Here’s a couple of recent British comics that are worth a look. I don’t know whether I can justify a round-up more succinctly than that, so only pausing to highlight the disclaimer at the bottom of this review, let’s get on with it:
‘Nelson’, edited by Rob Davis (the SelfMadeHero adaptation of ‘Don Quixote’, some great ‘Doctor Who Magazine’ strips) and Woodrow Phoenix (‘Sugar Buzz’ and lots of other stuff), published by Blank Slate Books.
‘Nelson’ is an ambitious enterprise. The life of one woman, from her birth in 1968 through to 2011, told in short snapshots of her life by different British artists. Nel Baker, overshadowed by the early death of her twin brother Sonny (the typography of the cover, splitting up the title as ‘Nel-son’, isn’t accidental) is an artistic and imaginative girl who goes on to lead a complicated life that’s full of incident without being unbelievably overwrought.
The pleasure of ‘Nelson’ is in its episodic nature, and the different way the artists approach their subject. We dip in and out of Nel’s life, with friends and lovers disappearing (and re-appearing), happiness turning to sadness and back again. Changes in Nel’s life are often explained, but occasionally delayed until much later in the narrative. There are highly dramatic sections and funny ones too, as you would expect from a book covering a lifetime.
The artists seem to have been given a lot of leeway in how they approach their segments, with some taking a strictly realistic approach while others add fantastical or symbolic flourishes – Dan McDaid portraying Nel’s sense of impending doom as a looming black sun filling the sky is a memorable example of the latter, while Adrian Salmon, an artist mainly known for SF and horror, excels in an entirely realistic scene set at a party.
One of the aspects that most impressed me about ‘Nelson’ was that, in a book so laser-focused on the passing life of its lead character, there’s a sense that the supporting characters have their own, partially seen, stories going on: Nel’s father appears to be living through something akin to ‘Our Friends in the North’, her best friend a Jeanette Winterson novel.
By bringing together so many great and diverse artists – from big names like Sean Phillips and Hunt Emerson to lesser known talents like Phillipa Rice – and giving them such leeway there’s a real sense of a lifetime passing, and by the end of ‘Nelson’ there’s a real feeling of breadth and depth to Nel’s life as told. Highly recommended.
‘The Scarifyers’ #1, by Simon Barnard and Simon Gurr, published by Cosmic Hobo.
I haven’t heard any of the ‘Scarifyers’ audio plays on which this comic is based, so I went in with very few expectations, and found myself very pleasantly surprised. Set in 1936, this is the first part of a Wheatley-esque period horror adventure story with a pleasingly light, humorous touch. The lead characters of Detective Inspector Lionheart and Professor Dunning are a smart, traditional double-act for this kind of story, one thinking with his fists while the other is bumblingly academic.
From audio to comic is a big leap of adaptation – having dabbled in scripts for both media, I consider them to be polar opposite disciplines, the former relying almost entirely on dialogue and the latter primarily visual – but series creator Simon Barnard has turned in a witty, well-paced script that doesn’t feel overly talky.
Artist Simon Gurr has the unenviable task of taking the existing material – the likenesses of actors Nicholas Courtney and Terry Molloy, as well as the CD covers by ‘Rainbow Orchid’ artist Garen Ewing, whose art for the first CD is re-purposed for the cover of this issue – and working it all within his own style, but does a wonderful, dramatic job. From the striking first splash page of a man running through the stark London snow, a bird looking down from above, Gurr’s work is striking and engaging, packing a lot on to each page in terms of action, humour and character.
There’s a definite ligne claire influence carried over from the covers, but the interiors are monochrome and replace the flat colours associated with, say, Tin Tin in favour of a murkier, more sinister set of greys, using an old print style effect for texture. His Lionheart isn’t a straight likeness of the late Nicholas Courtney, instead elongating him into a kind of human scowl, perfect for such an irascible old sod.
At 32 story pages this first issue packs in a lot of story, although it ends on a cliffhanger. Hopefully there’ll be more – in spite of its origins as an adaptation, this is an excellent page-turner in its own right, and a lot of fun. Seek it out.
Disclaimer: I’ll quickly add here that I know Rob Davis, Simon Gurr and a couple of other people involved in these comics socially, so I’m not entirely unbiased. What can I say, it’s a small world?