A Review Asks Only Whether One Can Live With It Or Die Of It

I've been reviewing small press publications on www.bugpowder.com for a few years now. Totemic small presser Andy Luke recruited me; he'd been impressed with my essay, Closing Shots From A Grassy Knoll, and was convinced that I could restore some cheer to the reviews section.

Ostensibly a scoff-mixture, Closing Shots From A Grassy Knoll discusses the pathogenic presence in UK small press of comics creators eager to produce work sterilized by an ambition to be adaptable to the strictures of an intrusive company bent on 'product development', and who derive a vanity-buzz of satisfaction from tucking themselves into deadlines and knocked-off scripts. "This budding hack is fuelled by little more than the desperation for a sense of celebrity," I wrote, "and must be destroyed."

My muscular reviewing-style grated with small press enthusiasts' indulgence in self-satisfied congeniality and writer/artist shape-throwing, but I refused to conveniently dismiss creators with throwaway compliments, employing instead a reviewing discipline based on four simple tenets: 1, perspective is to be achieved; 2, the standards by which one is judging the work are to be made clear; 3, credit is to be given where it is due; and 4, one should not be such a fucking misanthrope, you above-being-human narcissist.

Regularly achieving three of the four principles with my aesthetic evaluations, and quickly developing an obsessive-compulsive urgency for production of symmetrically paragraphed reviews, the meaningless absurdity of opinionative writing soon revealed itself to me. I was not deterred.

John Robbins

Slow Science Fictions #23: Now Here's A Tale With A Happy Ending

Posted on October 5, 2009


The final issue – relatively uncomplicated but with trademark oddball-ness – goes something like this: When the number 409 Zone 4 bus from West Croydon breaks down, two tourist passengers – Afro-American businessman Samuel L Poitier and New York script-doctor Mick Weller – take off on a woodland footpath and inadvertently cross into 3World in 4Time through a Zone 4 gap on a Surrey flyover. Addingcombe Hill leads them to the hometown of English superheroes, the Cosmic Crusaders, where, to the disruptive objections of Nasim Elmaz, the wedding of two past members – his brother Hussain Elmaz and Rebecca Schwaffer – is taking place. Addingcombe gives Weller the Robert Johnsons, and with good reason: Poitier is falling for local girl Michelle Jolly in spite of an enchantment on the village which dictates that Addingcombe can live and breathe only for twenty-three Thursdays one year in ten, and none of the villagers will ever be allowed leave. The pair of tourists have got themselves stuck in a weird comic book tale they can't get out of; or in a Brigadoon without the music. (Yes, the Key to the Universe and its nine-notched entry to the Heavenly Spheres of Reality has got mashed up with fucking Brigadoon.)

As author-in-residence in his own fiction – and at a side angle to it, also – Michael J Weller often pitched his Slow Science Fictions as both a celebration of- and lament for- admirable failure as a consequence of a refusal of the artistic compromises necessary for commercial success. Similarly, this artistic disconnect managed to find voice via a lineage of ideas partly inherited from popular culture: superheroes, parallel realities, angels, secret agents, and the battle between Good and Evil. With a magnetic Duke Of Hell sending moral compasses haywire, further tensions were evidenced in mental files wiped clean by corporate medication, or altered to believe in a benign privatisation; and characters scripted to be idiots who break the text that bound them to stupidity. Free will in the context of societal/religious duties, personal power as opposed to resignation, the writer and the written, a peace of Heaven with Hell and other elusive harmonies – Slow Science Fictions articulated a spirit of yearning for ennobling resistance and for the choices that set us apart even as we are compelled to draw connections in an attempt to link ourselves to one another. Mad to think that this series was also an entertaining, funny, funny-peculiar read.


32 A5 pages, £3 inc p&p, available from www.homebakedbooks.co.uk

Slow Science Fictions #22: Kid Cartoons Parts I & II

Posted on September 28, 2009

This, the penultimate issue of the Slow Science Fictions prose series, comprises Michael J Weller's customary re-refractions of self-mythologising deprecations, of socio-political reality and popular culture, and of the ordered disorder that is his measured tangle of fictions within a fiction.

Within: the ninth Guardian of Life And Civilisation is chosen, he is the cartoon character Hanthala with the spirit of young Iranian student Neda Agha-Soltan (the correction of Hanthala Neda's stunted growth can be achieved only with a final solution of peace, security and prosperity for both mideast Jew and Arab). Else-where/time: in the Billy Crombie Chiselwood College Of Dreaming Theme Park children should be thrilled by commodified health and safety regulated fear, but not scared shitless. Built in Florida by EarthCo, this theme park utilises technologies engineered by computer gaming and platform inventor Alpha Zee; most notably the iMager, a device which plugs into the frontal lobe of the player/visitor to make the Wellerverse real for them. With said device attached, retired policeman Jim Pannifer of Social Reality Earthtime 2018 returns to the Nibs writing group of 1997 to be introduced to himself as a character in Mike Weller's reading of his sci-fi serial. Offers Pannifer (in 1997 for real and in 2018, theme-parked virtuality): 'I would have left me out.'

Defiant to the near-end, Michael J Weller's writing continues to evince an oddly personal richness and piquancy that must contend with an ingrained against-the-grain narrative structure that's not exactly hoi polloi-friendly, but which offers a playful elusiveness that is both mysterious and singular.

40 A5 pages, £3 inc p&p, available from www.homebakedbooks.co.uk

Slow Science Fictions #21: The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell

Posted on January 27, 2009

The edgy immediacy of the Slow Science Fictions series continues as a melancholy chagrin further bulldozes into plot complications and sees both author and story unravel compellingly amid, amongst other heady happenings, a deconstruction of the plot of Brigadoon. This one might more appropriately have been titled Four Weddings And A Funeral: SSF #21 provides news of four marriages – included is that of American President Sam Poitier and celebrated author Michelle Jolly – and, in keeping with the central theme of recent issues (which revolves around the search for artistic identity and acceptance) offers a quasi-post-mortem of Michael J Weller's small press vocation.

A disillusioned, demoralised, rewritten Weller wrestles with a lack of validation, an abundance of self-doubt, and a sense that his writing is madness gone unchecked; but, conversely, still manages to vaingloriously recognise his salvation in a body of work produced well off the pandering path of artistic subservience. However, Weller is not immune from social expectations, still requires permission to be himself; and his bemused indignation of this self-satire is hilarious. Even Comics International reviewer Mike Kidson is to blame: Kidson had written that Weller is perhaps the most exciting British creator of comics at any level, but then insensitively disappeared from the comics scene. Ha! The cheek!

36 A5 pages, £2 inc p&p, available from www.homebakedbooks.co.uk

Outcastes #1 & #2

Posted on January 16, 2009

In issue #1 of this supernatural series from True Stories Comics: Found mysteriously fleeing a cave on the moors, amnesiac siblings Winter and Summer are soon struggling to endure a sinister orphanage bent on purging their wickedness. With nothing to aid their escape but a strong familial bond, an urchin pal and an apparition, it seems unlikely that the pair can survive a paranormal presence with malevolent intentions. In issue #2: The orphanage behind them, Winter, Summer and urchin pal Geo find themselves the travelling companions of Elias, an amiable street magician whose family have been lost to the plague. But while Summer's success with a tarot pack hints at innate talent for magic, it also reveals impending danger; and, too late, a hidden agenda is uncovered.

Thus far this is polished, decent fare of the Misty variety, and perfect for the early-teen or the inner-child. Though the rattling pace amplifies the cryptic storytelling and results in a dissatisfying lack of causality – which may irk readers impatient to be drip-fed answers to narrative questions of the mystery ilk – compensation exists in the form of neat conclusions to the adroitly realised suspense of each issue. Creator Tony McGee's storytelling fluidity is singular yet unselfconscious: with eerily stark black and white artwork, understated borders and no captions, panels inexorably spill past to lyrical effect. And even though the obvious quest of the main story arc is as yet unacknowledged by our aimless protagonists, already there is reason-enough to recommend this promising new series.

US format, 28 pages per issue, £1.75 each – from http://truestories.awardspace.com/

Matter #7: Weird Face

Posted on November 25, 2008

Another ooh in creator Philip Barrett's impressive oeuvre, this tale of the unexpected revisits the theme of obsessive struggle previously explored in The Record and Blackshapes as it chronicles a successful artist's hapless search for relief from a mysterious face that relentlessly haunts him and his work. When catharsis fails and this malicious muse encroaches deeper into the artist's life, his locked-in despair edges him toward the ultimate release, but instead delivers something peculiar and disturbingly twisty: a close encounter of the face kind.

With brisk pace, deft characterisation and curious plot, Weird Face proves an engaging read, and is simultaneously funny and disquieting. Barrett's Tomine-like cartooning exudes warmth and sophistication, and his adroit portrayal of elapsing time and a thoroughly lucid world add considerably to one's enjoyment of this classy comic. Not perhaps possessed of the subtly understated complexities associated with Barrett's more intimate work (Typical, See You Later Then etc.), Weird Face is a crowd-pleaser – a satisfying story, satisfyingly told.

