Review by Luke Williams
Published, roughly, quarterly, with a Kickstarter for Issue 8 now up and running, The77 is quite a feat, especially that, at time of writing, many of its contributors and editorial staff probably have day jobs. The title’s success has led to a small line of independent comic anthologies for The77 Publications, including Blazer and Pandora, forming a veritable stable of comics.
Issue 7 features a homage to Meat Loaf on its cover, promoting the new, promising horror / action / comedy strip “Black Dog Lane” which, alongside “Galactic Geographic”, redresses the humour / grittiness balance in the comic.
To date, the title has been polarised between straight out humour strips and gritted teeth / forehead furrowed actioners. In the former camp, you have Lew Stringer’s technicolour silliness, “Sgt Shouty”, and Brendon T Wright’s great “Martian Law” spin off, “Marty’s Believe it Or Not”, reinforced by newbie and excellent “Mister Meaker – Monster Maker”. In the grim and gritty camp, we have ”V”, “Division 77”, “Jorum”, “Disposal” , “Silver Jubilee” and “Extinction 2040”. The needle on the nihilism / joviality dial was pointing toward “sturm and drang” and the blend that “Black Dog Lane” and “Galactic Geographic” bring is a welcome relief.
It’s a beautiful looking package. The range of art styles is extraordinary and the work presented is stunning. Of particular note is Charles Gillespie’s work on “Disposal”, Rupert Lewis Jones on “Black by Day, Red by Night”, Andy Meanock (channelling Roger Langridge?) on “Mister Meaker” and Hal Laren’s airbrushed work on “Division 77”, redolent of cyberpunk artist Hajime Sorayama. Andrew Sawyers has also tempered his startling colour schemes and layouts from his earlier efforts, and provides distinctive, dynamic work.
Like any anthology there is a lot to unpack here, and the variety and number of strips is perhaps a drawback. With 12 strips all told, it’s a big package, arguably making it unfocussed. Your reviewer isn’t going to pretend to understand how much time and effort goes into putting together an issue of The77, although at a guess it’s considerable; but perhaps it might work better with half the number of strips and raising the page count of those remaining content.
What also doesn’t help is the long gap between issues and the slow development of some of the strips. Reversing the trend of decompressing strips may help. The lighter-toned strips are the ones that have a faster plot development or can be read as one offs, and are a more satisfying read. The more slower-paced strips would be a great read as a one shot. It’s a hard balance to strike between writing for a potential collection and writing for an anthology in a quarterly frequency episodic format.
For all the minor gripes above, there is something for everyone here. The77 is an amazing achievement, a comic anthology series that is successful, developing and growing in a market that continues to shrink and showcase for new talent. There is no doubting the love and enthusiasm that goes into every page. Long may it last.
Featuring “Extinction 2040” by Paul Goodenough and Ian Stopforth (concluding in this issue); “Disposal” by Martin Fisher and Charlie Gillespie; “Silver Jubilee” by Dave Heeley and Andrew Sawyers; “Galactic Geographic” by Noel K Hannan and Warwick Fraser-Coombe; “Matilda and the Amulet of Destiny”; “Black by Day, Red by Night” by Jo Heeley and Rupert Lewis Jones; “Black Dog Lane” by Kit Bodhi and Ben Macleod; “Sgt Shouty of the Moon Force” by Lew Stringer; “Trackless Depths” by Dave Bedford and Gary Burley; and “Mr Meeker, Monster Maker” by Bambos Georgiou and Andy Meanock