Cup of O – Small Press Reviews: A Certain Symmetry, CROSS and How To Be A Superhero

A Certain Symmetry Jordan Collver Richard Worth

A Certain Symmetry (Self Published) By Richard Worth & Jordan Collver

I’ve long been an admirer of the distinctively creative collaborations of Worth & Collver and this tantalizing pamphlet (at the time intended purely to seduce publishers) is another slice of fried gold from the team. Sadly, it appears at the moment at least that their 2014 Thought Bubble gambit didn’t pay off – as at the most recent show they were selling A Certain Symmetry at their table. The upshot of this is that you can actually get your hands on it and therefore I’m justified in writing some words on it.

Houdini Jordan Collver

The nature of the preview is brief – taking the form of a spectacularly illustrated letter (how can Collver even make a man just writing a letter stunning?!) written by Arthur Conan Doyle to Harry Houdini. The two were close friends but were driven apart by their differing opinions on spirituality. An enlightening text on the back page cements the goal of the narrative. To define the symmetry between the two divided friends: the skeptic and the believer. Faith versus doubt – an eternal arguement embodied by these two legendary figures. The premise is fascinating and this all-too-short glimpse into what could easily be a stunning graphic novel is as inspiring as it is slightly baffling. Who’d pass on this?

• Jordan recently posted the entire of A Certain Symmetry on his portfolio site here but I urge to keep your eyes on the Water Closet Press duo via their Facebook. They never stay gone for long!

 

CROSS Anthology - Final Cover

Cross: A Political Satire Anthology (Disconnected Press) Edited by Liz Boyle

Liz & Conor Boyle’s Disconnected Press are difficult to dispute as the most well-connected and most consistently glorious creators in the small press. Here they produce a remarkable themed anthology to pre-empt 2015’s big election.

Cover (Simon “Pye” Parr)

From 2000 AD’s (at the time) underrated design droid Simon Parr – this Gurr-esque scratchy black-white-and-red cover is stunning in its iconic simplicity. Combined with their b/w logo and fronting a matte be-spined white softcover this is marvelous, top quality shit. I sound like I’m on a shopping channel.

Film Parody Posters (Matt Soffe)

Matt Soffe’s sharp film poster parodies dot the volume and each one is a masterpiece. Mostly focussing on the establishment and the Tory cabinet. His beautiful painted soft greytones and tremendous gift for likenesses make each one of these parodies function on the best level possible- in that they could actually work as posters in their own right!

The Pogrom (Brick)

Veteran newspaper cartoonist Brick provides a visual extrapolation of pastor Martin Niemöller’s famous sentiment “First they came for the socialists…” and certainly, as Brick strips things away until the indifferent protagonist himself becomes a target – you see things currently happening in these post-election years. A stark beginning illustrated in a classical newspaper satirical cartoon style which perfectly sets the tone for the anthology.

“Money Bucket Head” by Rob Williams and PJ Holden

A rather sad fable about a young ideological politician with a bucket for a head on which is written “Put Money in Here” – ably drawn by 2000 AD legend PJ Holden a man who can effortlessly make a bucket-headed man emote better than most other artists can normal humans. There’s a deeply sad tone to this, the hopeless destiny of an honest bucket. One of a few examples of satire as a functional narrative in Crossed and it works very well.

Security (Owen Michael Johnson, Conor Boyle & Jim Campbell)

Another narrative here musing on the relativity of security and precaution, with a great future-shockesque ending from indie comics perennial Owen Michael Johnson. Illustrated by Disconnected Boyle in his absorbing stark-black-and-white style that has an engaging physicality to it. His storytelling is utterly phenomenal. A shout as well to letterlord Jim Campbell’s glorious lettering on this story and where’er else he’s credited.

Preparation for Leadership (Mary Talbot, Alywyn Talbot & Jim Campbell)

An interestingly analytical tale from (analytic academic) Mary Talbot about the childhood psychology of the Bullingdon clubbers that now sadly run our nation. It’s drawn by concept artist Alwyn Talbot in a fun but very pared down cartoony style and suffers from being slightly blurry. Possibly due to a dpi difference in the original drawing and the print size – a shame but still engaging.

Balance (Tom Foster & Jim Campbell)

A financial adviser from “Austeritas” is guided through a couple’s large house and assesses it. A very smart allegory more than it is a narrative but the breathtakingly detailed artwork by small presser-turned-mainstreamer Tom Foster pushes this into classic territory. Some particularly clever lettering from Campbell here as well, using the space in smaller panels well.

In the Studio With Nigel Farage… (Nigel Auchterlounie)

A cartoony bit of UKIP/Labour bashing from this UK comics stalwart – although there’s nothing particularly revolutionary here the likenesses are a hoot.

The Coalition of Heaven & Hell (Emma Beeby, Gavin Mitchell & Jim Campbell)

A theologically themed chunk of satire here – taking the form of a television tour through the “Divine Joint Executive” (the coalition of the title). There’s something tremendously doomy about linking contemporary political concerns with religious imagery. It lends it a troubling “we’re all fucked and we have been forever” type air. Beeby’s story plays with that bleakness, joyfully rebranding the afterlife and selling it to the viewer. The art by Mitchell is superb – a confident mix between the cartoony and the serious with a nice use of gradients. His shadowy Lucifer is incredible.