16 A5 pages for 2 euros/£1.50 /$3.00 (postage included) from http://www.blackshapes.com/comics.htm

Slow Science Fictions #20: War In Heaven

Posted on November 21, 2008

Author Michael J Weller pumps enough whimsy into his odd-shaped fiction to gently bump the knobbly high ceiling of concept. Again, though, that sense of a perpetually inchoate central plot – fuelled no doubt by a prose writing informed by comic strip vocabularies and visual codes, which offers the presence of super-beings – albeit off-duty – but the absence of action-packed battle. In this one, menaced by the revenge fiction of Nibs writer Mike Weller, Michelle Jolly's impatient wait for her new dream of inspiration finally nears an end; a dewy-eyed Jim Pannifer must don tights if he is to maintain contact with local-writing-group-turned-amateur-dramatic-society; and the Council of God have been asked by the Archangels to forward nominations for the ninth Guardian to the Divine Assembly: Sappho makes the case for the Prophet Mahomet, Pythagoras for Charles Darwin, and Dante for William Blake, but who really could follow the eighth Guardian, Diando? (Diando: the composite Holy Spirit of ancient goddesses Ppamms, Dido and Diana, and of the lovely Jill Dando.)

28 A5 pages, £2 inc p&p, available from www.homebakedbooks.co.uk

Trains Are... Mint

Posted on October 9, 2008

Despite the plushy format and intellectualising-foreword provided by new publisher Blank Slate, this collection of Oliver East's self-published Trains Are…Mint comics vitally remains the work of a bemused underdog: the drawings are crude, colour-washed insinuations of urban localities, and East writes just like regular folks, too. The subject matter is congruent with this common man crafting: shops, pylons, factories, terraced housing etc. all come into view as East's good-humoured record of loner treks between Manchester and Blackpool maps well-worn haunts and the things we live a little distance from. It's uneventful stuff, which speaks of mortal tedium, but which seductively offers a creator at peace with his crafting ability and with his environment.

Hardback, £12.99 / $24.99 for 124 A5-ish pages, available from www.forbiddenplanet.co.uk

Slow Science Fictions #19: It's The Power, Man

Posted on October 8, 2008

In Social Reality Earthtime 2008 it is personalities not policies that celebrity culture demands in electoral voting markets. What voters don't know is that Sir Michaeal Spearate, the Duke of Hell, now operates in all ten Realities with his bent key to the universe, and that Samuel L Poitier – new Commander of the Cosmic Squad, Democratic candidate for the American presidential election and possessor of feminine upper figure – had been built and animated at Spearate's laboratories in the depths of Dis and is the intellectual property of global corporation Earthco; senator Poitier is a world leader born to be cloned for all continents and all nations in multiple simulations. Meanwhile in Britain, Conservative leader David Eton-Trifle stirs, and Prime Minister Gordon Scott's Presbyterian leadership style proves unpopular. (Come back Tony Blandford, all is forgiven!)

Just as the curtain closes on jostling for a Way Out West Wing, it opens again to reveal author Michael J Weller furiously tugging at the levers of his Wellerverse selves and at characters that are simply aspects of a fragmented personality: dead novelist MJ Weller confronts Mick Weller as he sells his home-baked, cock-eyed booklets at Camden's London Underground Comics; Michelle Jolly refuses to be written into the nasty, horrid, paranoid drivel of a nutcase – she is doing something else. Here the exploration of the author's troubled interior universe veers toward self-indulgence – his career dyspepsia and resultant creative-deprecation overtly communicated through dialogue too on the nose – but the narrative counters with some existential comment on the substance of what we do to confer meaning on our lives. (Hang in there, Mikes!)

32 A5 pages, £2 inc p&p, available from www.homebakedbooks.co.uk

Sorry I Can't Take Your Call Right Now But I'm Off Saving The World

Posted on September 30, 2008

Even with eyes set firmly in the shadow of one's critical cap it's impossible not to mine redeeming elements in every work of an anthology produced with charitable intent, and so it is with this uneven-but-worthy comics collection – all proceeds from the sale of Sorry I Can't Take Your Call Right Now But I'm Off Saving The World are destined for GOAL. Delivering work inspired by this title-trigger – the answering machine message of editor Cliodhna Lyons' late father when working abroad with aid organisations – the anthology offers a diversity of styles and subject matters.

Featuring the 1- to 8-page works of 30 creators, this attractive, polished volume delivers a veritable mix-bag of penny chews, with some chews inevitably tastier than others. Cricket In A Bag, by Catherine and Tomm More, briefly explores the impact volunteers in Kenya have on rescued street children, to uplifting consequence. In sedate parable Planting, Christopher and Ellen Ruggia touch on personal responsibility via a horticulturist who understands the conditions of the world and who has found her own tranquillity and order. Malte Knaack's The Visit moodily evokes the absence of closure in a broken relationship as exes spend a listless weekend together. 1963 pastiche The Living Proton, by Gar Shanley and Cathal Duggan, is an adroitly realised sci-fi superhero parody wherein our hero does battle in a quantum world's haberdashery realm. And in Jenny Linn-Cole's cosmic allegory Dog Man Saves The World three lolloping mutts have their delightful way with a familiar globe.

Also in the creator-mix are the chewy Joe Decie, Sarah McIntyre, Lee Thacker, John Maybury, Philip Barrett and others (including me; as masticatory as they come). And though much of the material is superfluous to the spirit of a title poignantly personalised by Cliodhna Lyons – and not intended to stretch the limits of creative endeavour – there is conscientiously crafted work on offer, diverting-enough to satisfy the undemanding reader, and gathered and bound into an uncommon publication with intent substantial-enough to eschew the dampening appraisal of criticism. Recommended.

96 A5 pages, £5.50 / €7, available from http://www.goalanthology.com/

Slow Science Fictions #18: 2001: After Space Opera

Posted on September 6, 2008

Given to mood swings of elation and depression, young Dylan Wilson displays no ambition to establish a foot-hold in society despite his mother's encouragement. But Margaret has seen the difference in her son since the arrival of third year cultural studies student Hannah. Unfortunately, this beautiful lodger is not interested, and Dylan's obsession with his recently discovered copy of Seventh World War Comics deepens. The giant globe has been blown off the Earth Corporation's headquarters; the Eight Guardians of Life and Civilisation need to choose a new band of Cosmic Crusaders to fight in the eternal war between good and evil; an Angel is sent to earth to call the new team. There comes a sharp knock on Dylan Wilson's front door, but why bother to do anything? The working classes are being mentally prepared to accept a war that has been made up by a Prime Minister full of zap words and a catchy turn of phrase. Surely this was how Capitalism worked: packaging things to make you want to buy them. Isn't the world in a terrible enough state?

Malleable courtesy of its non-linear time structure, the Slow Science Fictions series firmly positions 2001 story Fanzine Fiction into its loose continuity. No isolated vignette – indeed, the original publication proved of seminal significance – it is reproduced here with a contextualised introduction (which resonates with the series' dream-logic illeism) that nudges the story onto the tracks of author Michael J Weller's personal pilgrimage into the analogous Wellerverse, adding further to its emotional truth. Written with comic strip vocabularies and visual codes an ingrained characteristic, Slow Science Fictions #18 in part examines the metaphysical bubble, subjective existence and universal foibles of the power-fantasy fan, of the escapist and the fantasist; and to borrow from Oscar Wilde, uncovers the mask behind the man. But whether dreams feed our courage to carry off ordinary, everyday challenges, or convince us to sidestep them, SSF #18 is a thoroughly fun read that will have comics-readers, particularly, smiling from start to finish.

40 A5 pages, £2 inc p&p, available from www.homebakedbooks.co.uk

Slow Science Fictions #17: From Eduard Mogilowski's Old Typewriter

Posted on August 6, 2008

Social Reality Earthtime 1938: top-level demons and monsters of superhuman power are using Hitler and the axis powers to destroy Christian civilisation with a planned thousand-year Third Reich of militarised paganism. Satan's Spiritual Director on Earth – Sir Michaeal Spearate – sculpts with living flesh (using the blood of dead Jews) and emits a sick and unspeakable goat-fish smell of sixteenth-century Billingsgate as he recruits crop-haired youths with the promise of immortality – jobs for life; and beyond! But Sir Michaeal's enemy, the Nobodaddy (aka God Almighty), sends a beautiful Angel to earth to contact the Cosmic Crusaders – Heaven is at war with Satan, and they are to plan the logistics of defence in the known world.

"You will have no memory of this," says Professor Fergus McQuigley to the Cosmic Crusaders, "but it will be written in your unconscious mind for you to recall in years to come." Similar could be said of Michael J Weller's Slow Science Fictions series as its non-linear saga often lodges shapeless-as-memory in the brain. However, here in #17 the story From Eduard Mogilowski's Old Typewriter (Mogilowski: the series' pulp magazine writer, character and creator of The Cosmic Crusaders) provides a focus more in keeping with conventional narrative-models, and offers immediate satisfaction. With echoes of Raiders Of The Lost Ark and Hellboy, it's an entertaining read; one possessed of a worldly and otherworldly eruditeness.

40 A5 pages, £2 inc p&p, available from www.homebakedbooks.co.uk

Him And Her's Smuggling Vacation

Posted on July 21, 2008

A facetious mosaic of lives entangled in the environment of drugs smuggling, Jason Wilson's Him And Her's Smuggling Vacation chronicles the seemingly ill-fated attempts of a bickering couple of opportunistic Brits to transport a tonne of found-cannabis from Spain to England and dodge both gangsters and customs in the process. With a title that combines an Americanism with the idiosyncratic grammar of a British colloquialism, and with a storyline that echoes English sit-com double-length specials (when, more often than not, characters are sent abroad for exotic intrigue) but told in the European style of humour cartooning, this attractive volume inevitably struggles to find a fitting tone, though is possessed of a gleeful energy.

The writing, at times, lacks guile – clunkily omniscient captions prove particularly off-putting – but the story is structurally sound-enough to withstand frequent interruptions to suspense by inane dialogue, and relief from a script that struggles to be funny is offered by pockets of sober insights and facts on the smuggling business – fuelled by crime consultant to the book, Tony Spencer. Ironically, this absence of laughs is accentuated by quality humour cartooning that outperforms the script and raises expectations. Smuggling Vacation, then, offers a decent story impressively illustrated but encumbered with a gag-deficient humour. Best light-up for this one. (Demotivational Syndrome, anyway, otherwise requires years of dispiriting toil to develop!)

