The Blame. by Jon Aye. mini-comic. 2021. 22pp. $11.11
This British mini-comic is a low-key rather urbane bit of fun, an excellent showcase for the wry humor of Jon Aye. If you like local color, there is plenty of it in this collection of short works. There’s even one piece that features Matt Hancock, an inept politician on his way to a comeback byway of a role as a UN flunky attempting to scare up business opportunities in Africa, despite the UK’s dismal record in getting vaccines into developing countries. So, in Aye’s Hancock satire, he has the miserable sod sadly lurking about until he perks up by trying out tiresome American slogans on for size.
Peter Morey and Rebecca K. Jones are two very inventive cartoonists. I chatted with the couple via Zoom. I’m in Seattle and they are at their home in London. It was great to chat with two creatives who so neatly compliment each other’s work. It’s a fair observation given that they manage to do so well with similar subject matter that each tackles in a unique way. Both Peter and Rebecca explore social commentary and the human condition (Endswell, Boomerang). Both Peter and Rebecca let loose with wild and whimsical tales involving animals (Animal Spirits, Cat Disco). And, it’s clear to me that they enjoy what they do. I first stumbled upon their work on a visit to Orbital Comics back in 2019.
ENDSWELL by Peter Morey
I recently reviewed Peter Morey’s Animal Spirits and Endswell so you can definitely get a good sense of what he’s doing from that. I will say here that what propels the narrative of Endswell is a freewheeling play with the eccentric dynamics of a specific family. That requires storytelling freedom thus the fact it’s called a “loosely-based autobiographical work.” Thinking about Peter’s work, and then comparing it with Rebecca’s work, led me to ask them to chat a bit about British humor in general, how it runs the gamut from droll and dry to crazy and absurd. Part of the answer is that this tradition is just baked right into what they perceive as funny. They embrace the strange and so do I. Anyway, far be it from me to put anyone on the spot. I basically see all good work in comics as feeding off some touch of strange.
BOOMERANG by Rebecca K. Jones
I’ll segue over to Rebecca’s work and a moment which speaks so well to this quirky understated quality I’m talking about. It’s a moment in Boomerang (the first part to a longer work-in-progress) when the characters are enjoying a little fair at a local park filled with various random performers and the like. One such person is there lecturing about his peregrine falcon. And just as he begins his talk, the bird seems to take that as a cue to fly away, perhaps never to return again! It’s a splendid poetic pause referring back the main character’s own dilemma.
It was just a matter of time before I returned to the work of Peter Morey, which I had stumbled upon during a visit to Orbital Comics in London back in 2019. Even with a haul of comics to look over, I could quickly appreciate Morey’s distinctive and quirky work. Fast forward to the present, now I have three issues of Endswell compared to just the one a few years back. Reading over the first issue, and proceeding all the way through, I was treated to a fuller picture of this ongoing family saga. The first issue seems that much stronger now as it pulls together a number of dramatic bits all revolving around the misadventures of the granny of the clan, the matriarch in decline, who in recent years has brought in a suspicious character as her lover.
The family photo!
As with any sprawling comedy of manners, the first issue introduces the players and sets the tone. We begin with the main character of this loosely auto-biographical work, Peter Morey, as he relates to a therapist a series of events involving his grandmother. Things are a bit of a mess as it seems gran has reached a critical point where her well-being is a concern, not to mention her continued squandering of the family fortune for the sake of her vanity project. Plans must be made. Chickens are coming home to roost. Or, in this case, horses and dogs as gran runs an eccentric farm and kennel known as, Endswell. And then there’s Jim, the creepy ne’er-do-well she’s been living with. All of this is of concern to her now middle-aged children. And yet the worry has somehow spilled over onto Peter, part of the next generation. It’s not completely clear as to why Peter is so preoccupied by this drama other than it’s part of the neurotic goop that has overcome the whole family. Alright then, all very interesting family drama, as Chekhov would concur.
Morey does a fine job of giving a comedic shape to various family source material. In the end, we’ve got a nicely purring machine that sees us into the next couple of issues: one dedicated to the dogs at Endswell; and one dedicated to grandpa, which finds the clan reminiscing on the day of the grand old man’s funeral. So, all in all, this family comedy provides a neat platform upon which Morey can give the reader a bit of his take on the human condition. Morey’s droll sense of humor permeates his drawing style, which has an uncanny distant and ironic quality to it. The characters and settings, much like the narrative, are pared down to a mysterious enigma. Simple shapes and phrases leave much hidden, revealing only what’s needed and leaving the rest up to the reader’s imagination.
A poignant moment for Lady Foxhound.
