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PG Tips No. 11:

A Brit Comics Special

Paul Gravett highlights comics by UK creators in a Brit Comics Special of his regular PG Tips column.


Alec:
How To Be An Artist

by Eddie Campbell
Top Shelf
$13.95
Who better to sweep you up in the first-hand, horses-mouth adventure of Brit comics from the Eighties to today than Eddie Campbell, master cartoonist and raconteur? Through Fast Fiction, Escape, Harrier, Warrior, Knockabout, that whole graphic novel zeppelin, Mad Love, Tundra and From Hell, from self-publishing obscurity to self-publishing fame, fortune and Hollywood, Eddie has been there. He has kept his memories, crisp and opinionated, and all the stuff of the time, favourite strips, reviews, clippings, souvenirs of exhibitions, receptions and festivals, fastidiously filed, and now he has crafted them into his nine-panel grids as a graphic novel. Like Will Eisner’s The Dreamer, but with only Eddie’s name changed to his alter ego Alec, How To Be An Artist  is comics history in autobiographical comics form. Like a mock self-help book, he captures the period’s optimism, naivete, perseverance and sheer luck of trying to make a living from comics. It is also a personal history, sharing the intimacies of his life with Anne and their family. He spins a thoroughly involving yarn, whether you were there too or not, treading on toes and egos, and waltzing off on engaging tangents, to acclaim the grand old men of American newspaper strips, to consider the true history of humourous art or to rummage through the dirty laundry of Big Numbers and Tundra. At last, someone has recorded this heady, haphazard period with honesty, humour and passionate subjectivity.


Nasty Tales:
Sex, Drugs, Rock ‘n’ Roll & Violence In The British Underground

by David Huxley
Headpress
£13.90
Nasty Tales concentrates on the history of the British comix scene. In Nasty Tales, David Huxley, a comix artist himself since the Seventies and now a university teacher, spans from 1966, the year of perhaps the first British underground comic, Hilda Hoffman’s Rearousing of the Names (how I’d love to see a copy of this!), through to 1982, the end of pssst! magazine and the start of the Fast Fiction photocopying explosion. As well as the historical sweep of publishers and titles like Oz, International Times and Nasty Tales and their obscenity trials, and big names like Bolland, Emerson, Gibbons, McKie and Talbot, Huxley gives due credit to Antonio Ghura and the late Mike Matthews for their full-throttle, taboo-breaking shockers and to the individualistic approaches of the more obscure Edward Barker, William Rankin and Mike Weller. So it is frustrating that his year-by-year A to Z of comics at the back gives no details of contributors. In his main text, Huxley seems to have missed some niggling errors of dates and numbers and curiously omits significant cartoonists who drew for the music press, such as Savage Pencil’s Rock’n'Roll Zoo in Sounds and Tony Benyan’s Lone Groover in NME. After a cursory update on the enviable prestige of comics in Europe, he concludes the current status of the medium in Britain as ‘stuttering and uncertain’. I would argue that there has been real progress for British comics, even if not all of them are published here anymore. For him to claim that today ‘strange, often photocopied material, sometimes with tiny print runs, abounds in most countries apart from Britain’ fails to appreciate that the UK small press and indie scenes, though reduced, remain feisty and fertile. Yes, the struggle continues, and Nasty Tales is a landmark for finally acknowledging many who led the way.


Horace Dorlan
by Andrzej Klimowski
Faber
£12.99
Reading stories told entirely in pictures, such as Klimowski’s previous novels The Depository and The Secret, can be an unsettling experience. Cast adrift from the comforting anchorage of explanatory words, you may feel as if you are reverting to some forgotten, preliterate state, not unlike your puzzled wonder as a baby, or your prehistoric ancestor’s awe at cave paintings, where only close decoding of every cue and clue allows you to navigate these ‘silent’ images in sequence. In Horace Dorlan, the reading experience becomes stranger and richer still. For the first time, Klimowski takes 110 mostly wordless, woodcut-like drawings, some across one spread, others filling numerous pages, and interweaves them with generously spaced passages of precise text. After the opening two chapters, in which he segregates the apparent reliability of words and then the fantastical aspects of pictures, his cutting between the verbal and visual becomes more fluid, as the frontiers between realities and reveries, memories and anticipations, people and places, increasingly blur. The more images you conjure from the prose and the more stories you unlock from the pictures, the more you see how they echo and feed back into each other. No wonder one diner mistakenly toasts Horace Dorlan as ‘Doris Horlan’.

It is appropriate that one half-waking encounter by Klimowski himself should become the source of Dorlan’s initial symbolic dream. Strolling in South Kensington, Klimowski had been struck by a woman’s unusually elongated elegance, like a human preying mantis, and began following her. When she disappeared inside a grand building, he stepped up and read on its nameplate ‘Institute of Entomology’. Winged, with antennae, this ‘insect woman’ becomes a key figure of mystery and eroticism in the book, her black-rimmed glasses similar to Dorlan’s, her charms confused with those of his lover Angela. Another of the book’s memorable motifs has haunted Klimowski since his Fifties childhood in a labyrinthine Ealing communal home among mainly exiled Poles: he grew up convinced that inside their large wooden wireless was playing a miniature jazz band. Similar sorts of heightened imaginings, one expressed through the visual arts, the other through writing, are triggered in two of the book’s protagonists when parallel accidents knock them unconscious. Upon waking, respected scientist Dorlan produces reams of abstract automatic drawings before reenvisaging his formal lecture as a wild multimedia extravaganza, whereas his technical assistant Edward Green scribes a "science fiction biography" entitled The Insect Queen. In its hypnotic Lynchian fascination, Klimowski’s hybrid itself also stands as the product of an uncannily awakened imagination, a masterwork whether of art, or literature, or both.


The Originals
by Dave Gibbons
DC/Vertigo
$24.95
His Mod-like Earth-2 comes fully realised, not in black and white but in shades of grey. The clothes, the clubs, the girls, the drugs, in a rites-of-passage tale that grows out of Dave Gibbons’ eternal teenage years.


Kingdom Of The Wicked
by Ian Edginton and D’Israeli
Dark Horse
$15.95
A superstar children’s writer finds himself trapped in the fairytale world he first created as a haven when he was a sickly child, except that it is now ravaged by war. Serialised years ago by Caliber in murky monochrome, this haunting 120-page allegory finally gets the quality colour printing it always deserved.

Posted: May 27, 2007

The above reviews first appeared in Comics International, Comics Forum and The Daily Telegraph.

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Andrzej Klimowski
British Comics
D'Israeli
Dave Gibbons
Eddie Campbell
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Featured Books

Alec: How To Be An Artist
Alec:
How To Be An Artist

by Eddie Campbell

Nasty Tales
Nasty Tales:
Sex, Drugs, Rock ‘n’ Roll & Violence In The British Underground

by David Huxley

Horace Dolan
Horace Dorlan
by Andrzej Klimowski

The Originals
The Originals
by Dave Gibbons

Kingdom Of The Wicked
Kingdom Of The Wicked
by Ian Edginton and D’Israeli