80 full-colour A4 pages for £7.98. Check availability at www.smugglingvacation.co.uk

Manhole #3

Posted on July 3, 2008

Contemporary relationships are explored in Pet Rock – the featured issue-long strip of Manhole #3 – as an assortment of males orbit the lives of two backstage rock-chicks: the placid Bea and the freewheeling Carrie. At first kindred spirits, the intimacy between the pair soon disintegrates when Carrie's boyfriend mysteriously disappears and she refuses to own up to her frustration and unhappiness. There exists here a sense of an emotional and authorial gap being filled by the daydreams and aspirations of cartoonist Mardou. Though she creates not so much a romanticised reality as an idealised one, there remains an absence of the kind of sustained conflict that fuels the dramatic conviction of a writer. Furthermore, what Mardou writes seems so defined by her reading choices that this work smacks of simulation. As a result, things like the bittersweet ending feel hollow and unearned, and the story has shape as it goes through the motions but possesses no satisfying thesis. The telling, however, is fine-tuned, the cartooning fluent and assured, and the scripting fluid and engaging. The issue is perfectly enjoyable.

40 A4-ish pages for $3/£2, available from http://usscatastrophe.com/itlives/comics/

Gazebo #1

Posted on July 3, 2008

In a session with his therapist a young man struggling for emotional sustenance tentatively examines his psychological survival. Writer Liam Geraghty, in collaboration with Matter cartoonist Phil Barrett, employs a warm, good-humoured touch that sidesteps complexity and analysis in favour of throwaway pathos and a bland, more universal appeal. Comprising a series of mostly-symbiotic, mostly-slight one- and two-page strips that revisit resonant episodes in the protagonist's life (and, in the strips Wank and Slight Retort, that inadvertently revisit works by Dan Clowes and Adrain Tomine) this light brushing of the surface of poignant subject matter is delivered via the Clowes-inspired structure of fractured narrative, and proves a disciplined debut for Geraghty. Barrett's cartooning, as ever, is exquisite; his style possessed of a quiet humanity. Highlight of the issue is the visceral Nightmare, and Boy Campers – wherein our protagonist accidentally asks a pal's sister if he can sleep in her.

20 A5-ish pages for €3, available from www.blackshapes.com/

Contraband

Posted on June 14, 2008

The antithesis of po-faced comics with inferred depth – which sidestep the writing process courtesy of the tolerance and inherent appeal of this seductive medium – Contraband insistently exhibits meaning and aspires to provide a substantial reading experience. However, stubbornly over-scripted missteps hijack this intent as author Thomas Behe uses characters illustratively and makes few concessions to authentic-sounding dialogue: all speak with the flat voice of a writer working strobe-like through his fine-tuned gripes and bite-size philosophies. Taken in isolation, these ill-humoured asides and acerbic convictions prove interesting, but in the context of Contraband's non-linear narrative, they add a desultory, disorienting clutter that obstructs the flow and momentum of the story.

The conceit which forms the fulcrum of this sci-fi speculation on a dystopian near-future requires little suspension of disbelief: violent mobile video abuse is the new contraband as the boundaries of privacy are blurred in a tech-savvy society that utilises portable digital media to capture and distribute reality torture-porn. When self-styled citizen journalist Toby is forced to hunt down a female activist sabotaging the globe's most controversial cellphone channel – Contraband – his search leads him 8mm-like into the ugly reality of a voyeur underground populated by profit-hungry youths disconnected from any sense of repression or conscience, and with insatiable thirst for celebrity; the progeny of the liberalisation of social taboos, and of our You-Tube culture of instant gratification.

Though the execution is flawed and the economical cartooning style of Phil Elliott and Jim Sharman delivers a homogenising processed-sheen (amplified by overindulgent line-spacing on the computer lettering), Contraband succeeds in imparting with eloquent vitriol the author's moral outrage and frustrations, which inevitably topple into misanthropy; Behe's despair at the decay of civilised society and at the culpability of human nature is palpable. But as the work unwieldily articulates his justifiable anger, one can't help but be soured to the all-pervasive cynicism of the superfluity of opinions and to the relative absence of redemption in the story. Conversely, a glass half-empty is no bad thing when said glass contains vile-tasting medicine that, ultimately, is of benefit. Contraband, then, is prescribed reading.

148 A5-ish pages, $12 from www.slgcomic.com

Last Bus

Posted on June 8, 2008

The dull routine of a pedantic bus-driver is the focus of this week-in-the-life vignette published by Cardboard Press. The route of the No. 230 double-decker through an unnamed urban cityscape allows promising creator Patrick Lynch adeptly demonstrate a fluid storytelling craft, while the familiar dialect and antics of passengers offer clues toward identifying its Irish location. The glimpse of drama offered by a denouement on-the-periphery isn't quite enough to counter the lulled doze prompted by the subdued rhythms of the work, but compositional know-how and grey washes add substance to the breezy cartooning style, and the creator's firm grasp of sequentialism make this unremarkable comic a diverting-enough ride/read. Ultimately then, Last Bus is a technically sound comic with more city-centre than emotional centre. Do stick your hand out, though.

24 squared A4-ish pages for €3, available from www.patrickl.net or www.cardboardpress.com

Slow Science Fictions #16: (His) Story Of English Superheroes

Posted on June 4, 2008

In part the writing of Michael J Weller is characterised by the seductive refrain of worn-out superhero mythologies, which accrue into passages of mystical, mantra-like transcendence. In this spirit, Slow Science Fictions #16 is as much incantation as it is the retelling of the origin of The Cosmic Crusaders/The Invincibles and of the history attached to their creation and development. Here, in a break with the typed-prose presentation of the series, Weller provides hand-lettered texts and illustrations that reintroduce the visual dialect of Space Opera, and which dip into the key moments and milieu in the evolution of his English superhero team. The fluid, organic cartooning style manages an affecting luminescence due to its serenely innocent quality, and as the book's focus deviates from delving into the continuity associated with overlapping reality tunnels and elevating tensions between the temporal and the divine – towards superhero trope-laden pleasures – this beguiling issue should prove the most accessible to date for a comics audience curious to sample Michael J Weller's particular utilisation of escapist fantasy.

32 A5 pages, £2 inc p&p, available from www.homebakedbooks.co.uk

Slow Science Fictions #15: Tomorrow People Mixdown

Posted on May 27, 2008

A cyberspace data-encoded cipher, which mixes a Hebrew tetragrammaton and Kabalistic numerology, is solved by the Man-With-Blanked-Out-Eyes; his reward: a Bent Key to the Universe and access to the minds of the Guardians Of Life And Civilisation. The Wellerverse turns, and the Weller of this verse drinks himself silly and couldn't give a flying fart if nobody enjoys his slow fictions. Who exactly then is planting themselves into the hearts and minds of the Cosmic Squad, exploiting their doubts and confusions? The Duke and Duchess of Hell, or Weller himself?

Comics, television shows, websites and computer games featuring four Islamist superheroes – the Pioneers of Tomorrow – have been launched, and their packaging dazzles the youth of Syria, Iran and Swabiastan. Seduced by the glamorous depictions of the supermartyr team, conditioned youths are eager to play their part, gain celebrity, and see battle lines of cosmic war drawn between Jihadist new dreamers and the Cosmic Crusaders. The magical ancients call upon the martyrs to sacrifice life on earth for eternity in paradise.

Michael J Weller is up against it, and here, as he flashes the world a gimp of displeasure and continues to convert to creative matter the alarming stuff constantly streaming in from the environment, I'm reminded that the inability to properly "filter" incoming or internal stimuli and information sources has been linked to psychosis, and that the same processes that lead to madness in some, may result in extraordinary creativity and inventiveness in others. Weller possesses clarity of cognisance but writes like a madman. The result is a story of uncommon shape and oblique pertinence.

32 A5 pages, £2 inc p&p, available from www.homebakedbooks.co.uk

Albedo One #34

Posted on April 28, 2008

Another cluster of speculative fiction courtesy of Ireland's answer to Interzone. Via the short fictions of global authors, though, Albedo One asks its own questions, and here confidently musters entertaining response.

The 2007 Aeon Award-winning Angelus, by Nina Allan, is a sophisticated, masterfully executed piece of writing with unobtrusive conceit and literary aspirations, which allows a character-driven narrative uncover the relationship between two men once caught in the orbit of the same woman. Absent love and longing also fuel Alice & Bob by Philip Raines and Harvey Welles: through a series of self-mythologizing correspondences, two lovers-with-a-twist describe civilisations in extremis as a cosmic kink continues to randomly transport people about the planet, upending forever the longevity of interpersonal relationships and imposing on already-transient lives a philosophy of futility.

In Nassau Hedron's Siren an unspoken complicity exists between the many incarnations of a female seductress and the malevolent male General; automatically fulfilling their roles – her love directs his homicides through ages of social unrest – an unexpected arrival offers readers the prospect of upheaval and conflict, but frustratingly delivers it off-page. Incarnation has further use, this time in The Supplanter by James Steimle, wherein a modest Skeleton Key-like tale presents a struggling family in need of shelter – cue the remote shack and spooky occupant. Equally slight is Rebecca S Pyne's tongue-in-cheek Boneless, in which a faithless wife gets her comeuppance via a mobile lump of hellish phlegm.