Europe We [Love/Loathe] You! (David Ziggy Greene)

One of my favorite satirical artists in the UK, David’s expressive style and sharp observational doodlings are here depicting the various different sides of the EU debate. As I type this, Greene’s piece is in many ways far more relevant now than it was on Cross‘s publication. His final words from a pro-Ukrainian protester is perhaps the most apt of all…

Five Flying Squirrels Learn a New Perspective on Fascism from a Kindly Robot (Howard Hardiman & Jim Campbell)

A lone robot stalks an industrial landscape as five squirrels glide about its head – tormenting it but eventually becoming enlightened. The sparse artwork and disjointed jumble of visual metaphors make this one of the weakest links in the anthology narratively but it has a nice contemplative underground comix vibe to it.

It’s a Shit Life (If You Don’t Bother to Vote)! (Tom Eglington, Verity Glass & Jim Campbell)

Clarence the guardian angel from It’s a Wonderful Life has sold out in a pretty major way an is trying to convince an apathetic Brit against voting as his friend desperately tries to convince him its worth it. A clever story device and definitely hitting the nail on the head in terms of subject – apathy being the enemy of progress and all that. It is brought to life in a breathtakingly expressive painted style by the phenomenal Verity Glass. Glass could draw the ingredients on a crisp-packet and make it stunningly moving so paired with Eglington’s grand script this is an absolute highlight.

Nigel Farage, Agent of C.R.O.W.N. (Richmond Clements, Nick Dyer & Jim Campbell)

Standing at the English end of the channel tunnel this is only ONE MAN who can protect England from foreign incursions… a thrilling old-skool action tale illustrate with great physical vibrancy and classic comics charm by the criminally underused Nick Dyer. The problem with the story here is that it’s executed so well and done with such a satirically broad brush that it could almost function just as well as pro-UKIP material! In context, it’s brilliant, but out of the anthology it could cause serious concern…

The Archaeology Inspector (David Baillie, Spinx & Jim Campbell)

Charismatic time traveller Z’plockbaahg comes from the far future to a time just after ours and in a thematic callback to Brick’s Pogrom that started the anthology we see a grim fantasy Tory landscape with corporate police and complimentary copies of the Sun beamed straight into the skull… shudder. It ends rather flatly but the dynamic art by Spinx is very complimentary to the relentless pace.

Pulling the Plug (Cy Dethan, Matt Timson & Jim Campbell)

The final story is a cynical meta-narrative/situational rant about the changing nature of satire, featuring a nice nod to then recently-departed Rik Mayall along the way process. Timson’s art is excellent – clear and professional with lovely glowy greytones. An apt conclusion that turns the mirror back onto the reader – has any of this annoyed you? Now what are YOU going to do about it?!

Alongside the strips/artwork there are a few quotes sprinkled throughout and a Polly Toynbee article (that did what many commentators did at the time and lazily framed their apathy debate against the well-meaning but awkwardly impulsive Russell Brand making everyone involved seem a bit sneery) that doesn’t add much.

This review has been a long time coming, as Crossed should now nearly feel two years irrelevant – but under our rapacious Tory government and with the walls of nonsense surrounding the fallout of the EU referendum this stunningly consistent satirical anthology has not only aged very well but begs for continuation. Don’t get cross in the run-up to voting season alone – stay cross permanently!

With this in mind, it would be nice to see an annual satirical venture from the Disconnected team – we have within this topical tome the beating heart of the British comics scene and it would be marvelous to see more from them all in this format. Comics and satire belong together.

• You can get Cross via the Disconnected Press websit

 

How to Be a Superhero

How to Be a Superhero #1 (Heartless Comics) Ned Hartley & Gavin Mitchell

I picked this up at 2014’s Thought Bubble off the writer Ned Hartley on the strength of Gavin Mitchell, who is one of the finest artists working in the small press today. Hartley had a whole line of titles from his new imprint “Heartless Comics” but this leapt out at me most – largely because of Mitchell, but I was struck by the smart framing of the story. How to Be a Superhero acts as both a comic about and a pamphlet for the “Superhero Self Help” guru Eddie Mars – but is he really who he seems to be? It’s an intriguing concept and a strong first issue which doesn’t give away much in terms of exposition but is peppered with good character moments and has a strong sense of focus.

The man who drew me to the comic is on excellent form here – Mitchell’s sharp n’ witty character work and excellent dynamic physicality is present here in spades complimented by some nicely muted colours that suit it all brilliantly. Elsewhere we’re treated to motivational hero posters (designed by Barry Spiers) and some in-universe ‘activities’ for attendees of Mars’ class (My superhero name: “Professor Crusader”) – all very welcome and show a healthy enthusiasm.

A shame then, that in the long months since I purchased this the project seems to have gone dark. I know Mitchell is beavering away on great things but it would be a shame to see no more of this promising bit of small press super-heroics!

• You can get How to Be a Superhero #1 on Heartless Comics Bigcartel store

Owen Watts

Owen Watts is a small press editor, artist and colourist. He currently co-edits The Psychedelic Journal of Time Travel – a twice-yearly small press anthology featuring over 15 different emerging creators every issue. He has recently helped colour Ben Dickson & Gavin Mitchell’s Santa Claus vs. The Nazis for Aces Weekly which is due out as a single volume with Borderline Press later in 2014. He also runs the 2000 AD forum art competition, reviews small press comics and becomes a hippo every second Thursday.

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