Small Press ROUND-UP
It’s not the size of your wand but how you wave it
Arthur Shilling Vs Th e Newlyn Nightmare
As well we all know, the small press is the lifeblood of the comics universe. Without it, many writers and artists wouldn’t have a proving ground where they can hone their skills, and we’d all be deprived of a whole heap of below-the-radar comic-y goodness. And so, like the intrepid explorers we almost certainly are, here we go, plunging into the undergrowth to discover exactly what’s growing down there at the grass roots.
First up is Arthur Shilling Vs The Newlyn Nightmare, a Kickstarter-funded effort from Cove Entertainment. A ripping, steampunk-y yarn that follows the titular “paranormal adventurer and gentleman engineer” as he attempts to uncover the truth behind a horrific murder, there’s lots to like here.
Moody black-and-white artwork and an ambitious split-page narrative mark out writer Chris Nicholls and artist Rob Cross as men with big ideas. The writing is solid and the artwork has a scrappy charm that’s reminiscent of Mike Mignola. Things aren’t so great in the characterization department – you never really get to know Master Shilling too well – and the split-page approach doesn’t always work to the story’s advantage. But this is a spirited, entertaining effort and a compelling early appearance for a world that we’d like to see much more of.
Martin Eden’s LGBT-friendly superhero saga Spandex is back with a bumper special issue, purportedly the final episode in a story which has seen 50ft lesbians attacking Brighton and much more besides. It feels like an age since we first discovered Spandex, and the latest instalment reminds us why we loved it in the first place.
This time round, Brighton’s premier team of LGBT super-folk has gone through an Avengers-style line-up change, and must take down another insidious threat. As always, Eden serves up a day-glo story packed with incident. But we found ourselves a little lost in the huge mix of characters and slightly convoluted plotting, and it pulled focus from a bunch of heroes who are usually notable for their big hearts (and filthy minds, obviously).
Still, there’s nothing quite like Spandex out there, and it’s well worth checking out. Handy hint: don’t miss the hilariously re-titled magazines and films littered throughout.
Next up is Raygun Roads, a creation in the grandest traditions of comix (very much with an x) from Changeling Studios. A highly surreal and irreverent story of music, sex and madness, it’s strictly NSFW fare and all the better for it. Writer Owen Johnson and artist Indio have tapped into the very deepest recesses of their psychedelic imaginations with this one, and it’s best enjoyed by switching off all critical faculties and strapping in for the trip.
There’s not so much a narrative structure as a set list. It’s as if some acid-fried late ’60s garage band poured a joint hallucination into a comic, with all the alarming artwork and insane posturing that suggests. The artwork is frequently dazzling, sometimes frightening but uniformly
excellent. In fact, the whole thing is presented incredibly beautifully, to the point where it’s hard to believe this hasn’t come from a large publisher.
There’s no doubt that Raygun Roads won’t be for everyone – this sort of disorienting freeform trip to the land of the unwell rarely is – but if you dig it, you’ll dig it.
The Grinning Mask by Ryan Taylor is an altogether more conventional story, although it’s not without its own particular brand of strangeness.
The plot centres on drifter Archibald’s descent into madness and murder, and the unsettling wooden mask he wears to perform his dark deeds. It reads and looks like a piece of rural English weirdness, the artwork reminiscent of woodcuts at times, and it’s a remarkably coherent and polished piece of storytelling. That Ryan Taylor
It’s as if some acid-fried ’60s garage band poured a joint hallucination into a comic
is a one-man band makes it all doubly impressive. We actually read episode three of The Grinning Mask, but it’s testament to Taylor’s talent that this issue stood alone and felt complete.
Finally, our odyssey through the small press seas brings us to The New Amazons from Kult Creations, an all-female superhero team, with each member themed by country. Over the course of this preview special edition, the girls set out to free Pussy Riot and take down President Putin.
There are some good ideas here – using public domain characters like Octobriana; a kick-ass all-lady superhero team; taking pot shots at Russia’s homosexuality laws – and it’s almost all action. There’s just something slightly lacking. The artwork is functional rather than fantastic, and lacks a little dynamism. It’s well coloured, which helps inject some life, but all the colours of the rainbow can’t make up for stodgy writing. There’s a fair bit of that here, with a lot of flat jokes and very little in the way of character or plot development.
Still, its heart is in the right place and that counts for a lot in our eyes. There’s a full graphic novel on the way, and it’ll be interesting to see how this supergirl drama plays out given a bit more space and time to develop. Rob Power