More tongue-in-cheekery is provided by William R Eakin in LOOB: Love Only Oily Bodies. Here, a fluctuating, flitting intent exuberantly skips through a satire that entertains with a self-discovery prompted by the arrival to Hicksville of the substance-fuelled hedonism of Ibiza. Music as hedonism and, ultimately, solace, is in part explored in Larry Taylor's Isle Of Beauty, wherein earth finds itself at a loose end when faced with apocalypse. And The White Knight by Devon Code agreeably displays a touch of The Book Of Illusions as, in a bid to confer meaning on his life, a twenty-second century scholar nurtures an obsession with the role of chess as a motif in the film Casablanca.

There are captivating reviews too, a striking cover by Jane Chen, and Bob Neilson interviews Raymond E Feist, author of Magician and The Riftwar Saga. All in all then, a rewarding-enough issue, with a depth fit for a delving.

60 A4 pages for £3.95 / €5.95, available from www.albedo1.com/

Fugger

Posted on April 23, 2008

For the anonymous creator/s of Fugger the bath of promise grows tepid, but the surface scum this publication filters through comics, prose and parody-pieces provides a good-humoured misanthropy and the kind of philosophy of bemusement familiar to the non-conformist and the cynically depressed. Peopled with disillusioned characters out-of-step with society, struggling either to fit-in or to drop-out, the strips of Fugger are underdeveloped and offer little crafting know-how; however, afflicted flashes of potential are in evidence, the cartooning is functional-enough and a voice that engages the adult ear bolsters one's reading stamina. The ragged prose of The League Of Super Bitter Scientists is equally at odds: a high concept – get God back for all the suffering in the world – is awkwardly delivered and devoid of guile; but in funny satire The Fugger Book Club a lyrical prose style is aided by an un-structure which presents four random pages of a book written in Dublinese – to persuasive effect. Ultimately then, Fugger's glaring flaw is a lack of storytelling polish, but with a satisfying focus and disarming, off-beat appeal, it provides agreeably diverting entertainment.

24 A4 pages, free. Email: fugtheworld@gmail.com and/or download the PDF at http://osheamedia.com/comics.html

Slow Science Fictions #14: Hope Not Hape

Posted on April 23, 2008

Revisited here is the 70s' Social and Political Reality of the DisUnited Kingdom, as authoritatively touched by the meticulously researched contra-history of Mike J Weller. Wog workers fight wog bosses; tactics learned in Northern Ireland are employed by police to subdue protesting shop stewards; a dark cloud of racial tension is ever-present. With no work, no shops, no cheap housing, and with energy-banks exhausted by an oil crisis, the UK has been reduced from an imperialist empire to a rat-infested Euro slum. Albion resembles Dis, and the Duke of Hell, Sir Michaeal Spearate, recognises an opportunity to breed a class of people who know little and care about even less.

There's no hazy nostalgic glow to this 70s, its legacy the epoch of an apathetic and gullible society. But then, expectations are resentments under construction, and after a grand start as regular Oz magazine graphix artist and rep as England's answer to R Crumb, obscurity followed for Captain Stelling, one of the Weller characters in Slow Science Fictions. "Did I simply reach my creative peak at the age of twenty-five and finish?" asks Stelling. Weller continues to pick at his personal odyssey – and at the publishing world that abandoned him – trying to make order from the disorder that is his careering through creative life. It's a fascinating surrealist self-portrait embedded in fantastical elaborations.

32 A5 pages, £2 inc p&p, available from www.homebakedbooks.co.uk

Slow Science Fictions #13: Lucky For Some

Posted on April 8, 2008

Like an equation consisting of complex narrative elements, the potted evolution presented in Slow Science Fictions #13 clarifies the intricate workings of the Wellerverse and thematically focuses the author's eccentric struggle for creative identity. Found here are fictions within a fiction, storytellers within a story, where writer and written sit face to face and the written becomes the writer, and where ambition and desire are irreconcilable for a writer thwarted by his own universe. Get writing or get written was the Shawshanked phrase introduced in Mike Weller's seminal work, Space Opera, but here again this sentiment is agreeably undercut with a sense of the author's stubborn fatalism as the first-person narrative voice wrestles with a personal odyssey driven by irrational forces and odd, obsessive desires, but with a niggling perception of success that is conditioned by yearned-for approval; or not, as the case most likely is – as ever, any attempt to fix Michael J Weller's prose series to convenient definitions is no more than a reductio ad absurdum of the work. What's certain is that it remains a joy for me to watch this mad series accrue.

28 A5 pages, £2 inc p&p, available from www.homebakedbooks.co.uk

Slow Science Fictions #12: G'wboe, Or The Woman-With-Blanked-Out-Eyes

Posted on March 15, 2008

A piece of esoteric tongue-in-cheekery provides this twelfth instalment of Michael J Weller's Slow Science Fictions series with a good humoured opening, but the resultant giggles are soon smothered in a sombre fug of nightmarish oddness as the unnatural success of author MY Jolly – the series' JK Rowling-like figure – is darkly investigated. The bizarre-o-meter reading goes off the scale when Jolly is seduced by the cunt-tinglingly mysterious Duke Valentine and exposed to the salacious Love Museum, where a deviant technology chillingly screens other people's dreams: cocks are taken in the mouth; a black girl rubs herself off with both hands as boys spurt semen in her hair; an old gash is moistened. The unearthly edginess and sinister quality further intensify as Weller pointedly puts Jolly through hell to realise her writing aspirations, and though there is some convolution-overload toward the end as story fabric flips and folds a la David Lynch, SSF #12 ultimately proves a captivating if insubstantial reading experience.

32 A5 pages, £2 inc p&p, available from www.homebakedbooks.co.uk

Mister Amperduke

Posted on Feb 16, 2008

An epic story of revenge, redemption and Lego, Mister Amperduke is the graphic novel from The Shiznit's Bob Byrne, which reintroduces the world first glimpsed in the pages of MBLEH!, and continues the cartoonist's penchant for crafting the kind of wordless narratives familiar to readers of his 2000AD work. However, with its 150 pages of story-without-words, which predominantly consists of a bludgeoning 16-panel grid per page, this tome at times offers a reading experience not dissimilar to holding one's tongue, and rather than further develop the adult themes and subtext briefly explored in MBLEH!'s original Amperduke six-pager, Byrne targets the AVP generation with standard-issue schlock-horror, albeit dressed curiously and crafted with unerring grasp of sequentialism.

With Mr Amperduke hospitalised, a cruel grandchild bent on genocide surreptitiously introduces a monster to the miniature city of Amperduke's basement, a place inhabited by sentient creatures with Lego-men attire. The hardcore carnage of familiar genre territory follows, Amperville's Trumptonshire-like serenity replaced by much hi-octane action and violence as its citizens struggle for survival. For Byrne it's a return to the gratuitously unpleasant abuse of cute, bug-eyed cartoons with vulnerable, child-like characteristics, and despite delusional claims for greater substance in the book's foreword, the human interest aspect of the story is relegated to book-ends and fails to elevate a narrative hued with defective personality and caught in the gush of opened arteries. Yep, the kids'll love this to bits!

160 A5 pages for £11.95 / €14.95, available from clamnuts.com.

Slow Science Fictions #11: Convenient Truth

Posted on February 10, 2008

Addingcombe solicitor Sally Harper makes the case for the defence of Sadar Saddubin's killer, Frederick Burrell: it's an epistemological mystery, with intellectual derangement a consequence. Equally baffling to the authorities and, in particular, to Detective Inspector Jim Pannifer, is the whereabouts of Glenford Gates – eye-witness to the murder of Mayor Scourge, and chief suspect – despite the fact that Gates features regularly on EarthCo tv, securing his place via televised adventures as one of four Cosmic Crusaders!

Meanwhile, death-dealer in Futures markets, Sir Michaeal Spearate, plans to use his lab to make a black candidate for the Democrats, and President Jack Flash is advised to face an inconvenient truth head on: EarthCo are the Fossil Fuel Lobby, but by claiming to reduce production of essential fuels to scarcity levels, commodity values for EarthCo shareholders will rise (private gain, public loss). Spearate will not be satisfied until the last tree has been logged down and the planet has melted into a fossilized, empty desert.

Mike Weller continues to serve the reader well with his capacity to take the facts and manufacture from them an inventive narrative that corresponds with his world-view, and wherein the familiarity of the dystopia presented prompts a sense of urgency. Whether or not a particular economic system contributes to the destruction of the planet more significantly than another, one can't help but approve of Weller's demonising of capitalism and, in general, his portrayal of politics and religion as conduits of evil. Funny, disturbing stuff.

32 A5 pages, £2 inc p&p, available from www.homebakedbooks.co.uk

Asthma

Posted on January 20, 2008

A remarkable offering from Tepid creator John Hankiewicz (and publisher Sparkplug Comic Books), Asthma is a handsome collection of short, intentionally evasive material that at times is indecipherable due to staccato sequences of non sequitur panels, but which is never impenetrable. Mercifully, despite its transcendental moments, it remains anchored to the push and pull of the universal stuff of regular narrative; it simply shows us familiar things in unfamiliar ways.

There's resistentialist struggle in the mesmerising Amateur Comics as a pathologically distracted man fails to get to grips with Feng Shui – a theme briefly revisited in the unnerving Epictetus. There's poignant, literate memoir in Where's The Wire, McCollum Park/Millennium Park, Lot C and Westmont Is Next. The Kimball House is part interrupted memory and part memory process; its attempted capture appropriately abstract as the narrative sparks in random directions. Dance is an oblique, funny, visually eclectic glimpse at the ill-fitting dimensions of the male/female relationship (or a particular male/female relationship); Jazz an elusive, surrealist pageant that frustrates and intoxicates and which, curiously, feels occupied by the watchful presence of the author; and in Martha Gregory the machinery of thought hums beneath some bemused reflection and the struggle to reconcile an inner life with physical events.

