Sunday, September 17, 2006

Stripping Down #8 - My Field Trip To Planet Karen

Whenever I begin to feel jaded about comics in general, something comes along that reignites my passion for the medium. Karen Ellis has injected the well-worn 'visual diary' concept with a joie de vivre that is hopelessly addictive. Karen's tightly written and at times brutally direct daily observations are immediately engaging. The art, loose but well defined and brimming with kinetic energy, greatly enhances the peaks and troughs of the narrator’s life. Each daily account can be enjoyed as of itself, but there is a cohesion that makes the entire book a persuasive read. The confident writing and art have continually improved since the comic strip's launch in March 2006, and Ellis' self-confessed 'short cuts' to get back on schedule are master classes in storytelling. Life on Planet Karen is far from unremittingly sunny, but even the darkest confessionals are imbued with an optimism and humour that can engage the most cynical reader. This is clearly a small press creator at the top of their game. Read this, donate generously and ensure that this talent does not go unnoticed or unrewarded.
Available on the Planet Karen website

Adapted from my reviews that originally appeared in Comics International #198 and #200

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Stripping Down #7 - Small Press Spotlight

Guide Dog Detective 1
"In-furr-nal Affairs" by Jess Bradley

Fur noir with a hard-boiled crime drama coming across like Cats & Dogs on amphetamines. The eponymous hero, a down on his luck labrador, tries to crack a rabbit crime syndicate and absolve his guilt over his partner’s death. An assured and well realised homage, enlivened by the all-animal cast.
Available from Travelling Man, 8 Park Street, Bristol, BS1 5NF, UK.

Scar Tissue vol.2: Destroy Bristol Special (Scar Comics)

A bumper, landscape format collection of 13 pieces, with generally strong writing, surpassed by even more impressive art. Highlights include Ali Graham’s collection of Housd shorts, Bristol Destroyed by Terry Hooper, Andy Vine’s fun EC Comics pastiche Faced With Beauty and Karen Ellis’ cover and wonderfully succinct Planet Karen epilogue.
Available from tha Scar Comics website.

Sporadic (Mini Mag) 0.5

This anthology, edited by Andrew Stitt, is more hit than miss, and devoting two of the twenty pages to creator profiles suggests a paucity of good material. However, the £1.00 cover price and some promising contributions justify a casual purchase. Matt Blissett’s After The Adventure is an enjoyable homage to Ted Hughes’ The Iron Man and his political satire George, featuring Damian Street’s sharp cartoon art, is the highlight. Gareth Slieghtholme’s front and back cover illustrations also impress. Sporadic's first issue proper will hopefully capitalise on the potential of this edition.
Available from 15a St. Augustine's Street, Norwich, Norfolk, NR3 3BY,

Trixie Biker And The Go Go Pixies (Watercooler Comix)
by Matthew Craig

A fun 12 page comic short featuring Trixie Biker, her semi-sentient motorbike and a pair of pixies as they thwart ‘ether huffing fruitbat’ Dr. Julius Kroporkin’s attempted bank robbery. The artwork is crude, with text placements that occasionally detract from or confuse the narrative, but Craig’s enthusiasm for the characters shines through.
Available from Matthew Craig's website.

My reviews were originally published in Comics International #198 and #200.

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Sunday, September 10, 2006

Stage Presence #5

“Restoration” by Edward Bond
Bristol Old Vic, 09/09/2006

Restoration is billed as ‘dramatic, explosive and wickedly comic…packed with rousing songs and biting satire.’ Whilst not misleading, Headlong (formerly Oxford Stage Company) Theatre’s production of Bond’s 1981 play is, in every sense, a play of two halves. The audience (a relatively poor turnout, it has to be said) endured not only energy sapping heat but also a play that swiftly moved from wickedly comic to just plain wicked in the final hour and a quarter. The audience were a continual distraction, with Johnny Come Latelys, mobile phones ringing and even at one point someone’s stomach growling above the dialogue. I’ve rarely seen an audience make such a rapid beeline for the bar and/or exit as I witnessed (and participated in) last night. In fairness, Restoration isn’t a bad play, in fact Bond’s writing for the most part is every bit as sharp as the opening hyperbole suggests. Mark Lockyer, as the dishonourable gentlemen Lord Are, dominates every scene that he appears in and rewards the audience with a expertly judged performance, whilst the remaining cast members give their all. That said, Michael Schaeffer’s energetic acting is undermined by the fact that his lines are often unintelligible. Also, Dorothea Myer-Bennett saddles hapless bride Ann Hardache with a regional accent so closely mirroring Jane Horrocks’ character Bubble in Absolutely Fabulous that it detracts from her own comic touches. The musical performances are strong, accompanied by a three-piece who materialise behind a thin screen at the rear of the stage when the play demands. Although relatively short, judiciously pruning some songs (and indeed, some scenes) may have made for a less bum-numbing theatre experience. The applause was enthusiastic but brief and, as mentioned previously, followed by a veritable stampede for the cool night streets…and, in my case, a neighbouring bar. In the wee hours of this morning, nursing a whisky and cola in Renato’s, I was still none the wiser as to why I’d been in such a hurry to join the rampaging herd or why I had this nagging feeling of disappointment with Restoration. However by then, I’d become far more interested in the celebrity photos adorning Renato’s walls and stopped giving it any more thought.

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