Monday, June 30, 2014

Brit Comics: Tim Bird, Lord Hurk, Owen Pomery

Grey Area #2, by Tim Bird. This was published by yet another impressive UK micropublisher, Avery Hill Publishing. This is a lovely, poetic comic that's an ode to British motorways. It follows a businessman whose journeys take him from London to the far north of England, again and again. Bird's line is mostly just functional; the drawings themselves aren't a huge component of the poetic nature of his comics. That lies more in the narrative captions that drive the piece along with his page design. It's not so much immersive, comics-as-poetry as it is a deep meditation on a particular subject, aided by a quasi-narrative that allows the reader to lock in on the experience of a particular person. Though the comic is printed Portrait-style, many of the panels stretch across the page as though they were Landscaped, as four panels are stacked on top of each other. It's a deliberately panoramic view of the surrounding countryside and a recording of what is seen. He also uses this effect to contrast the modern iconography of the road (signs, power lines) with ancient, pagan iconography like carefully arranged stones. He varies his pages to reflect the experience of the driver: traffic jams mean small panels, crammed together. Night driving means bigger and fewer panels, until he drifts away altogether. Bird also engages in abstraction, like the blurring of nights at light or the blurring of vision that comes from staring at the road for too long. The narrative content touches on the quote that prefaces the comic: "Much has been written of travel, less of the road". That is precisely what he gets at in this comic: the underrated beauty of the shapes of roads (comparing them to ley-lines), the rhythm and meditative awareness that driving can create, the language and mystery of roads and the always-continuing quest to create the perfect path, etc. Bird gets at all of this in an understated but entirely effective fashion.

Bazoik, by Lord Hurk.This is a wonderfully strange mix of American crime comics by way of Jimmy Cagney, Brooklyn accents and Tony Soprano mixed with a firmly British sensibility. Hurk likes to cram in tons of clearly-delineated detail into frequently small and asymmetrically-designed pages, keeping the reader off-balance with panels that shift and lurch unexpectedly while delivering killer punchlines with exaggerated expressions. "Bronx Cheer", about a gangster sent into secret exile by his mob boss, finds him recounting his story in the hinterlands of England at an eel shop--only to find a deadly surprise waiting for him. "Dope-Crazy Killer Cartoonist" takes a similarly slanted and odd approach to page design as it channels scolding but lurid crime comics of the 1950s. Seeing a cartoonist walking around with a big black jug labeled "Dope" and injecting it into his nipples was hilarious--just the right amount of over-the-top humor while cleverly referencing an entire sub-category of comics history.The demented capper in this collection of short stories is "O'Killagin", about a mob boss who arranged to have himself brought back to life, Frankenstein's monster-style, who goes on to kill every other mob boss in town. The true origin of how he came back to life is revealed at the very end after several pages of hilariously bloody violence. This is a densely-packed, beautifully-arranged and quite funny send-up of both a particular kind of genre and America's fascination with it.

The Megatherium Club Vol 1, by Owen Pomery. Another Avery Hill production, Pomery's hatching-heavy and deliberately exaggerated account of the shenanigans of the 19th century group of "scientists" who lived in the Smithsonian castle is as silly as one would expect. Led by William Stimpson, the Megatherium Club was known for its drunkenness, absurd behavior (sack races in the Smithsonian great hall) and interest in naturalism. Pomery amps up their general level of weirdness and tamps down the actual science performed by the club, as they are forced to find evidence of the Yeti or face expulsion from the Smithsonian. It's very much a sitcom plot, with half the group bound and determined to find and bring back a Yeti and the other half determined to produce a fake in order to maintain their free housing and booze. The humor mostly revolves drunkenness and generally inappropriate behavior, with some extra saucy language thrown in for good measure. Some of the bits land by sheer dint of the weirdness of the club and others thud on delivery as the same punchlines are repeated more than once. The main attraction of the comic is Pomery's extensive use of vertical hatching on nearly every page in an effort to convey the "vintage" feel of the story, as though each panel was a photograph; it makes up for some rough character design and drawings on some of the pages. There's a promising comic to be made using this style and the Club itself, but this one didn't properly mix the balance between humor and fact quite right.

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