With andante storytelling amplified by obsessively applied textures – the crosshatch fill particularly impels one to linger – and with, at times, aloof tone, incongruity and difficult intent which mischievously obfuscates and purposely provokes a dislocated emotional response, Asthma's cumulative effects won't leave everyone breathless. Those reaching for inhaler though will have found the reading experience demanding but fun, and satisfying in a contorted kind-of-way.

108 A4-ish pages, $17 from www.sparkplugcomicbooks.com

Candy Or Medicine (Volume 2)

Posted on January 18, 2008

Predominantly the work of a jumble of disparate US-based creators, Candy Or Medicine is a quarterly mini-comic anthology with no pretensions – nor clear vision – which features a higgledy-piggledy mix of good-humoured strips, gag cartoons and sketches. Offering evidence of varying degrees of drawing know-how – name contributor Matt Feazell at the developed end of the spectrum; cover artist Emily Puccia at the na├»ve end (but both providing equally beguiling work) – and neither particularly clever nor witty, this happy accident of a shorthand collection still manages a casual persuasiveness which, ultimately, succeeds in sparking the odd smile. Best-in-issue is Liza Miller's delightful two-page strip in which a deceptively well-drawn stick-figure has inventive fun with a scarf.

16 quarter-sized pages, $1.50 postage-paid via www.candyormedicine.com

Slow Science Fictions #10: Character Avatars

Posted on January 13, 2008

Mick Weller's Alteration to the New Reality changed him from underclass benefits claimant into successful middle-Englander. He'd sold his soul, and with it went the integrity of the Cosmic Crusaders: with their exploits adapted to ill-conceived computer games and a dubious television show, passing fad status could but follow. Elsewhere, a viagra-enhanced David Wilson realises he has compromised his academic independence as he orgasms with a call-girl; the marketability of the Asian mug of Muslim Crusader Hussain Elmaz is disputed; George Bridger enters Hannah Watts through the side of her panties; and Dylan Wilson's deep depression returns.

The Wellerverse of 3World in 4Time is further marshalled and fine-tuned with Mike Weller's idiosyncratic style as the examination of his obsessions continue and a mixum-gatherum of private and public worlds are filtered through an individual brain; the writer's own Space Opera museum of recent pasts and near futures. In Slow Science Fictions #10, amid bunching plot strands, character-related reversals and adjustments to moral compasses, a plaintive tone – which you imagine goes on quietly existing by itself in your absence. There's a gentle intimacy here, and melancholy, which engages emotionally, and which provides satisfying read.


32 A5 pages, £2 inc p&p, available from www.homebakedbooks.co.uk

Slow Science Fictions #9: Billy Crombie And The Crock Of Shit

Posted on November 6, 2007

Chosen by the Guardians Of Life And Civilisation to write a story about an unnamed orphan, financially troubled Michelle Yvonne Jolly is the one to christen Dreamtime Reality's schoolboy magician 'Billy Crombie' and shake up children's books. The Guardians help set up Nibs writing group in Addingcombe to facilitate Jolly's writing for a world that doesn't see value in imagination, and her character soon leaves behind the five steps he occupies between the twelfth and thirteenth floors on the Block One stairwell of Sinkmoor. Billy, you see, had a fantastic dream and catches a tram to the Chiselwood college of dreaming for new generations of Cosmic Crusaders, where gay old commie-atheist Professor Fergus McQuigly is to introduce him to ten-plus levels of reality and the Key to the Universe. But all is not rosy: the Great Mortido and his legions are trying to get into Chiselwood to reach higher realities, and Billy's hidden genealogy holds a dark, dark secret.

'What a crock of shit,' laughs the Guardian Aristophanes when confronted with Jolly's story, and one gets the impression that Slow Science Fictions writer Mike Weller speaks directly to the reader. But then, Weller's authorial presence is always in evidence; more so here as he gleefully but intricately twists his elaborate universe around Rowling/Potter-like mythology: the Somnambulance Special transports passengers from Dreamtime to Social Reality; the waking world is inhabited by Getreelies (from the expression 'Get real'); the Rowling figure is the chosen one, her writing fuelled by divine intervention. Trotsky once wrote that the revolutionary party is the memory of the working class; like Space Opera before it, Slow Science Fictions is, in part, the memory of our culture's anti-intellectual age, when individuality is diminished as ridiculous numbers of people identify with some popular philosophy or distant spectacle or some well-marketed person. What a crock of shit.

28 A5 pages, £2 inc p&p, available from www.homebakedbooks.co.uk

Slow Science Fictions #8: A Voice Inside

Posted on October 6, 2007

Ultimately the voice inside is that of author Michael J Weller, but at the funeral of the last Cosmic Crusader – Fay Fairweather – 3World In 4Time Mike Weller finds himself sat next to his detective character Jim Pannifer, listening to Rev Ian Beaumont recount an early story from Crusaders mythology – that of the Angel of Powers – in which the voice of an angel speaks inside the heads of Fay and the other Crusaders, signalling the advent of a force of great paranormal good in their world and, more specifically, the Otherworld.

Another voice inside is that of Sir Michael Spearate, the Satanic Whisperer, able to manipulate every thought, word and deed of his chosen-puppets for the purpose of directing the world into conflict, destruction and apocalyptic terror. His is the voice inside the Earth Corporation's ladder of organisation, the voice inside a backwards-Biff Scourge – now an inverted skinhead and white man in reverse – and a voice on-the-inside (Brixton prison) speaking as a sinister preacher to inmate Pugh, with lips/voice out-of-sync.

Hmm, this is a prose series out-of-sync with conventional storytelling and, at times, even with itself. Here, there is a mood of fatalism to the near-pathological insistence of Weller's narrative rhythms as a glimpse is provided of a tit-for-tat conflict between MJ Weller and his fictional self, and again as this latter Weller – in the funeral congregation – is confronted with not just a superhero team in extremis, but values too, and – fantasy reverberating into the realm of reality – this Slow Science Fiction series itself. Upending stuff.

28 A5 pages, £2 inc p&p, available from www.homebakedbooks.co.uk

Albedo One #33

Posted on Oct 1, 2007

With the ripples from the splash caused by last issue's impact still lapping at my brain, the still waters of Albedo One #33 signal a return to – if not more settled, then less startling – genre fiction, well-crafted and likeable, but a little stagnant all the same despite a cluster of suicide-touched tales. Only Simon Kewin's affecting, chilling post-9/11 science fiction Live From The Continuing Explosion offers depth enough for drowning.

Live deliberates on the strategic rationale of a suicide bombing viewed in cosmic slow-mo by the whole planet as a self-contained time-dilation seals off the explosion in a hundred metre diameter sphere, dictating that the still-occurring atrocity continue to relentlessly unfold with excruciating clarity, never allowing it be confined to history. Indubitably designed as a condemnation, the story's complexity inadvertently tips proceedings in favour of suicide bombing with-media-savvy, its apotheosis of the bomber-as-artist better suited to extremist instructional booklets on the al-Qaeda method of martyrdom than to War On Terror propaganda. Still, thought-provoking stuff.

Also on offer is standard-issue, suspenseful dark fantasy and intimate science fiction: in Michael Mathews' A Trail Of Stars Swirling a drowned daughter returns home reanimated to self-deluded parents; in Andrew McKenna's Barrelhouse a street urchin is ruthlessly conditioned by a malignant cult; in Matthew Sanborn Smith's Marissa Marissa the organic separation of conjoined twins signals mankind's next evolutionary step; and in Anil Menon's A Sky Full Of Constants the possibility of tweaking fundamental constants causes a philosophical disagreement with the universe which impacts the lives of two Indian physicists.

Surprisingly, humour dominates the remaining fiction, which is hit-and-miss fare but with a sensible brevity: in Blonde On Blonde, by Geoffrey Maloney, a taxidermied Jayne Mansfield really should have stuffed opposing candidate Marilyn Monroe in the presidential contest; Oisin In Templeogue, by Ed Wood, is a superficial up-dating of a popular story from Irish mythology, retold to the beat of a night on the rip; The Genie, by S.K. Twyford, sees a well-endowed goblin leave a trail of misfortune for a reluctant wisher; and – you won't believe it – Ticket To India, by Aongus Murtagh, is One Foot In The Grave set in an ageist society with compulsory euthanasia.

The business of writing/publishing is discussed both in the Severian column and in purposeful interiews with Geoff Ryman – author of Was and Air – and Sam Miller – author of On The Brinks and The Redemption Factory. Famous Monsters provides exceedingly readable reviews of speculative fiction, and the mixed-mediums iconography of Mario Sanchez Nevado haunts the cover.

64 A4 pages for £3.95 / €5.95, available from www.albedo1.com

The Sound Of Drowning #6

Posted on September 4, 2007

More eerie and disquieting tales from maverick small press creator Paul O'Connell, whose idiosyncratic fusion of the surreal and the mundane are given expression through monochrome photo panels which employ the language of comics, but which exist at a side angle to evocative montage. With a skewed perspective and minimalist narrative, this is very much art-house territory.

Six strips feature. In Maskon a husband-with-a-fetish reveals himself by donning a female latex mask – to upending consequence. Dolphins On Film is a mockumentary charting the celluloid splashes of the beloved angels of the sea. The ill-fitting but eloquent Giants Of Jazz #2 is a straight, affectionate potted-history of Duke Ellington. The manic, esoteric Oh No, It's Gallo! presents the idea of a David Lynch-directed sitcom based on Vincent Gallo's publicity stunts. In Ambulance an art-fag pines for her ex and discovers that absence makes the heart grow fonder. And in Baby a Ray Milland look-alike suffers the consequences of not insisting on a receipt when parting with a score for a black-market bairn.

