Well he might be, I dunno. ‘Cept he tends to go on about the ones he likes. So either

a) He doesn’t read them or
b) He reads them and doesn’t like them

Either of which is a crime. And what comics am I on about?

The many and varied SLEAZE CASTLE comics. In its various forms, the original More Tales From Sleaze Castle, the prequel Tales From Sleaze Castle, the spin off Surreal School Stories, the other spin off Petra Etcetera and now, the all encompassing Sleaze Castle: The Directors Cut graphic novels, each collecting four or more of the original issues, Sleaze castle is a British cult hit. Cult meaning that the people who like it, really, really like it and try to get everyone else to like it too. And British meaning it doesn’t sell anywhere near as many as it deserves to. Even in the general declining comics market there’s no excuse for a entertainment of this quality, depth and likeability to be floundering in the three figure orders from Diamond that it is.

So what’s the fuss about. Sleaze Castle is a story of two best friends. One, Jocasta Dribble, is a British-of-Italian-stock-and-doesn’t-she-know-it media studies student in a Northern University, who starts the book as normal as can be and then gets dragged Arthur Dent-style into a dimension not of her choosing. And we find out her childhood is made up of some very interesting moments which seem to be tied into all of this somehow. She’s rather insular, not very self confident, likeable but probably irritating if you stay in her presence too long. She’s is a refreshing change to the “positive role model, strong woman, girl power” thing we’ve been inundated with the last decade. And she’s all the more readable for it.

And then there’s Panda. She was at University with Jocasta, posing as a foreign student and then disappeared. Everyone thought she was dead, turns out she’s a mighty ruler in another dimension who got stuck in Jocasta’s Earth and had to fit in for a while until the dimensional gate opened again. And at the beginning of More Tales, Panda comes back for Jocasta and takes her to Panda’s home.

We discover this all this simply, as marvel upon marvel is presented to us and incorporated into the growing, ever more complicated world devised by writer Dave McKinnon and artist Terry Wiley. The genius of Sleaze Castle is to spoon feed this world in bite size pieces so we swallow it easily, rather than, say, the Morrison style of giving us a fully developed and outrageous world and forcing us to make some sense of it in one gulp. Indeed there’s one character in the book who jumps into Panda’s world and has to do that, much to the loss of his own mental state.

Each character has different dimensional equivalents, except, so far, Panda. Indeed, when Panda does another dimension/time travel jump to check some recording problems with her original dimension travelling, she’s shocked to discover that she doesn’t appear when she should at all, realises that the Jocasta she’s took home wasn’t the Jocasta she’s lived at University with and… get this… has to live the entire time again, acting exactly the same way as she did the previous time (with a few specific changes) in order to keep the world of the Jocasta she’s got at home the same as the world of the Jocasta she originally stayed with the same… a beautiful piece of the tapestry stitched by these two guys.

Wow. Long sentence. Honestly the joy of Sleaze Castle is that, read in the right order, it makes marvellous, beautiful sense. The attention to detail throughout the book is reflected in the Easter eggs… you thought Top Ten had a lot? Sleaze Castle throws references all over the place that, thankfully, you don’t have to get to enjoy the book. Which is handy. These range from comic books – Marlon being asked to mind the oranges at dinner, or a mother intervening in a fight over a portable TV by asking “who watches the watchman?”

Oh and there’s a race of Little Happy Creatures that speak their own special language with a story all of their own but tied up in the ongoing plots. You can enjoy these sequences as pantomime comics, but get a whole new meaning if you take the trouble to work out their language and translate. Useful tip – at one point early on, a Little Happy Creature reads from an eye-chart… a good place to get your pen and paper out.

On top of the Sleaze Castle episodes, Surreal Schools Stories are a series of illustrated stories in the manner of the “girl’s adventure book”. They tell of the life of a young Jocasta Dribble as she’s inducted into a school with a very special way of teaching its students, who can then elevate themselves to a new level of learning. And get into a whole bunch of public-school girl scrapes that populated the girls magazines and comics of twenty to thirty years ago. It follows the rules of the genre but adds ideas and concepts that are clearly out of place. And we wait to see how a girl like Jocasta, with so much promise, ends up in a dull dreary North-East university. Based on the one I went to no less. Hmm.

Petra Etcetera is the back-up-strip that could, with co-writer Adrian Kermode – the much more mainstream and Buffy/Friends-generation version of Sleaze Castle. No pesky fantasy or sci-fi elements here, this is the slice-of-life sitcommy sifestyle of Jocasta’s younger sister, Petra. She far perkier, sexually precocious and outgoing than Jocasta, and this tells the story of her, her friends, her enemies and how she fits in with Jocasta’s life.

Sleaze Castle marries the grand, outlandish and rich history of Panda’s world with the mundane banality of Jocasta’s, which also hides its own rich history. It is a mish mash of pop cultures and ancient cultures that rewards both light reading and deep reading. It’s erratic scheduling has plagued the likelihood that it will “break out” of its niche, but its certainly a niche worth discovering.

So, why not go ask your retailer for the following books from Gratuitous Bunny Comix. If they don’t have them (and lets face it, it’s pretty unlikely) they should at least be able to try to order them from Diamond. E-mail them at dave@sleazecastle.co.uk or twing@cix.compulink.co.uk. Maybe my loyal benefactors at Silver Bullet Comics could sell them… hey guys what do you say? Free plug here if you can get them!

Currently Available:

Sleaze Castle: The Directors Cut #0
Sleaze Castle: The Directors Cut #1
Sleaze Castle: The Directors Cut #2
Sleaze Castle: The Directors Cut #3
Surreal School Stories #1 to #6
Petra Etcetera #1… and #2 is out any day now. In fact it’s late.

Trust me on this one guys. If you like any of the work of Alan Moore, Douglas Adams or Dave Sim, you’ll find plenty to love in Sleaze Castle. Join us, join us, join us…

Rich Johnston
I Want A Cheap Copy Of Perfect Dark

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