Page 45 Review by Stephen
"Who are you phoning?"
"The dictionary. I want a word for when "ungrateful" isn't enough."
Yes! John Allison's web-comic magnum opus BAD MACHINERY is being recollected in pocket-friendly, small-hands editions but in the same glorious, widescreen technicolour!
John Allison, for me, is the king of British web comics and knave of the UK self-publishing scene. A veteran of both, he is all about the mischief. And the sleuthing. And the astutely observed friendships of contemporary school children. In BAD MACHINERY at least (a folder where you'll also find GIANT DAYS, BOBBINS etc) Allison is also all-ages.
He's also one of the finest cartoonists we have, right up there with Dan Berry for acutely drawn movement and energy, supple forms and exuberant gesticulation.
Above we have Jack admonishing young Linton who has been saved from drowning by Archibald, Mildred's adoptive "dog" who leapt into water like a Jack Kirby hero with suspiciously anthropoid grace. Hmmm. Rather than just lying lifeless on the sandy shore soaking, Linton is scuffling about in circles either through petulance and irritation or in order to dry off his back. I don't care which: this movement which few others would have thought of brings extra life to the panel and a great big grin to my face.
As to the characters' expressions, they are priceless: Charlotte's eyes closed in sanctimonious approval of her family's month-long moratorium on meatballs out of respect for the removal of her dog Pepper's bollocks; Sonny, Jack and Linton's epileptic response to the fair ride Obliterator 500 and its ilk; the boggle-eyed baby Humphrey burbling "Borb Ground Wee" and "Botty"; plus Sonny's super-serious, fire-lit eyes on getting to grips with a new mystery!
"Beasts intrigue me, Jack. Tell me more about the beasts."
Although loaded online page by periodical page, John's stories are long-form so now that they're being published, case by investigative case, the fluidity of the narrative is far more obvious - as well as their considerable substance and length.
The town is Tackleford and the two sets of twelve-year-old friends are Charlotte, Shauna and Mildred; Linton, Sonny and Jack. They are linked by Shauna's pash on Jack. She slipped a pink love note into Jack's pocket complete with two panda stickers, three hearts and a butterfly. Unfortunately Linton found it and teased Jack without let-up (he is very funny!) which is why Linton ended up in the river. Friends do fall out, you know. Here's Shauna and Charlotte:
"Fancy fightin' over a flippin' "magic pencil"."
"Ugh. I know. Let's add it to the list of things we're not allowed to row about."
"OK. Licking other people's yoghurt lids. Best singers."
"Rules of tennis, "badmington", marbles, hula hoop. Imaginary
"Hula hoop defo doesn't have rules, Lottie."
"FORFEIT DANCE, NOW."
Allison packs so much of these "things that kids do" into his series leaving the mystery to percolate gently in the background until its full flavour is ready: the romance, the bullying, the school smokers' corner, the family squabbling, the embarrassing nightmare which is parents' evening
and why Mildred's parents refuse to let her play computer games - in her case wisely. They're also strict about Mildred's diet when she goes to stay with cousin Sonny:
"There's some of her veggie burger mix in there, and an organic berry salad. Don't let her anywhere near yoghurt."
"Mum's got me on a superfoods diet."
"The name is a trick. It's basically things from the garden that even slugs aren't interested in."
The intertwining mysteries this time involve nine missing babies (the first of which vanished under nursery manager Susan Bovis' hilariously slapdash care: "Little ones are always wandering off. I'm sure they'll come back. They're probably having a wonderful time."), the Magic Pencil which Mildred won from a fairground con-man with hastily calculated complex mechanics and sheer bloody-mindedness ("Whatever it draws, whatever it writes, comes true!" Will it?) and the Tackleford Beast, a huge bipedal shadow spotted roaming the 'urbs by the usual suspects whom you would never believe in a month of Mondays. People tend to believe anything on Sundays. Oh yes, and then there's the surprise find of curiously capable dog 'Archie', another of John's cartooning triumphs.
This is brilliant, this is bonkers and if you are desperate for me to find a comparison point then this is the delightfully parochial UK equivalent of (amongst many other things) SCOTT PILGRIM.
I exhort you, then, to
Discover the leaf-loving joys of Nature-Craft Folk Club!
Gasp at the wrist action of Jack's throwing prowess and note down the time it takes for his stick to go under the bridge! ("Fifteen
heart heart kiss kiss
PANDA STICKER. NEXT!")
Wonder at the wisdom of deploying the Magic Pencil when you've read W.W. Jacobs' 'The Monkeys Paw' and be careful what you wish for!
And finally gawp at the glossary contrived for our American chums, every bit of mirth-making as the contents themselves.
Completely self-contained, this would be a brilliant place to begin your life-long love affair with Mr Allison, but if you want to kick off with BAD MACHINERY VOL 1: THE CASE OF TEAM SPIRIT then that is entirely up to you.
John Allison will be joining over a dozen other comicbook creators signing in Page 45's Georgian Room At The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2017. You'll find all the times and details there on our permanent, dedicated LICAF page.