Dead Queens and Square Eyes: Some of the Best Small Press from the Thought Bubble FestivalA column article, Fool Britannia by: Regie Rigby
Looking back, I wasn't all that adventurous at Thought Bubble the other week. I seem mostly to have spoken to people I know and bought comics that followed on from comics I'm already familiar with. I mean, I'm glad I did because it's fantastic to catch up with old friends and acquaintances, and clearly I'm going to want to read the next instalment of comics I've enjoyed. This is just a note to self -- and perhaps a suggestion to any of my foolish friends who need it -- next time you're at a con, go for more than one day and be a bit more adventurous!
Anyway. One of the books I picked up that follows on from a book I've enjoyed in the past was Bevis Musson's The Dead Queen Detectives 2: International Queens. The original DQD was something of a departure for Bevis. His work first attracted the attention of this column in the bar of the ******* hotel in Bristol back in the early noughties*. Back then he'd just produced the first issue of the astonishingly good The Queen of Diamonds. The Queen, a sort of transdimensional** superhero who controls light in fabulous was and made being sparkly cool a long time Edward Cullen even knew how to pull a sulky face, remains one of my favourite superheroes. He was very different to anything else I've encountered in the genre, and long time readers of this column will know how much I loved it.
The original Dead Queen Detectives was as startling a change of style as could be imagined. The flowing realistic lines and idealised bodies gave way to a more stylised, sharper lined cartoony style, and the subject shifted from sharp and sassy superhero adventures with a bit of a dark undercurrent, to straightforward knockabout comedy.
I loved it!***
Issue #2 follows the same format as the first comic -- a Black and White A5 comic made up of two and three-page strips. The original team, of Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth 1st, Queen Anne and Queen Victoria are back for the sequel, but faced in the first story with a conundrum beyond even their regal powers they are forced to call in their international sisters Hatshepsut of Egypt, Isabella of Spain, Catherine the Great Awesome of Russia and Marie Antoinette of France.
Once again the running gags come thick and fast -- Hatshepsut believes that as a Pharoh she must be a man, Isabella hates Elizabeth, Marie Antoinette has an obsession with cake, and so on. It's as fine a comedy as I've ever encountered -- not only does Musson have a talent for snappy dialogue, he has a rare talent for expression. Non of his queens actually need to say anything for you to know exactly what they're thinking.
This is 24 pages of laugh-out-loud funny silliness that will make you smile on even the dullest winter day. In fact I'm sitting here chuckling from the mere memory of it. And this is me -- never known to smile in public…
You really should go and check them out on his Deviant Art page. And, y'know, buy a copy maybe -- easily worth two quid of anybody's money.
For a mere fifty pence more****, I also picked up the latest instalment in the long running small press series Square Eyed Stories. Again, regular readers will be familiar with this A5 humour anthology, several editions of which have been reviewed here before, although I confess I was both surprised and impressed to discover that we're now on issue #24! In a world where the pressure of day jobs, lack of retail opportunities and the demanding nature of the audience means that many self publishing ventures have the life expectancy of a sickly mayfly, that kind of longevity is a serious indication of the quality of the content and the dedication of the trio of creative behind the project.
I have to say, after twenty four editions the Goodman Brothers***** and their creative collaborator Jim McGee have ensured that Square Eyed Stories has certainly not lost any of its freshness or charm. Like any anthology there are some strips I liked more than others, but that doesn't mean I didn't like them all -- just that some of them I absolutely loved. There is a series of strips from Arthur Goodman, for example that feature the misadventures of two young women dealing with the paranormal. Even if there was nothing else worth reading in the whole book, their experiment with missing keys alone is worth the price of admission -- while the one about how you deal with different types of zombie made me laugh hard enough that I snorted Coke****** out of my nose. Which was embarrassing because I was eating lunch in the café of the Royal Armouries Museum at the time…
There's also a brilliant skit on the old “Explorer about to be sacrificed by savages, knows an eclipse is coming, uses his advanced European knowledge to predict disappearance of the sun, ignorant savages release him as messenger of the gods” cliché which, if I'm honest, summed up how I always thought that kind of thing would go down in reality, and several of the finniest punchlines and sight gags you're going to see in a comic anywhere.
I still have a lot of comics to read, and I'm looking forward to all of them. Next week expect reviews of the long awaited new project by the Etherington Brothers******* and the latest work by the brilliant Dave “Springheeled Jack” Hitchcock, among others , hopefully, if I actually get chance to sit down and read them all between now and then.
And you see, that's one of the major regrets I have about cons. I regret that there's never enough time to sit down and read the books you pick up while you're there all in one go. Back when I used to make the annual pilgrimage to London for the old UK Comic Art Conventions I'd always have a couple of hours on the train to devote to my haul. These days I drive to cons, and reading comics while driving is seriously discouraged. That means the intense hit of comicy goodness that I used to get is diluted somewhat, which is a shame.
This regret is exacerbated by the other regret I always have at cons, which is all the books I didn't pick up because my budget wouldn't stretch. So many tables groaning under the weight of so much cool looking stuff that I have to stride********past, viewing only with my peripheral vision because I just know that if I look too closely I'm going to need to buy something and I've already gone waaaaaaaaaaaaaay over my budget. And of course had my budget been unlimited, well, that would have meant I'd've bought even more comics I don't have time to read…
Still. If that's the worst of my problems, it's a nice problem to have. I'm off to get some reading done, my foolish friends. See you in seven!
*I think it might have been the same year they ran out of beer, so it was an early Brizzle, I think.
**I confess he probably isn't trans-dimensional, I'm just not sure how else to describe him.
***Which is not to say that I wouldn't like to see some more of the Queen of Diamonds, because I would. Nine issues is not enough.
****And a short walk across the Plaza, because Bevis was based in Savilles Hall, while The Goodman Brothers were in the Royal Armouries. What? This kind of detail is important!
*****Arthur and Dave.
******By which I mean Coca-Cola, obviously. Except now I think about it, it wasn't Coke, it was Pepsi, which means that I don't mind wasting it so much…
*******Although it's not actually the project of their's I've been waiting for the longest – and if they don't get Moon sorted out soon I'm going to get rather cross with them…
********Well, shamble awkwardly, at least. There isn't often room enough to actually stride…