A work of art is not about anything; it is the thing itself, says Irish novelist John Banville. The Sound Of Drowning #6 is certainly a thing itself, and yes, a work of art, too. But, crucially, it's also entertainment, and much like its TV equivalent – Chris Morris's Jam – will have you jazzing to the bleak tone of a life-support machine that marks the steady fading of your day-old baby daughter.

40 A5 pages, £1.60 – check availability at www.smallzone.co.uk

Andy Luke's Comic Book #6

Posted on August 26, 2007

Mostly a collection of sequential doodles from the margins of Andy Luke's mind, some appear little more than thumbnails for more substantial comics works, while others resemble the worked-on primitiveness of Outsider Art, but all are suffused with intent: we should know that victim status is unacceptable; that personal power can be used to combat world woes; that tucking ourselves into cosy lives is to sidestep responsibility. Luke seems to be highlighting society's inherent culpability as well as that of the usual suspects.

Yes, it's an unapologetic rant, targeting both the corrupt and the apathetic alike: Bush, Blair, you, me, Moloch – we are all guilty of what Jean-Paul Sartre termed bad faith. Thankfully the moral certainty with which Luke delivers his sermon is made palatable by a warmth fuelled by self-deprecating humour, and while occasionally the gap between panels is too wide for the average cognisance to bridge, the resultant sense of abandonment – of being lost – proves agreeably abstract in a David Shrigley kind-of-way.

20 A5 pages, £1, check availability at http://andyluke.livejournal.com/

Bullet Proof #1

Posted on August 25, 2007

This is the first handsome volume of Bulletproof Comics' anthology series, presenting new work by an accumulation of pro and semi-pro UK comic talent, and featuring a genre mix of fantasy, adventure and humour. Production values suggest that this US-sized glossy means mainstream business, and with a striking cover design (albeit with overly-busy illustration by Lee Langford and Klaus Belarski) and polished artwork throughout (particularly lovely is the scratchy-lined, Alfredo Alcala-like inking style of Jon Haward on Sideburns), there's little to deter the casual browser from parting with £2.50 for eighty pages of comics. And to further entice this page-flicking punter-in-waiting, The End is thrown-in a couple of times when a Next or To Be Continued would prove more to the point. (Count five complete strips.)

Ranging in length from one page to twelve, eleven conscientiously crafted strips are offered, with – in the main – neat, lucid storytelling the rule. Nigel Kitching's and David Hankin's lively Occultus rummages through Judeo-Christian baggage to realise its otherworld of flaming swords, its indigenous hierarchy and tree of eternal life. This is technically flawless stuff, and boasts a structural know-how; as does Snowstorm, an intriguing, cinematic story of small town Canadian lives impacted by a seemingly unprovoked act of violence, written by Paul H Birch, pencilled by Michael Perkins and inked by Garen Ewing. Curious superhero team Armageddon Patrol feature in the wonky Friends Like These, by John A Short and Simon Ecob: the patrol act as a superpowered special ops squad during the Vietnam War, to vaguely unsettling effect – it's either unpleasant misjudgement or finely-tuned cheese. And in Alan Grant's and Alan Burrows' Funguys, two annoying time-travelling mushrooms crash The Last Supper and buzz off Jesus and pals, to hilariously profane consequence.

Like most anthologies, this one dips and lurches, and inevitably some subject matter appeals-not to my jaded tastes, or some storytelling fails to satisfy my particular demands. However, while Editor-in-Chief and publisher Matt Yeo recognises the need for talents to emerge fully formed if the anthology is to realistically compete against a mass of always-available mainstream material (both past and present), the space allowed for those still in need of development is vital for the well-being of underexposed UK creators. And though spoiled-for-choice readers these days are inclined to easily lose patience with the second-rate, Bulletproof #1 provides quality enough for the mainstream comics fan and, with adult sustenance found elsewhere, for the small press enthusiast attentive to the demands of their inner teen.

US format, 80 pages (B&W interior), £2.50. For further details: http://www.bulletproofcomics.co.uk/

Slow Science Fictions #7: Frederick Burrell Possessed

Posted on August 14, 2007

Refounded Communist Party member Hannah Watts is convinced that Nazi thug George Bridger should have been strangled at birth, but relief teacher Margaret Cooper sits on him anyway and he comes inside her. Meanwhile, Professor David Wilson and son Dylan continue their lustful pursuits of Hannah; new world order capitalism carries on its destructive way; and something shadowy has got into historian, Frederick Burrell…

Once a brilliant scholar, but now jobless, homeless and living amongst an assortment of refugees and asylum seekers as he shifts from Salvation Army hostel to squat, Frederick Burrell has wound up on the 'wrong' side of the global division of rich and poor. It's the society he's compelled to live in, you see: Englishmen like him are ashamed of expressing nationalist pride and sentiments. What has the pursuit of democracy, freedom and prosperity achieved? Muslim settlers and a woman's right to wear the total burqa of Swabiastan, that's what! Is it any wonder Burrell finds himself following prostate-troubled imam Sadar Saddubin into the Gents toilet of the Drum And Billet public house, in his hand a sabre knife from a lost Afghan war, in his head the voice of Sir Michaeal Spearate, Duke of Hell?

A clear-sighted Mike Weller continues to track and backtrack the lives of his disparate group of characters, immersing them in a melting pot of psycho-sexual/political tongue-in-cheekery, emotional repression and demonic pathogens. Though not conducive to building a sense of momentum, the fragmented structure of the narrative remains compelling and agreeably off balancing, and enhances the quirky vitality of a dizzying, brain-adjusting read.

32 A5 pages, £2 inc p&p, available from www.homebakedbooks.co.uk

Slow Science Fictions #6: Cliff Of Albion

Posted on July 15, 2007

As directed by Mike Weller in Space Opera, Dylan Wilson's fanzine script prepared 1970s frockstar Starman Jones as successor to Professor Fergus McQuigly, Commander of the Cosmic Squad. However, Jones isn't in the eternal cosmic plan of the Guardians of Life and Civilisation; in the hidden world of Dreamtime Reality, Cliff Richard is due another reinvention: the Anglo-Indian parochial Elvis copyist – and poet laureate under the Christian Democrats – has been chosen by the Guardians as new Commander of the Cosmic Squad. The Guardian's Divine Assembly meets to discuss what the Divine hand can do upon earth, and, in Common reality cognisance, comprises silvery-white ancients; amongst their number: Pythagoras, Dante, a co-opted William Blake, and the royal and televisual goddess Diando. When a dream takes Cliff to Neptune to meet with the Guardians, a messy business awaits: just whose side is Satan directing in the Eternal War? East or West?

As ever, summarising an issue of Slow Science Fictions requires a cognitive flexibility and coherent succinctness that is beyond me. Did I mention that in his laboratory in the eternal city of Dis, Micheal Spearate grows a new body – the fleshware of a Blackman – for dead Nazi Mayor Biff Scourge? Or that Professor Fergus McQuigly's life extension at the Kid Doctor Clinic comes with a penis transplant? Or that when William Blake speaks in the Otherworld his voice can be heard through the conduit of a little red-breasted English robin singing its song to an extremely touched Earthling holding a handful of milllworms light years away? Though abstract and surreal, Mike Weller's ever-expanding universe is a meticulously structured soup of culture and untethered imagination, with mischievous shocks aplenty and a gravity difficult to resist. Where else would you find Diando, a goddess possessed of the presence of both the dead princess Diana and tv presenter Jill Dando?

28 A5 pages, £2 inc p&p, available from www.homebakedbooks.co.uk

Your Round: Tequila

Posted on June 25, 2007

Four good-humoured stories about drinking and drinkers from Olive Press Comics, Your Round: Tequila is a conscientiously crafted collection which provides both a mainstream polish and a mainstream restraint.

Mike McLean and Declan Shalvey's Dublin-set Hustle mixes off-duty lap-dancers, liquor and deception to diverting if unremarkable effect, its noir-ish tone and deftly realised, anticipation-provoking set-up elevating expectation, albeit inappropriately; the modest pay-off coloured flat as a result. Also Dublin-set, Bob Byrne's Say A Prayer For Me chronicles a gradually souring night-on-the-piss with the lads, and in its text-heavy, Clowes-like, conversational six pages, delivers a disarming, deceptively intimate, slice-of-life vignette. The under-occupied, over-economical, computer-aided panels of James Hodgkins' I Drink, Therefore I Am boast a sophisticated cartooning style and effectively employ a visual first-person narrative to reveal the cynical wit-tinged, beer-goggled observations of a barfly as-played-by-Orson-Welles (those goggles are required for Hodgkins' cover, by the way); and Shalvey's two-page chaser Know Your Limits just about justifies its inclusion courtesy of an inventive panel which succinctly captures in one go a whole night's drink-prompted activities.

Though, over all, lacking ambition and too insubstantial to be satisfying, the sound story-telling craft and sure-footedness of Your Round: Tequila offers entertainment enough to seduce the undemanding reader. Get it down you!

32 US-size pages, £2.50/$3.50, available from www.yourroundthecomic.com

Slow Science Fictions #5: David Wilson's Sinking Heart

Posted on June13, 2007

David Wilson's persona is being chipped away. Taking the professoriate has reduced his charisma and glamour as a free and footloose lecturer, his bedding of female students supplanted by administrative duties for a university that has become an alternative to government training and community boot camps. Education, you see, has been corrupted by a lethal mixture of theoretical absurdities and left-wing socialist ideology: the new university prospectus and website resemble an advertisement for sanitised mulitculturalism.

