Sturgeon White Moss #3
Posted by Mardou
I like anthologies on the whole. They are an economic way of sampling lots of new artists and when the editing is well done, they are a pleasure in themselves. A rummage through another person's knicker drawer, the functional, the fancy, the downright sluttish, all chosen by one choosy hand.
Sturgeon White Moss #3 does a fine job of avoiding a cramped 'Small Press' attitude but instead makes straight for the Underground, which it truly is. Juxtaposing the work of established stars, such as the gorgeous sketch book pages by Charles Burns, with work by upcoming starlets (the awesome Jason Masters) and serialized stories (another installment of Salem Brownstone) , there's not much here that dissapoints. Saying that the 4 pages of scibble by Mat Brinkman left me feeling a bit short-changed. Also one of the three short stories by Jason, basically tells the same gag as Tom Gauld's story. They are both cute enough in themselves but collectively the effect of both is diminished and you're left wondering why they couldn't have been spaced over two different issues maybe.
An excellent cover, also by Jason sets the tone, a cheeky sparrow twittering on the shoulder of Mr Grim. Buy this comic (or at the very least steal Sylvia Farago's pants from her washing line).
Sturgeon White moss is available from:
21 Warren Court, Euston Rd, London
Priced £5, also at Gosh Comics and Comics Showcase, London
Don't Tread on my Rosaries
Almost regardless of the content this collection of John Bagnall's work is welcome. Bagnall can be considered one of the "Escape Artists", small press cartoonists who appeared in that seminal magazine in the mid 1980s under the editorship of man-at-the-crossroads Paul Gravett. The impact of artists such as Glenn Dakin, Eddie Campbell, Chris Reynolds, Ed Pinsent, Phil Elliott and the rest has slowly grown in the decades following, most notably inspiring the current wave of American cartoonists in the Drawn & Quarterly and Top Shelf stables, while Campbell's autobiographical history of this period in How To Be An Artist brought this quiet but fertile period to a wider audience.
And yet, with the exception of Campbell's prodigious output and Top Shelf's Dakin collection, very little of the Escape Artists work has been made widely available. Adding somewhat to the mystique of the era, aficionados would hunt down dog-eared fanzines and dusty Harrier comics, sometimes hitting the mother-lode of the early A5 issues of Escape itself. This was brought home to me when I realised that, despite being one of these aficionados of the Escape scene and with a massive collection of British small press comics I had seen but a handful of comics by John Bagnall and, with one exception, nothing over three pages long. And so, when I got my copy of Rosaries it almost didn't matter what the quality was like. Of course, there was a slight fear that it might be rubbish, or at least that it might not live up to expectations.
I'm happy to say my expectations were exceeded. As I said, prior to this book I'd read some very short pieces and the not-strictly-a-comic Nation of Shopkeepers mini, so to start off with a 27 page epic was great. "The Chemist and the Capuchin" brings immediately to mind Ed Pinsent's work in execution but also in the underlying religious theme and evocation of a certain post-war Englishness. And yet I can't currently think of a Pinsent piece it directly resembles. The story reads like a religious pamphlet - a British Catholic Jack Chick without the malicious bigotry - rejecting modern ideas such as tupperware and Freudian psychoanalysis in favour of the wisdom of a stigmatic Capuchin friar from an Italian mountain village. The tale is played so straight it's hard to see the irony, if it's there at all, and Bagnall's intentions, if they're not evangelical, are hidden behind the straight talking characters. To find such a piece by a cartoonist I previously only thought of as a post-punk concentrating on themes from his 70s British childhood is rather disorientating in a quite wonderful way. Is it a joke, as the title of the collection implies? Is it deadly serious? It certainly doesn't exhibit the detached observation of Bagnall's other strips. And beyond these speculations it's a wonderful piece on its own that bears re-reading.
"The Chemist..." takes up a third of the book the rest being a selection of previously published strips along with some new to this collection. Here Bagnall visits what I assumed to be his stomping ground - the rich but subtle social landscape of urban northern England in the 1970s, a world fascinatingly alien to anyone under 30 as it was violently swept away by the reforming 80s. The relative oddness of this era has been mined recently by Jonathan Coe in his novel The Rotters Club and Bagnall has an equally keen eye.
Within the book the piece "A Nation Of Shopkeepers" finds a context lacking when it was published as a pamphlet. A series of 11 portraits of gloriously ugly English folk in 70's shops, these at first look flat and static, the characters set in angular poses and seemingly staged for some ill-conceived promotional postcard. But look closer and you can spot a sly wink, and exchange of glances and an aura of comfort. Amongst the grime, bad teeth, terrible hair and limited opportunities these people come across as quietly happy. Is this a criticism of what was to follow, or a rose-tinted retrospective glance at a time gone by? Is Bagnall reminding us of something we've lost in the rush to self improvement and the doubt and angst that necessarily came with it? Does he really have the audacity to suggest that people were happy with their lot in the years leading to the winter of discontent? If so, then this is a much more potent piece than it first appears. Which, I should add, is probably a key trait of the Escape artists.
