, and sporting a spiffy new colour cover, the reprinted 20-page story stands up surprisingly well. May's modus operandi in his work appears to be: extract one of those half-formed, almost hallucinatory ideas or autistic nearly-puns that seem to circle endlessly in one's head, then follow it, stream of consciousness-style, through to its illogical conclusion. Neruda's take on this formula involves a commune of former hippies, the army, reporters, roleplayers, all sorts of government and corporate agents, the eponymous stone idol, and some choice utterances and incidental asides. The narrative performs leaps of logic like a racehorse gliding effortlessly over impossibly tall hedges; the comic as a whole is by turns funny, baffling and profound. As one of the ex-hippies succinctly puts it: "Fuckin' Neruda!"
Review by Nick Jones
$3, order from USS Catastrophe
Anthologies can be pretty good indicators of the strength and depth of a particular scene. More than individual creators’ own titles, anthologies can offer clues as to the social and artistic connections being made, as well as granting opportunities to directly compare and contrast the themes and sensibilities of a group. When Whores of Mensa #1 appeared last year, it represented concrete proof of the growing confidence and maturity of a section of the UK small press, and of a willingness to move beyond genre material and into much more interesting and personal areas. This time around, the ‘whores’ comprise original contributors Jeremy Dennis and Mardou, along with US cartoonist Ellen Lindner (replacing Lucy Sweet), plus a page from ‘guest whore’ Lee Kennedy, and the finished artefact is even better than its predecessor.
There’s an aquatic theme running through Whores #2, as well as a return to the raking over of high and low culture that characterized the first issue. Jeremy Dennis provides two scaly tales: the first following the Little Mermaid as she takes Prince Charming to the cleaners after their bust-up; the second detailing the bizarre and disturbing life of an arse-about-face merman. (It’s been remarked on before but it’s worth mentioning again that stylistically – and to some extent thematically – Dennis is the most direct descendent yet of Eddie Campbell – no bad thing considering Campbell’s one of the best cartoonists of his generation.)
Ellen Lindner’s touching adaptation of the Bobby Darin standard Beyond the Sea is possibly the best comics story featuring synchronized swimming ever, suffused with longing, excitement and tenderness and unfurling elegantly across eight beautifully designed pages. Meanwhile, Mardou has two tales on display, the first a lustful unpacking of fishy thoughts on a psychiatrist’s couch, the second a sexy-as-all-hell freewheeling free association depicting a femme fatale rescuing Tom Courtney from Billy Liar cultdom and lifting him to superstar status. Like the best of Mardou’s work, it leaves you dizzy with joie de vivre and dying for a shag.
With Lee Kennedy’s amusing ‘I had a funny dream last night’-style rumination bringing up the rear, Whores of Mensa #2 stands revealed as yet another shining example of how fertile and exciting the UK small press scene has become. Please: a round of applause for these whores.
Review by Nick Jones
£2.50/$4.00, order from www.usscatastrophe.com
When the motivational-speech of superhero Major Impact is received with disdain by a refuge of underprivileged children weary of cliché platitudes, he has cause to examine his role as defender of a society that is in dire need of re-invention. The anguish prompted by the Major's newfound sense of powerlessness attracts the attention of his fellow super-beings, and with his hero-ing affected to the extent that lives are lost, they get pro-active in their pursuit of a solution. Fortunately for them an adversary emerges in the form of a malevolent entity (and eater of souls), whose presence in the Major's dreams proves more than just manifest and latent content…
Combining 'classically dexterous storytelling skills and post-modern delineations', writers Paul H Birch, Clark Castillo and Mel Smith manage to craft a coherent narrative, which delights in melodrama, but possesses the vague pull of subversive undercurrent. With over fifty contributing artists – including Norm Breyfogle and P Craig Russell, Garen Ewing and Neill Cameron – cohesion is achieved through a homogenized style, which mercifully favours story-telling clarity over inventive layout. It's slick, glossy malarkey with the odd over-inflated word balloon, and big heart. All profits go to a charity for America's homeless children.
52 full-colour pages, $4.99 from Wildcard Productions
Veering towards the misanthropic (or maybe that’s just what living in Yeovil does to one), The Cosmic Toast is a collection of comics and prose by Luke Wakefield.
The first few strips focus storywise on the Great British booze culture and the aftermath is captured in all it’s degradation with apt gross-out illustrations. I wasn’t so keen on these strips,which basically lampoon but offer very little else. It puts me in mind of certain Viz strips, but at least Viz has comic relief (usually).
The second half of the comic is much more interesting. In illustrated prose the author recounts his past hallucinogenic experiences and his brushes with psychedelic enlightenment. They’re well written, truly engaging and elevate this comic to a much higher (no pun intended) read that the first strips indicate. Wakefield’ strength as an artist is definitely in the field of the trippy and the artwork reminds me of a cross between Jamie Hewlett and the Ozric Tentacles cover art.
One Pound Fifty from:
Luke W, 12 Manor rd, Yeovil, Somerset, BA20 1UG