Now, let’s move past Morey’s family saga to something more whimsical. This is more of Peter Morey’s droll humor but this time it’s animals–and not just any animals, these are power animals out to save the world. Animal Spirits is a deliciously over-the-top mash-up tribute to martial arts and violent manga, I would think. Actually, there’s only a few dollops of blood spilled, all things considered but you need to be mindful of the kiddos reading this, right? Morey’s light and lean line is nicely set off by his bold choice of colors. If you enjoy a cheeky adventure and root for animal rights, then this is for you.
The Minamata Story: An EcoTragedy. Written by Sean Michael Wilson and drawn by Akiko Shimojima. Berkeley: Stone Bridge Press, 2121. 205pp, $14.95.
The Many Not the Few. Written by Sean Michsel Wilson and drawn by Robert Brown. Oxford and Lancashire: Workable Press, 2019. 200pp, $18.95.
Sean Michael Wilson: Left Comics Sui Generis
A marvelously talented Scottish script writer, Sean Michael Wilson, is notable in the fast-emerging world of the nonfiction graphic novel, with a handful of awards and some twenty graphic novels to his credit. Like the most talented of left-wing film screenwriters from Hollywood to London to Tokyo and far beyond—suffering blacklisting and severe persecution in the Cold War era and not getting many good jobs right up to the present day—Wilson knows how to prepare his work for the next step in production. The writer works behind the scenes, so to speak, and becomes in a sense invisible, all the more so because the artist “adapts” any script, by necessity, to the demands of art and audience.
John Cei Douglas has a nice light whimsical style that serves him well with themes of mental health and relationships that he explores in picture books, comics and editorial pieces. In his latest book, All the Places in Between, he brings together all he knows to create quite a wondrous work. An “auteur cartoonist” is your best definition of this unique hybrid of artist-writer. And it is best to let that creative run wild and pursue their vision. While I was in London, my first stop was the House of Illustration where I gazed upon the works of such visionaries as Posy Simmonds. Her work follows a more traditional comic strip format but nonetheless is uniquely her own. Douglas has all the great vision and skill at his disposal and I absolutely look forward to seeing more of his work.
Douglas published a first collection of stories in conjunction with Great Beast Comics and completed his MA in Illustration from the prestigious University of the Arts London in 2013. This long form work of comics is wordless and the narrative is open to interpretation. It is not so much a story, per se, as a visual essay on the struggles one can face in processing reality and expressing one’s own reality. You are more following a feeling, a dream, than a storyline. Notice the simple set of lines separating the “panels,” as opposed to framing each moment within its own individual square as you usually find in mainstream comic books. It’s a relatively minor consideration but it could be a sticking point with some publishers who feel obligated to keeping to a set pattern. All it does is hem in the artist.
Douglas has a very light and graceful style that is endearing and inviting. Essentially, this narrative of sorts involves two girls. We never learn their names or much of anything about their background. They might be living in two separate worlds–or they might live right next door to each other. The blonde character appears to be pulled into the world of the brunette character. And this new place, seems to be, or feels like it is, set in some post-Apocalypse dystopian nightmare.
The characters find each other, become splendid companions, then they lose each other and ultimately find their own unique paths. It’s a weird and offbeat journey filled with a lyrical and haunting quality. In the end, it’s more about the journey, finding your way, and keeping your feet steadily upon the ground meeting challenges along the way.
Douglas’s work will intrigue and lift the reader’s spirits. His spare and clean line work is deceptively simple. As I have pointed out, Douglas forgoes the traditional panels you often find in comics in favor of basic dividing lines. Douglas strives to pare down. In general, comics is about paring down. It is a sensibility that you find among the best work in the comics medium whether indie/art house or more traditional comics. And in Douglas’s case, overall, it is this simplicity that affords his work with a more zen-like vibe that transports the reader. If you enjoy those quirky cartoonists, like Quentin Blake or Jean-Jacques Sempé, who always manage to pull a rabbit out of a hat when you least expect it, then you’ll certainly enjoy the work of John Cei Douglas.
I’ve kept up with Andi Watson‘s work in comics over the years and maybe you have too. It’s upbeat, quirky, and decidedly dry wit. Kate Beaton comes to mind. A number of British sitcoms come to mind too. Anthony Trollope. Yeah, he comes to mind as well. But let’s get back to Andi Watson. Dark Horse Comics has collected in a deluxe edition Watson’s GLISTER series. This book revolves around Glister Butterworth who stumbles upon quite a number of strange things.
Page from Andi Watson’s GLISTER
One of the strangest things is the family estate of Chilblain Hall. Glister and her dad live there, which is all well and fine. But they also have the occasional ghost. And the estate itself is a living entity. Glister is always trying to maintain an upbeat mood. She even encourages the family home. “But,” as Watson writes in one scene, “the doubt had already seeped into the hall’s timbers like cold in an old man’s bones on a winter’s night.” Here is where Glister must really lay on the charm and persuade the old mansion that being rustic is cool!