Meanwhile, Choat – Military Memorabilia shop owner and leader of the South London cell of the Social Order Movement of Europe – is rumoured to be more interested in getting his male members into bed than onto the streets with bricks and Molotovs. At first, white, ultra-right, young working class activist George Bridger considers this a slur against Choat by a bunch of liberal fag peaceniks, but naked male wrestling and group masturbation jerk-offs at the boys-only weekend assault and survival course prompt something of a rethink.

No, David Wilson's is not the only sinking heart in Mike Weller's fifth, particularly dense issue of his Slow Science Fictions prose series: disillusionment abounds. Even Mike himself – in 3World in 4Time – dresses shabbily in black, a pair of deeply set, tired and hooded bloodshot eyes squinting from behind tinted, bottle-thick spectacles. In Weller's Bleasdale-relevant jigsaw puzzle – cut from the fabric of society – there are no sky pieces; but, to borrow from French poet Paul Valery, the void shows through. Loving it!

36 A5 pages, £2 inc p&p, available from www.homebakedbooks.co.uk

Slow Science Fictions #4: Graphic Novel

Posted on April 25, 2007

Two generations after virus 3W4T transferred to human beings – in Social Reality Earthtime 2054 – Aminah Coppe grows into goth-angel, the first of Croydon's superheroes to develop avian skills; he answers his calling and prepares to fly to Neptune with the Cosmic Squad. From secret underground Golgonooza in 2001, Lieutenant Commander Hussain Elmaz watches his young team of Cosmic Crusaders reach Neptune on his palmscreen; this is the same Hussain Elmaz who years earlier was an original member of the All-New Cosmic Crusaders Of 21C – that was the sub-header on Mike Weller's small press covers storytelling nineties adventures of the team. In 2003 at the Antarctic World Justice Centre, a hooded figure – Pugh, possessed by dead Nazi, Biff Scourge – spray paints 'Death To Crusaders And Zionists' amid demonstrations heavy-handedly suppressed by police under the management of multinational EarthCo's General Choat. (It was the Choat character Mike Weller used in his cast of comic villains for graphic novels.) A remote voice suspended in time and space – that of the Great Mortido, Sir Michaeal Spearate, the Man-With-Blanked-Out-Eyes – approves of Pugh's actions.

In 1999, Addingcombe writing group The Nibs are thrilled by Mike Weller's mysterious stories about 1930s Cosmic Crusaders and about Mike's fictional self who lives in a made-up place called Penge. Weller, not satisfied merely with role of catalyst, was a cartoon character himself once – Captain Stelling – active in the Otherworld, he tells the group. Three years later, Creative Comics first New Cosmic Crusaders prestige graphic novel is amongst the comic books Mike gives to the Kid Doctor Clinic charity shop; the GN is bought by Hussain Elmaz, who'd been fictionalised by Weller to be a Cosmic Crusader character in the book. In 2007, illeism-convert John Robbins reviews Mike Weller's newest book, Slow Science Fictions #4, and describes it as narrative origami (sic) (sic), suggesting that it flips and folds fantasy and reality, providing something oddly shaped and fascinating in its shuffled, overlapped regression/progression of story and character. 'It's an osmotic process that works,' says one of the characters in this 3World in 4Time universe writes Robbins. 'There's an Otherworld in these pages.' Robbins can be a grandiloquent eejit at times, but he's spot-on here. (Welcome to the MWarvel Universe!)

28 A5 pages, £2 inc p&p, available from www.homebakedbooks.co.uk

Albedo One #32

Posted on March 14, 2007

Placed 8th in the 'best magazine' category at the last Hugo Awards, Albedo One's inexorable rise to the top gains momentum with this issue's expertly assembled and fluid mix of speculative fiction. As one premise ideal for comment on the human condition is directed elsewhere by a writer's particular focus, another story is imbued with this ambition. As one writer fries a father on the first mouthful of mains-wired cutlery, another conjures a utopian consciousness. Seven stories feature:

Unnatural, by John Hogan, is an evocative World War I morality play-with-a-twist. With British railway guns finding their range and infantry advancing, a mysterious runner is blasted from front to second line of German trenches, but suffers ill-effects only when flung into the graveyard of the village of Saint Martin du Sacre-Coeur – now re-sculpted by the weight of British ordinance. Even in these unnatural times, the runner's pleas for help from two German comrades seem out of the ordinary.

Blink, by Ruth Nestvold, is an amusing 'distraction'. Being a science fiction writer (social, no doubt), Tess is forced underground by the fundamentalist government of the New Republic of Texas. But the Resistance is weakening and Tess has writers block – without her reason for being, she is dying quietly before her partner's eyes. If she could only tap the love of her man, write the story of their struggle, then New York Times headline 'Science Fiction Writer Breaks Through Curtain Of Silence' could be hers.

Times Winged Chariot, by Nicola Caines, is affecting magic-realism. A mother believes that aliens (probably Orkan) have covertly altered her biology: she is growing younger. Her opportunity unimaginatively grasped, the years pass. So do mother and daughter: the latter toward old age, the former toward a childhood where even paedophiles have their uses for a libidinous kid. But where is this reversal to end? Is daughter to witness mother expire, a raw, red, pulsating lump, no more than the guilty leavings of an illicit abortion?

Katrina's Kostumes, by Stephen Owen, is Roald Dahl creepy but with a substance-lacking CGI-ness permeating its House Of Wax horrors. When an inebriated father loses his three year-old on a busy city street, it occurs to him that the boy has been lured into a costume shop by a mannequin clown in the store window. The ensuing search takes on nightmarish proportions as father is overwhelmed by the shifting display of costumes, which grows more menacing, more animated, the deeper he delves.

Homo Incognito, by Will Sand, is sterling science fiction with metaphysical bite. When a burnt-out journo makes some effort to revamp his nondescript life by investigating a revolutionary company rumoured to possess an extraterrestrial think-tank, he is seduced into non-action by the promise of a life full of possibilities, without limitations or consequence. However, first he must enter a physical state more confining than a nightmare. What's he to do, this man so unused as to be unknown?

Danny's Inferno, by Brian Stableford, reworks principles related to Heaven and Hell to enchanting, potentially corrupting consequence. A couple of eloquent primary school pals – one is dead, the other, our narrator, is living – share matter-of-fact conversation at this dead pal's funeral. The deceased explains: "In Hell, everyone is the age they were when they'd committed enough sins to be irredeemably damned." He's seven. And our narrator is wickedly philosophical about his own chances of eternal happiness.

Counting Tadpoles, by Uncle River, is a smart, incantational parable. A student discovers another green world on an ecological field study in Las Cruces. Aided by a polymathic hermit with irreverence for a government which conditions its citizenry to be docile, the student receives lessons in ecological degradation, the sacrifices required to become a sovereign individual, and demon wars in a wilderness haunted by an indigenous culture with its own maths. Is this student to be woken from his consumer lifestyle?

Also on offer behind Alexander Kruglov's fine cover art: in-depth book reviews by Andrew McKenna which are both lucid and intimate, letters of comment, and Dev Agarwal interviews a candid Christopher Priest, biographer of Olympian, Sally Gunnell – "80,000 words in a month. I had just spent three long unpaid years writing The Prestige and was desperate for some cash." A sound issue then, reliably measured to appeal to the palate of the discerning genre fan, and with a smack of earthly relevance that lends some satisfying weight.

64 A4 pages for £3.95 / €5.95 - available from www.albedo1.com

Slow Science Fictions #3: Addingcombe Calling Inspector Pannifer

Posted on March 10, 2007

So close to retirement, the last thing that ageing inspector Jim Pannifer wants is a hate crime perpetrated by Satanists, or tit-for-tat exchanges between the right-wing Social Order Movement and Islamic extremists. But, in an Addingcombe graveyard, a white cat's decapitated head, thirteen black candles and a twisted key with nine notches are found, and two headstones desecrated with black paint now bear the scrawled name of Mayor Biff Scourge – the "F's" in the shapes of swastikas, the "O" crossed like a Nazi wotan symbol.

Yes, a suit of respectability may cover Mayor Scourge's tattoos, but even occult seduction to the Otherworld and alliance with M'wboe (the Man-With-Blanked-Out-Eyes) can't suppress a racial prejudice founded in his days as a 1930s Nazi Blackshirt. When a polemical bullet is administered to his brain and, subsequently, an imam in Addingcombe – Sadar Saddubin – is found dead with a sabre knife up his jacksy, inspector Pannifer's desire to write an Agatha Christie style crime novel must simmer patiently on the backburner.

This is another state of the nation reconstruction fuelled by fantastical elaboration, which contains magpie-snatchings of found socio-political reality and popular culture, all charged with a supernatural current guaranteed to weird you out. Roses open for Christmas, a two-headed entity orgasms, and Grungehill Comprehensive ex-pupil Glenford Gates stammers. The push and pull of Mike Weller's prose is lent hypnotic clarity by an omniscient third-person narrative, and this Slow Science Fictions series is of- and out of- this world.

28 A5 pages, £2 inc p&p, available from www.homebakedbooks.co.uk

Slow Science Fictions #2: Hannah Watts

Posted on February 7, 2007

In televised auditions to form a new four-strong superhero team, comic reading geek Dylan Wilson and hundreds of brave contestants re-enact past battles of the Cosmic Crusaders – against the Duke of Hell, Michaeal Spearate and The-Girl-With-Blanked-Out-Eyes. With phone lines open to vote, Dylan is convinced that university student, Hannah Watts, will see him differently as a superhero. But Hannah has changed, this sexy, beautiful girl no longer hidden behind a shrewish and caustic exterior of left-wing radicalism. As Dylan's mother observes, "That girl's been fucked; fucked good, by the looks of things."

