Review by Peter Duncan
“There’s this boarding school, you see. Blackabbots it’s called, it’s 1938, and some of the boys have a secret fan club for, Spencer Nero – The Civil Centurion, ‘depression-era Britain’s greatest Roman-Themed hero’.
“And they’ve collected all this magic-stuff from his cases, relics of the bad-guys he’s defeated. I say collected, stolen really, one of the boys has an Uncle who is head of the, ‘Department of Contingency’ the government agency which deals with magical threats and wall manner of weirdness. That’s where Nero works, but Gypsum’s Uncle lets the boy play in the storeroom and, well things go missing.
“At one of their club meetings, held in a school out-building where they share out this magical booty, one of Spencer’s magical villains turns up and accidentally alerts the club to some nearby, nasty goings-on that need to be investigated, by them. But tomorrow, after class”…
And so, the scene is set for an adventure that mixes an upper middle-class kid-gang adventure, of a type made popular by Enid Blyton, with the story-paper school-story and some very weird magical menaces. Add some mild schoolboy innuendo and use the winning town in the “Blooming Blighty Award for 1937” as the setting for the climax and you have something a little special.
The Spencer Nero Club: Folklore and Fire is the first full-length spin off from the Spencer Nero strip which has been a leading feature in the long-running, small-press anthology, Paragon Comic, for some time and has led to three collections, available from Lulu.
Publishing under his own, “The Work of Knaves” imprint, writer Greg Meldrum mixes influences and genres in a clever, funny and ever-so-slightly bawdy way, that is fully supported by the atmospheric and expressive black and white art of Scott Twells.
Hugely enjoyable, and filled to the brim with visual jokes, The Spencer Nero Club: Folklore and Fire is a genuinely funny comic, with enough light and dark in the plot to allow it work as a drama as well.
The depiction of the teenage gang, and especially their reaction to meeting a “real girl” is skilfully done – and allows for some slightly dirty jokes to retain a charming innocence. Overall, a great piece of writing.
Artist Scott Twells’ work has been seen in Paragon and the Futurequake fanzines, as well as in Sector 13 and the recently re-released Splank! His page design and storytelling are, as always, excellent, but here it is his character design that really shines through. From the Ruthless Rhymer to, Mr. Partially-Denuded, a schoolmaster dressed in bondage gear and gimp mask, he has brought something special to the characters written by Greg.
Too often, weird characters can be funny on the printed page but fall short when an artist tries to match the writers imagination. Not so here. Scott’s somewhat idiosyncratic style is remarkably effective at bringing this strange world and these seriously weird characters to life and I can’t imagine anyone else drawing the story.
If there was to be one criticism of the comic, and it’s a very minor one, it would be that the sound effects don’t quite look like they belong and seem to sit over the art, rather than being a part of it.
Overall an excellent book, funny, well-written and with an artist perfectly suited to the material and very, very weird.
• The Spencer Nero Club: Folklore and Fire is a 28-page, US format comic available from Comicsy for 99p (digital), £3.00 (print)