‘Variety’s the very spice of life, that gives it all its flavour.’
William Cowper’s much repeated, (although not usually in its entirety) quote sums up very much the ethos behind this latest, third issue of New British Comics. Editor in Chief Karol Wisniewska makes that very point in his introduction to this latest collection of short works from an eclectic band of artists and writers. The introduction promises us action, mystery, drama and humour too and he is true to his word with thirteen different strips spread across a satisfyingly thick 80 pages. You get your money’s worth here.
Anthologies are inevitably hit and miss affairs. If the stories collected are all too similar it can make for a boring repetitive read and you risk only appealing to a certain section of the public. Too mixed, and you risk not really appealing to anyone in particular. Producing a successful collection of tales is a balancing act, which seldom, if ever, is 100% successful. New British Comics approach, which is to have no general theme, could be seen as a risky strategy.
Wisnieska chooses only to pick the stories which, as he says ‘are an accurate reflection of what I see on the streets...of Britain.’ As he points out, he’s not from round here and this gives him an outsider’s view. Added to that, as the strips are not constrained by commercial concerns and are only fuelled by the desire to create something memorable, it means that there is some weird and wonderful stuff going on in the pages of Issue 3.
To start at the very beginning, with the wonderful cover drawn by Lawrence Eldrick. A huge Union Flag balloon, in bright colours, floats through the slate grey clouds of Britain. Piloted by Alfred Hitchcock and (bizarrely) Charlie Parker, they’re joined by a few British icons on their journey. Mary Poppins is there, as is the dormouse from Alice In Wonderland. You can decide for yourself if Eldrick intended this as a metaphor for new comic writing, or if he just felt that it looked good. Either way, it’s a striking and eye catching cover.
On then to the meat and bones of the book, the stories inside.
First up is ‘Cindy & Biscuit Save the World (again)’ written and drawn by Dan White. Very much in the grand tradition of plucky youngster with trusty dog sidekick, Cindy& Biscuit, is a warm and witty opener. White manages to keep within the classic structure of such stories but still gently and affectionately pokes fun at them too. A fun opener that will leave you with a broad smile on your face.
Next up is ‘Alfred Hitchcock: Master of Suspense.’ A one pager from Lawrence Elwick and Paul O’Connell. Does exactly what it says it’s going to. Suspense, from Alfred Hitchcock, in one page. And it does it well.
‘Ink vs Paper’ from John Miers follows on. A striking piece rendered in bold monochrome, it’s the sort of experimental work that you find in few places in the mainstream. Dialogue free, Miers moves his narrative on through the clearly defined black and white images. It’s a fine example of how comics can be experimental and still accessible. Exactly the sort of thing that anthologies such as this should be showcasing and bringing to as wide an audience as possible.
Another wordless strip follows in the second contribution from Lawrence Elwick and Paul O’Connell. This time it’s classic jazz musician Charlie Parker’s turn to take centre stage. Parker, it seems, earned a few quid on the side as a Handyman, and Elwick and O’Connell chronicle his adventures here. Elwick recommends Parker’s classic ‘Scrapple from the Apple’ as the soundtrack to reading this. An inspired choice that confirms the feeling that this could just as easily have been a classic silent film short as a comic strip.
Things take a darker turn with ‘Here Comes The Neighbourhood’ from Matthew Craig and Richard Johnson. Disturbingly close to the postmodern bone, it’s the story of a TV show where residents from a less than salubrious area get to compete with their neighbours for a chance to move somewhere better. Bang on the money black comedy, this is a peek into a not that far away TV future. Scariest thought is that I’m willing to bet that somewhere there is a Channel 5 executive making a pitch based on this right now.
‘Better Living Through Distance’ from Craig Thomson is a science fiction tale of a traveller waking up in an alien land after being deep frozen for the long journey. He’s British, so of course, it’s not going to be all he thought it would be. A slight story maybe, and all about the final frame, but at only four pages long it hardly labours the point.
Craig Collins and Iain Laurie take us well and truly into a nightmarish world with The Quiet Burden.’ Another fine example of the sort of work you only find in left of field comics this is as weird and as wonderful as comics get. ‘The Quiet Burden gets the centre pages of the comic, and puts them to good use with a series of panels , that if seen be a psychologist could end up with Collins and Laurie sentenced to a lifetime of therapy. Great stuff.
Rob Miller lightens the mood, or so it seems at first glance, with ‘Dirty ‘n’ Down’ featuring ‘Luvvable Lex, The Glesga Gangster.’ The cheeky chappie gangster may try to come across as a loveable rogue, but Miller catches the darker underbelly of Lex’s world and with more than a hint of the menace that comes with it.
Another dialogue free story comes next with ‘Wonderland’by Wilbur Dawbarn. A simple tale of a Pan like creatures seduction by domesticity, it’s gently amusing and only slight weird. Anyone with commitment phobia should probably steer clear here.
Another visit from Charlie Parker’s handyman and another silent pleasure takes up the next page. Even more than the first strip this evokes the glorious era of silent comedy.
Van Nim’s twisted fairytale ‘(crack)’ next. A warning to all would be princesses out there looking for Prince Charming this is a sweetly drawn fairytale with a barbed ending. There is a reason why enchanted forests are filled with thorns and not everything ends happily ever after.
‘Van Trapp’ by the concisely named WJC is the penultimate tale. It’s a western and it’s a monster tale too, and it’s a nicely told mix of the two. Nothing is quite what it seems though, as you’ll find out at the end. No, it’s nothing to do with The Sound of Music’s Von Trapp family and I have to confess to being a little disappointed in that. The story, the art and the twist don’t disappoint though.
Last up is ‘A Complex Machine’ from the mind of David Ziggy Greene. A return to weird central, Greene has been drinking the same beer as Craig Collins and Iain Laurie and rounds things up with a suitably twisted and memorable ending to the collection.
A fine and varied collection then. If you feel, as I do, that there is something going on amongst the small press writers, artists and publishers across Britain, then you will plenty to confirm that feeling in the pages of New British Comics. There is some excellent storytelling and art in here, and unusually for anthologies it’s a collection with no real weak links.
As an introduction to what’s going on in the leftfield world of comics being produced with commercial constraints, to strips being created for the sheer love of creating comics, New British Comics is as good as it gets.
New British Comics #3