As a cartoonist, I greatly admire Watson’s direct line. I would not call it “deceptively simple” as is too often said of clean work. It has more to do with a clear purpose. And it’s very important to have a sense of clarity as you have a main character traipsing through a variety of rather arcane terrain. And I wouldn’t necessarily call this book aimed at only girls. Boys can, and need, to be sensitive. They don’t have to say they’re channeling their feminine side if they’re not ready to. Anyway, most boys know that all rough and tumble can get boring. At the end of the day, we are talking here about a certain sensibility. If you like droll humor, you’ll like this book. Come to think of it, doesn’t Harry Potter have a good dose of dry wit?
GLISTER collects four stories which include the arrival of a teapot haunted by a demanding ghost, a crop of new relatives blooming on the family tree, a stubborn house that walks off its land in a huff, and a trip to Faerieland to find Glister’s missing mother. Whimsical, indeed! A contrarian friend of mine egged me on the other day as to why it is that kids read so many comics. It can’t be good for them, right? With GLISTER fresh on my mind, I pointed out that kids get to enjoy a complex plot, playful use of language, and exercise their imagination. The grounding that will stand them in good stead when they go on to read the biting social satire of Anthony Trollope!
GLISTER is a 304-page trade with color tints. This whimsical collection will appeal to all ages, especially ages 8 to 12. It is available as of July 5. For more details, visit Dark Horse Comics right here.
SCOTLAND YARDIE by Bobby Joseph and Joseph Samuels
As we here in the States, along with the rest of the world, continue to deal with the orange menace, it’s good to gain strength from our friends across the pond. One thing that the creators of the graphic novel, SCOTLAND YARDIE, want you to know is that things are bad all over. Bobby Joseph and Joseph Samuels provide some dark humor for these hard times. This is a provocative work, set in south London, with a smart and gritty vibe.
No doubt, Bobby Joseph (script) and Joseph Samuels (art) make no bones about their dismay with the current (and ongoing) state of affairs. With such clownish characters in the media, and in government (gasp), stoking the fires of hatred, racism, and xenophobia with such intensity as we have not seen before in recent memory, any form of satire can be cathartic. In this case, we have a plot involving the Brixton Metropolitan Police in need of some diversity. Enter Scotland Yardie, a ganja smoking, no-nonsense “bad bwoy” cop who breaks all the rules to enforce his own harsh sense of justice. This is, by turns, a very silly comic (think Monty Python, for starters) and, ultimately, an eye-opening and worthwhile read.
Is that Brexit heartthrob Boris Johnson?
This comic’s writer, Bobby Joseph, is considered to be the voice of urban UK comic books. He is credited as the creator of the cult comic classics Skank Magazine and Black Eye. He has written satirical pieces for Vice.com, Loaded Magazine, The Voice newspaper, BBC1’s Lenny in Pieces and Radio 4. He is credited on the BBC website as instrumental in featuring some of the “first comics by black creators featuring black characters.”
Some light emerges…
This comic’s artist, Joseph Samuels, is credited as one of the most popular comic artists to grace the pages of Skank Magazine and Black Eye. He is the co-creator of the popular Afro Kid comic strip on Vice.com.
SCOTLAND YARDIE is a 100-page, full color, graphic novel, published by Knockabout. For more information, and how to purchase, visit Knockabout right here.
Simon Moreton, works in the tradition of John Porcellino, who originated the intimate, spare, and direct style of memoir comics. It is John P. who continues to fascinate and inspire readers with his ongoing “King-Cat Comics and Stories” mini-comics. It is undeniable that he founded these deceptively simple auto-bio comics, that be began self-publishing in 1989. Where does this place relative newcomer Moreton, working in such close proximity to Porcellino? Sincerity counts for a lot and Moreton comes across as quite sincere. Moreton is a Research Fellow at the University of the West of England (UWE), working on the REACT Hub. As he states, he is “interested in the everyday politics of creative practice, activism and representations of mental illness in sequential art.”
“iHero” is a comic book that mixes satire and whimsical use of superhero tropes to provide some good laughs in its debut issue. I think what I like most about this work is that it’s not afraid to just goof around. There is plenty of silly humor run amok. There is more going on too but it’s the offbeat humor that I’m favoring the most.
VINCENT is an inviting look at Vincent Van Gogh, the epitome of the tortured artist. In this new graphic novel by Dutch illustrator Barbara Stok, we have a new look at this icon. Published by SelfMadeHero, as part of their exciting new Art Masters series, we find in these 144 pages another way to appreciate Van Gogh’s life and art and even get some clarity regarding the myth surrounding Van Gogh. The most infamous moment during his life is, of course, the cutting off of part of his ear. Popular belief has it as his strange way of proving his love for a local woman. However, we find here that is not the case.