Yes, the student's new, well-earned sophistication is the product of an intimate liaison – Dylan is not the only male caught in Hannah Watts' orbit. No, there's Jinkerman, the seemingly-flush, gold card-carrying leader of the Refounded Communists; there's George Bridger, the intelligent working class lad aligned with right-wing fanatics, the Social Order Movement (he'd been warned about going on a liberal Humanities course); and there's Dylan's professor father, David, who had always felt the urge to go from long-term pedagogic grooming in one-to-one seminars with Hannah, to quick fuck in the lift.

Daytime suds froth aplenty in this, the second of Mike Weller's Slow Science Fictions, which, typical of the creator's prose stories, is caught in a captivating tantalization of recycled anticipation. But is it about harnessing a particular political philosophy to pander to gregariousness? About how we're victims of our own needs, and in the absence of social rewards, our culture of instant gratification demands that we go elsewhere, adopt other 'beliefs'? Even a neo-Nazi white boy on his own at university finds black and Asian friends during the first few weeks of term. What does it all mean? You decide!

32 A5 pages, £1.50 - available from www.homebakedbooks.co.uk

Loserdom #15

Posted on February 3, 2007

"It's kind of a portrait of the global landscape as it reaches a crisis level of homogeneity as filtered through the experience of two women," says Loserdom interviewee and Fugazi singer/guitarist Guy Picciotto of the short film 'Chain'. Loserdom could be said to mine similar territory: the socio-political concerns of its creators Anto and Eugene – and their laments for places where "character and soul no longer remain" – are subtly woven with disarming sincerity through their own comics and writings and, by proxy, through the symbiotic work of contributors chosen to maintain this weave. There's a commitment here; charged, one feels, with a rectitude that won't be shackled by the ever-narrowing parameters imposed by law.

Amongst the material presented this issue is the enchanting The Story Of Loserdom, a potted history – ten years in the making – of the zine's development from ragged freesheet to desktop-published booklet. In Anto's Places That Were But Aren't Anymore, clubs, squats and cafes are recalled from the pre-apartment swank era, and specific spliff-friendly atmospheres, piss-poor pints, atrocious toilets and gigs by bands with unlikely names – Bilge Pump, Holochrist et al – are yearned-for with equal degree of rose-tint. Integration sees Eugene lost in translation as he forlornly latches onto the odd English phrase overheard in the conversations of fellow passengers in this lulling, lyrical description of train journeys in Amsterdam. (His is the bike with two locks at the station.) And Anto's cycle-log charts the ups and downs of a trip from west to east of Ireland – a thoroughly enjoyable read despite the dirty headwinds, the stop-start drizze and frequently banjaxed bikes. ("I managed to straighten Peadair's derailleur to some extent, but it will need a slight bit of work tomorrow with tools that I forgot to bring…")

Also on offer: a roundtable discussion with Irish band The Redneck Manifesto, recollections of a sweaty year-and-a-half spent in New Orleans ("A person delivering food for a living on a pushbike can save up enough to buy a house and still be an alcoholic"), the vented spleen of a teen in-the-thick-of-it, thoughtful slice-of-life and satirical comics, and zine reviews of titles diverse enough to introduce audiences to a Revolutionary Anarcha-Feminist Group, the Dublin Bicycle Messenger Association, and to issues related to anti-civilisation, green anarchism and anarcho-primitivism. A holistic balance, then, that's good-natured, personal and quietly constructive, Loserdom is a zine with infectious warmth and sensibly worked conscience.

68 recycled A5 pages, £2.50 – available from www.loserdomzine.com

Falling Sky

Posted on February 2, 2007

Provided a perfect-bound, glossy treatment by publishers, Scar Comics, Falling Sky is a bold choice for their first graphic novel release. Relentlessly downbeat and humourless, its inherent cynicism makes few concessions to comforting entertainment, and with a resourcefully crafted but functional artwork – photo-sourced and treated with a simplifying outline, a murky two-tone and chalk/charcoal effect – it could scarcely be considered a safe-bet, commercially. However, once one settles to the inappropriately other-worldliness of glowing figures and white blood, it is difficult to resist the impetus of this well-crafted story.

When first-time kidnapper Rijuta loses her accomplices to an SAS hit-squad bent on the extermination of kidnap victim and banker, Charles Pearson, she learns that he is a man with knowledge of a covert government operation triggered by an impending apocalypse. An asteroid twenty-five miles in diameter hurtles toward earth and only the world's elite has been surreptitiously allocated safe-passage to underground shelters. With twenty-eight hours to impact, Rijuta turns bodyguard as Pearson dodges bullets in a last-ditch attempt to deliver both to safety.

Essentially an alchemy of conspiracy and cataclysm, Falling Sky is a taut action-chiller told with no-nonsense lucidity and deliberate pacing, which employs a time-lock narrative device to suspenseful consequence. Though its central characters are betrayed by a plot-driven focus – Rijuta, particularly, is underdeveloped and under-explained – and a false note is struck by an unconvincing sub-plot involving Pearson's malicious business rival, the persuasive, conscientious crafting effectiveness of creator Benjamin Dickson demands that one is captured by this refreshingly quip-free and, ultimately, disquieting read.

US size, 84 glossy pages, two-tone interior, £7.99 – available from www.smallzone.co.uk

Tales Of The Sidewalk #2

Posted on January 13, 2007

This is mental. Here, creator Jon Williams openly suffers from post-traumatic stress as a consequence of the reception to Sidewalk #1, and is startled into a panic of compulsive self-indulgence which manifests in this book-length whim, a devotion to a post-mortem of that debut issue. There is a half-hearted struggle to develop characters and situations introduced in #1, but ultimately, Williams' hellish reality anchored to our own proves a high concept in dire need of a plot. Consequently, soul-selling demon reality-journalist 'D' and his sidekick critic-construct, Jerome, are utilised merely as mouthpieces for their creator's comic-related angst.

That this post-premiere issue wreckage proves curiously mesmerising is not to condone its lack of writing craft. (See the review of Sidewalk #1.) But Williams' scratchy, fluid cartooning speaks of innate talent, and one can't help but be disarmed by the ambition of a creator with a vision currently above their ability, whose enthusiasm fails to will into existence a semblance of writing know-how or guile. It's ragged stuff, perilously close to eccentric folly, but with an endearing mixed-air of fatalism and resilience, this issue leaves me intrigued and alert to signs of Jon Williams defiantly crawling from the wreckage.

US size, 24 glossy pages - available from www.createtodestroy.com

Slow Science Fictions #1: Mike Weller's Cosmic Crusaders

Posted on December 9, 2006

Five attendees of a night class on 'Understanding Comics' each share an identical dream about being a cosmic-crusading-costumed team fighting bad in the world. Years later the collective dream is all but forgotten when four of the five cross paths again in Croydon. But this reunion is no accident: the Duke and the Duchess of Hell have declared war on God's Earth in the three spheres of Common, Social and Political Reality; in nearby Addingcombe, local democracy is being complicated by powerful developers; elsewhere, committee-prompted alterations fuelled by marketing strategy are made during the gaming adaptation of characters and situations from Space Opera, a small press book which details the history of the UK's first costumed superheroes, the Cosmic Crusaders. The Croydon four – Elaine Clark, Becky Schwaffer, Hussain Elmaz and Peter Piggott – have been chosen by the Guardians of Life and Civilisation to be the New Cosmic Crusaders.

"We have a powerful wish to be something super human," comments Elaine Clark in this origin issue of the New Cosmic Crusaders. This perhaps is the thematic fulcrum of the story: the desire for personal power to combat resignation and victim status, and refusal to accept limitations. As usual, resonant concerns lurk beneath author Mike Weller's superhero trope-laden work, where parallel realities meet in confluence: the hijacking of all that is popular in society by crass commercialism, capitalist bulldozing of our culture, the substance of a response to corporate momentum; and as ever Weller succeeds in crafting a gleeful read while quietly adding or removing things familiar to both our reality and our reading experience. There is a dizzying meticulousness here, too, and endearing complication, and if comics readers are to rest from exclusive consumption of the word-ballooned panel, the sure-footed prose of Mike Weller's Cosmic Crusaders provides the perfect substitute.

40 A5 pages, £2 - available from www.homebakedbooks.co.uk

True Stories #2: Island

Posted on October 26, 2006

A grand folly, this, from Tony McGee, which throws all the shapes of a metaphysical examination of a couple of anguished lives, but just lacks sufficient exposition or dialogue or inherent analysis to achieve the kind of complexity that makes a story this brooding really involving.

The teenaged Gemma holidays on the remote island of her father – a broken man, detached and struggling for emotional sustenance. Conversation is brief, silences protracted; there is something not right with this relationship. Gemma retreats into fantasy, her father into reliable depression, but there is no escape: a sinister fog gathers on the horizon; it's moving their way.

Ambitious and downbeat, the narrative of Island lacks impetus due to the relative absence of a physical conflict, but with a beautifully conceived grimness, hypnotic rhythm, unearthly atmosphere and striking visual clarity, there is much to admire about this tentative yet devoted meditation on guilt.

Flip-side strip Isle is flimsy and conventional in comparison to its elusive neighbour, but boasts a polished story-telling which is technically faultless. Here, McGee's Sisyphus-like tale is superbly realised by the fine-tuned artistry of Chris Askham, to diverting, enjoyable-enough consequence.

56 A5 pages, £2. Available from http://truestories.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk