Small Press ROUND-UP

It’s not the size of your wand but how you wave it

Comic Heroes - - Front Page - Rob Cross Chris Ni­cholls

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

En­er­geti c, fun-packed and full of gags great and small. Scratchy monochrom e the art adds to steam­punk- y feel.

WARNIN G!! It’s a psyched elic blast on all your senses. There are plenty of fist-in-the- air mo­ment s for this girl gang. A macabre vil­lage tale of a plagued by dark­ness.

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