This rejection of modern ways crops up again in another Catholic-related tale, though in "Our Lady Of The Tower Block" the church is the oppressive force. Miss Buchanan has just started teaching at Our Lady of Fatima, a 70s inner city comprehensive school, but she's having trouble settling in and is developing a taste for the sherry. The nuns expect her to join in gatherings run by Brendan Cass, a charismatic young evangelical biker who's intentions towards her Miss Buchanan finds suspect. With the nuns, Brendan and the wild school kids getting too much she finds solace in a hairdressers that could be taken directly from "Nation of Shopkeepers" with its straight talking, fag smoking manageress. Brendan is clearly the villain of the piece, brainwashing the nuns and drawing them into a world where dissent is forbidden, while salvation is to be found in the safe, ordinary world where a lack of radical change brings wisdom and kindness.
One piece that sticks out somewhat is "Get My Own Groceries", a short snappy parody of David Bowie's time spent slumming it in Berlin to escape the limelight of Ziggy Stardust. Told in a diary style ("We made it through the Iron Curtain and had a great day. East Berlin has a repressed feeling - something boiling under") we follow Bowie as he tries to get real again, and we laugh as he completely misses the point, desperately seeking out poverty, loneliness and brutality to inspire his music - a kind of reality tourism. But as the hip middle class kids flooding into the deprived east end of London seeking some kind of reality find, you can't just buy into this world and expect it to be authentic.
"Groceries" was done in 1996 and seemed an odd piece to include but it does seem to act as a cautionary tale. It's easy to become seduced by the 70s world Bagnall has created, especially if you're disillusioned with the surface and cynicism of Blair's Britain. This is the pre-globalisation world of communities where people looked out for each other and had a faith in something other than money and it represents something lost, something that we might want to reclaim. But nostalgia in and of itself is not worth a jot and David Bowie's inability to "get it" is a warning to those seduced by Bagnall's work and, I suspect, to Bagnall himself.
The beauty of the John Bagnall's work show here is in its simplicity. The strips can be read as glib jokes and still have great validity and there are messages in here that aren't hard to pull out. But what separates it from more mediocre fare is that he allows you the space to meditate. There is clutter and noise but the reader is not forced to rush on through the book. The simple dialogue, which at times seems drawn from a 60's American comic book, and parable-style plots allow Bagnall to dig deep and uncover something quite unique. And then, having found this something he leaves it there for you to find yourself.
Samples and extracts here
Published by Kingly Books, 80pp GN, £9.00 / US$14.00 / Euro 12.00, ISBN 095316392X
The Girly Comic #3
Well crafted but unremarkable, Girly Comic #3 offers a pleasing diversity of art styles and subject matters, but is insubstantial and uninvolving. It's the kind of thing that slips past, leaving no trace on the memory - not necessarily a bad thing, but certainly far from satisfying.
Slight, indulgent pieces surface in the form of the polished but pedestrian 'Simple Simon', the appealingly primitive but clumsily delivered 'Housekeeping Tips', the skilled, animatory 'Da Hood' and the tired parody, 'Dr Love Monkey'. 'My Dead And Me' and 'The Cull' at least suggest the possibility of depth, but lose their way, albeit in a diverting manner. The curious 'Oddcases' employs a disarming matter-of-fact approach to the subject of phantom birthing and combines with a delicate, gay artwork to produce a sedate reading experiece that is peculiarly seductive. Equally engaging is 'An Open Book'; however, the Vertigo-affected gift/curse take on ESP stifles the impressively sophisticated artwork with chunks of exposition and asks only of the artist that he do his thing with just talking heads to play with. He does so with nonchalant swagger.
In The Girly Comic, editor Selina Lock has an anthology of solid, well executed strips. That these strips fail to engage emotionally and are more insipid than inspirational will probably not register with a 'teen audience. Adult small press enthusiasts probably won't care either.
A5, 44 pages, colour/B&W, 2.50 + 50p postage from: 38 Clarkes Road, Wigston, Leicester LE18 2BE.
Check the Girly site for further details, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Pilot is a light-hearted tale concerning the adventures of a girl who, whilst wandering home through a field, accidentally stumbles upon and somehow mysteriously 'bonds' with some kind of alien spaceship. The ship is a sentient being which follows our hero's every vocal command, with a tendency towards being pedantic and over-literal. Exciting adventures and much flying about the place follow.
If this sounds a bit like Flight of the Navigator, that's because it is. I'm not even going to call it a 'spin' or a 'take' on Flight of the Navigator. It just IS Flight of the Navigator.
(For our less cultured readers: Flight of the Navigator is a 1986 Disney movie concerning the adventures of a boy who, whilst wandering home through a field, accidentally stumbles upon and somehow mysteriously 'bonds' with some kind of alien spaceship. The ship is a sentient being which follows our hero's every vocal command, with a tendency towards being pedantic and over-literal. Exciting adventures and much flying about the place follow.)
I don't wish to appear overly negative here - to me, Flight of the Navigator represents the absolute zenith of the mid-1980s kids fantasy-adventure-comedy-sci-fi genre, and certainly the finest achievement to date in the career of Sarah Jessica Parker. If only it could have shoe-horned in a storyline where a child magically swaps bodies with one of their parents, it would perhaps be my favourite film of all time.
To return to the point; Pilot is a marvellously fun read. It has energetic, stylish manga-influenced art and a very strong sense of design. It cost 50 pence and gave me several minutes of happiness, and I consider that a pretty wonderful thing. It does not particularly redefine the possibilities of sequential graphic literature, but on the other hand it is FUN. Reading this comic is like stuffing your face with crispy m&ms and cherry coke and pogoing till you pass out at a Bis concert. Or, you know, whatever you consider fun.
Two issues available to date, I believe - check out Mitzy's exceptionally nice-looking website at www.goonpatrol.com for more details
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