Warren & Gary Pleece:
‘You’d think in such a large building, there’d be something interesting going on…’ This thought comes from a bored sniper stuck on a stakeout in Montague Terrace, London. His target lives there, a maverick scientific genius whose revolutionary inventions so threaten ‘the interests of enterprise’ that a corporate cartel has hired a hitman to bump him off. The curtains part and the show begins as neighbour spies on neighbour, peering into other flats and other lives. To all outward appearances these tenants seem ordinary enough, but there is more going on behind closed doors and beneath the surface.
Montague Terrace originated as a self-penned track from singer-songwriter Scott Walker’s debut solo album in 1967, which inspired two Brighton-based brothers, Warren and Gary Pleece, to imagine it as a crumbling Thirties apartment block, the ideal setting to dream up all kinds of darkly humorous tales of its diverse occupants. In the first of these (above), which appeared in the sixth and final issue of their self-published comics showcase Velocity in 1991, Matt Johnson is a former New Labour spin doctor who ends up consorting with criminals in his campaign to legalise a new but potentially deadly drug for sufferers of Asperger’s syndrome. When his own mother-in-law dies afterfrom taking it, Johnson becomes ‘the first person to be flogged live on national television before the National Lottery draw’. Reduced to a paranoid drug pedlar, Johnson sinks still lower when he is wrongly accused of an elderly tenant’s murder.
Last year brought the republication of this inaugural Montague Terrace story in the Pleece Brothers’ themed collection The Great Unwashed from Escape Books. Meanwhile, in 2009 they began serialising fresh episodes on the collective webcomics site act-i-vate. “Hungry to rekindle the creative spirit of Velocity,” Warren recalls, “we came back to the original idea because there was loads of potential for dozens of stories all glued together with the crumbling mortar of this one decrepit building.”
In 2010, he adapted four of these tales for the Hypercomics exhibition at the Pump House Gallery in London’s Battersea Park (above). The ground floor gallery became a flat in Montague Terrace, allowing visitors to press a door buzzer and choose which tenant’s flat to peek into through the curtains via animated sequences. All of the online comics will be compiled into a cleverly interwoven print graphic novel of the same name from Jonathan Cape in April.
Though the Montague Terrace narrative is set in London, Gary Pleece explains that it is as inspired by Brighton and its characters as anywhere else. “It’s based on mine and Warren’s experiences of living in flats across Brighton, being as close as a paper-thin wall to some people, but all you hear are sounds, you catch snippets and glances in hallways, hear muffled noises, arguments and sex. Your mind runs away and you end up with lives lived how we imagine them to be – who knows how close it is to the truth.”
Listen closely and you’ll hear the repetitive strains of Sixties’ pop single The Dwarf Elephant rise from the hovel of forgotten crooner Paul Gregory, who plays it over and over but never drowns his regrets, one of which shows up on his doorstep. From another flat can be overheard the conversations between magician Mystical Marvin, blacklisted for ‘gross magical incompetence’, and his talking rabbit, Marvo (above). A loud zzztttch-pop of a fuse blowing betrays the self-styled ‘Puppeteer’, masterminding more global disasters, while the clicking of Morse code signals senior citizen Beatrice Greene, codename Babushka, contacting her network of agents. You might also catch a blocked author flinging his laptop across the room, or a door being forced at the home of Iraqi refugees.
Montague Terrace harbours secrets of its own. From the book’s opening silent pages, clues are planted to the building’s unconventional origins, as it rises up on the site of a mysterious memorial statue. Pay attention and you may spot a distinctly odd symbol on the plans by architect Edward Loonkins (a pun on Edwin Lutyens). In the brand-new two-page strip below for ArtReview magazine, The Pleece Brothers provide an introductory tour from long-serving postman Ralphy. Join him on his rounds and listen in on his troubled monologue about ‘the old girl’ and her decidedly quirky lodgers. And you can meet Warren and Gary Pleece on Saturday April 20th at the Comica Comiket Spring Fair where they will signing copies of both their books.
This article originally appeared in the April 2013 issue of ArtReview.