Published by Soaring Penguin Press
This anthology series has made a return. It’s had a little bit of a rebranding and the first issue offers us some impressive creators and strips. Overall, this first issue offers a mixed bag of stories but with a £4.95 cover price, it’s good value for a 56-page book.
I thought I would have a look at each of the main stories in detail, but if you’re worried about possible spoilers, you might want to come back later after you’ve bought a copy, although I don’t think I’ve given anything away in my comments below.
First up is an old friend.
Written and drawn by Gary Spencer Millidge
Are 45 year old Englishmen allowed to say ‘Back in the day’?
If so, I would like to make it plain that I was a big fan of Strangehaven ‘back in the day’. I even have a framed page. It was a hugely interesting book that played on some very British themes. We got some heavy The Prisoner moments, a big dash of Twin Peaks and some Second World War references. That was some time ago. I genuinely thought we had seen the end of the series. I’ve had a few chats with the creator Gary over the years and he was a little downbeat about its return.
Yet here it is.
Its return in John Anderson’s revitalised anthology has been doing the publicity rounds for a while now, and we announced its return here at downthetubes earlier this week. I’m going to open it now with some trepidation.
I am relieved at first to see that the story starts with a narrated recap. But halfway through I am exhausted by its detail. I am tempted to give up. But I push on through for purposes of this review and a need to find out where it goes from here.
The recap ends with a waking bang (literally) and the first chapter begins proper. We visit the hooded Masons as they carry out their rites and traditions. It’s drawn in real detail and is pretty stunning to the eye. My only regret so far is the need still for Mr Millidge to use these heavily photo realistic faces. Some (and I felt this on previous issues) have emotions that almost feel at odds with the story they are trying to communicate. And being completely honest, they seem somewhat dated in a modern book.
As the debauchery of the Masonic rites carries on we get some interestingly prophetic and creepy dialogue. The mood is broken a little by an ill advised and clunky Groucho Marx/Woody Allen oft repeated joke. It’s kind of in character so I let it pass me by. It is the first issue, after all.
The scene changes to a character getting his hair cut. Some talk of space travel highlighting the more eccentric characters in the village and then a conversation between the local police man and the local doctor (who seems to be wearing those glasses that you get in joke shops – you know, the ones with the really thick lenses that make you look like a character from Carry On Pervert?)
At this point I am struck by the feeling that this book would be completely inaccessible to a new reader (even with the detailed recap). But the older volumes are still available in trade or online. They may be worth a delve in to first before you attempt this chapter?
The story continues. We get a conversation in the local pub that consists of a lot of exposition. My eye kept trying to skip panels but I force it to read all the words. This really is becoming a slog. We then switch back to the newly shorn space traveller. He and a friend are building a space ship.
And then it ends and I’m left feeling a little ambiguous about the strip’s return. On the one hand, I am over the moon that this book is back. It asks you to pay attention. It doesn’t pander to melodrama or unnecessary splash pages and overly dramatic dialogue. It is however like reading a comic version of The Archers with some added small town Tales of the Unexpected weirdness.
Has its time passed? It’s probably too early to say. I am going to hang in there with it. If you liked the series before you will probably have an affinity for this material. But approach it like you did your ‘A’ levels and do some revision first.
Written and drawn by Yuko Rabbit
Translated by Motoko Brimmicombe-Wood
This is a story of a girl who is locked in a tower, given a new gaoler/babysitter. We soon discover that she lives her life in a world where gravity is in reverse for her. If let go she would head upwards into the sky.
10 Minutes, has plenty of Manga style influences in terms of both the art and dialogue. It’s a huge scene shift from the first strip in this book and I found it less heavy to the point of almost slight. It has moments of real beauty – but I can’t help but balk at the sight of a young girl chained up.
This story is the first in a series and gets a ‘To be Continued’ at its end, but I’m not sure that this is a story I would go back to. We don’t really get enough of the story in such a short page count – it seems too short and too slight to be split up for an anthology. I suspect that the longer story would work better in one bigger volume.
The Bad, Bad Place: Part 1 – Warning Signs
By David Hine and Mark Stafford.
A traveller named Jenny finds her way in to a deserted town where she is met by an old man seemingly in a pirate’s costume who introduces himself as Ned Trench and warns her about entering said town. It turns out that Faraway Hills was supposed to be the perfect to live, but there were spooky and ghostly happenings that caused all the residents except Ned to flee, who, as the official Town Crier, becomes the perfect storyteller for this tale.
Now this is good. It has a real edge to it and is both funny and creepy in equal amounts. It ends on a genuine cliffhanger and tells of curses and demons that will arise in forthcoming issues.
Really great stuff.
• Mark Stafford can be found at www.hocus-baloney.com
Melody Baker: Communication Breakdown
Written and drawn by Chris Geary
“Melody Baker” offers a huge turn of pace in comparison to “10 Minutes” and “Strangehaven”. Described as a ‘futuristic spy story’ on the contents page, it’s a full on adventure story with science fiction aspects and has some gorgeous line work by the creator. I really enjoyed this story, which has a real classic Al Williamson feel to it in certain moments. I shall certainly be coming back for more of the same.
Written and Drawn by Sally Jane Thompson
Created by the excellent Sally Jane Thompson. this is a wordless short story of a day that goes badly and ends in a transformation. To tell you anything more would stop you enjoying it yourselves.
As always with Sally it’s beautifully told and speaks volumes without a single word balloon. I have been a big fan of her work since meeting her recently at the Nottingham Comic Convention and this did not let me down.
Just this tale alone is worth the price of admission.
The Amazing Roger Casement by Fionnauala Doran
Tonight by Bridget Mayne
Peas in Our Time by Sean Bright
Meanwhile… Issue One also includes three short one page stories from the Comics Unmasked competition, a tie in with the recent British Library exhibition. These are all quite interesting but, to me, seemed of a little lower quality compared with the rest of the package.
• Meanwhile... Issue One is available now, available in comic stores & online. Subscriptions for Four issues are £20 (UK) /£24 (USA & Canada). For more information visitwww.soaringpenguinpress.com
• Diamond Distributors will be carrying Meanwhile… in the US and it will be listed in the December cover datedPreviews under the Soaring Penguin heading
All artwork © respective creators