Review by Peter Duncan
I try to stick to using the third person when writing reviews. I think it gives an air of objectivity that is useful to keep my mind focused on the material and therefore be totally fair to the creators involved. This time round, though, I’m going to ignore that self-imposed guideline, because sometimes it isn’t possible to separate my knowledge of the creators from my views of their creations and on this occasion, it also allows me to make a point that I think is worth making.
Editing a small press comic brings you into contact with all sorts of potential contributors. People with a wide range of talents and personalities and who react to a response from an editor in very different ways.
Issue Four of Sentinel, has been created by a writer and an artist who, the last time they submitted to, Sector 13, were turned down for publication. But the book serves as a perfect example of the truism that a rejection from an editor is no indication of a lack of talent, but reflects the opinion of one person on one day, on the suitability of a contributor to their publication.
Sentinel, created by Alan Holloway and Ed Doyle, is a tribute to the pocket libraries that once formed a huge part of the British comics industry and survive to this day in the form of the long-running Commando title. In their heyday, pocket libraries covered every conceivable genre from war to science fiction, from tales of pirates and cavaliers, to spy stories and romances.
Their comic has been following a similar pattern, covering science fiction, fantasy and now horror in their first four issues. This issue’s story, “The Terrifying Tales of Misty Moore” recreates the “Gothic for Girls” genre and, as the title suggests, harks back to the much celebrated Misty comic title, in particular.
The story begins, as these stories often do, with a new girl moving into a new house and going to a new school. There is bullying at the school, as an early mistake by Misty sees the sharks gathering, sensing a vulnerable newcomer, as the dark supernatural history of her new home comes into focus.
Alan’s script moves quickly, never getting bogged down in exposition or unnecessary dialogue, but he still allows the plot to meander. Making full use of the 64 pages to celebrate the tropes and stereotypes of the genre without ever descending into sneering parody. Misty faces school bullies, a weird and unpleasant neighbour and a school outsider who becomes her best friend, all topped off with a terrible secret associated with her new home.
This is a celebration of gothic storytelling prevalent in British girls’ comics in the seventies, rather than a joke at its expense and it’s my favourite issue of Sentinel to date.
The art, provided by Ian Beadle, is fascinating. This format plays to Ian’s strengths, his excellent page design and deft storytelling combine with Alan’s script to move things along nicely – and while his figure drawing can be awkward with some basic anatomy looking off in places, in this format, where storytelling is all, it works perfectly.
And that brings me back to my initial thought about horses for courses. I’d turned down Alan’s last submission to Sector 13, because it needed more pages than we had to spare for that issue. We didn’t have the room for the pacing of his story.
At roughly the same time, I made a decision not to offer a script to Ian for Sector 13. I was concerned over his figure work and how it would look in an A4, glossy comic alongside the other artists we had in that issue. But there was something interesting there, something different so I kept in contact with him.
I was delighted when I heard that Ian was working with Alan on a ‘Misty’ issue of, Sentinel. Something told me that the format, the genre, and the combination of their styles would meld together to produce something that really worked.
As it turned out, Ian surprised me. His page design and depiction of buildings and places is superb, and while I still have reservations about his figure drawing, in the context of a 64-page picture library where a tale is there to be told with energy and skill, those faults are totally irrelevant.
Sentinel issue 4 is a comic with two creators, working in a format and on a project that suits their talents. They’ve already hit their Kickstarter target, bit with about two weeks left to go there is still time to get on board for this issue. And it just goes to show, that in terms of submitting work to small press comics a single rejection means very little. You may just have to find the right project, it is, after all, a case of “horses for courses.”
• Sentinel Issue 4: “The Terrifying Tales of Misty Moore” by Alan Holloway and Ian Beadle is available through its Kickstarter campaign. The campaign has already reached its target but remains open for further orders
Peter Duncan is editor of Sector 13, Belfast’s 2000AD fanzine and Splank! – an anthology of strips inspired by the Odhams titles, Wham!, Smash! and Pow! He’s also writer of Cthulhu Kids. Full details of his comics activities can be found at www.boxofrainmag.co.uk