Thursday, 27 May 2010

Review: The Best of Solipsistic Pop 2

Whilst we make no secret of our love of anthologies at ATF, sometimes it’s difficult to find enough space in a review to focus on all the deserving individual contributions we enjoyed. To illustrate this point, the original edit of our Solipsistic Pop 2 article ended up running to around 2,500 words in length. Throwing caution to the wind, we thought “to hell with it!” and decided that we’d supplement the original article by giving a detailed run-down of our five favourite comics from the book. Fast earning a reputation of becoming the flagship anthology of alternative comics in the UK, read on for yet more reasons to go pick up a copy.

The Tears of Tommy CooperAdam Cadwell

Sideburns galore in this wonderfully-composed comic

Adam Cadwell, best known for his autobiographical webcomic, The Everyday, takes a slightly different approach to self-chronicling with the tragicomic “The Tears of Tommy Cooper”. Ostensibly a story about the writer/ artist’s encounter with an elderly stranger one Saturday afternoon in 2006, its tone and style are a world apart from the brief, diarist snippets seen in the aforementioned strip. Funny and heart-wrenching all at once, his contribution offers a window into the life and character of the talkative stranger.

Drawn in his ultra-attractive clear-line style, the comic sees Cadwell being told ambiguously veracious tales of his special-brew drinking companion's life as he courteously wheels him home. With stories including time spent teaching at Manchester College, Army life and his friendship with the titular (and much-beloved) comedian, there's a genuine human loneliness to the piece that is cemented towards the end as the old man looks directly into both Cadwell and the reader's eyes, dispensing advice for the future.

The piece is extremely mature in its construction, with subtle characterisation that largely leaves the audience in to judge or deconstruct the mutton-chopped gentleman. What results from this is something complex, unclear, yet absolutely empathetic, that acts as a reminder of just how enjoyable autobiographical comics can be when used effectively and with purpose. In shifting the focus away from himself and onto the experience of his interaction with others, Cadwell succeeds in telling a meaningful story that almost anybody can relate to. Good autobiographical comics are extremely hard to come by, and by virtue of that alone "The Tears of Tommy Cooper" is well worth your time.

Sour Rabbit and Crispy DuckLizz Lunney

The real "dynamic duo" of comics, Sour Rabbit & Crispy Duck

Undoubtedly, the most charismatic submission in the anthology is also the simplest, at least in terms of looks. Making her Solipsistic Pop debut is Lizz Lunney, with her witty and whimsical duo of "Sour Rabbit and Crispy Duck". Visually unrefined (but all the more pleasing for it), the comic treats the reader to an extended conversation between the interspecies BFFs, covering the central topics of  Sour Rabbit's unrequited schoolgirl crush and Crispy Duck's sudden discovery of parenthood and the peril that faces a former flame.

Essentially two stories connected via a single conversational thread, the pacing of the piece is flawless and holds together the engaging mix of gentle humour and relatable life experiences well. Definitely one of Lunney’s principle strengths, this rhythm extends itself into her other SP2 contribution, “Depressed Cat”, which features a day in the life of a forlorn office worker... who also happens to be a cat. Anthropomorphising animals for comedic/ empathetic purpose is obviously no new trick but it must be said that a part of the reason for the success of Lunney's strips is her lack of reliance on this feature. Barring a single fleeting, well placed, aside about Crispy's goose-bumps, the humour isn't derived from the simple juxtaposition and amalgamation of them being animals expressing human qualities and desires.

Also, I’m fairly certain that Lunney has struck some sort of Faustian bargain with the devil, because she’s seemingly mastered the near-impossible art of producing super-cute cartoons that never even come close to becoming maudlin. It’s an impressive, unfathomable tightrope walk that pays off, and one that gives the creator's work its central, understated appeal.

Couldn't agree more, Freddie

Stephen Collins returns from his outstanding work in Solipsisic Pop 1, once again achieving a land-grab of Napoleonic stature by appearing in both the book and the supplemental pull-out. Rightly so, to be honest, as his work is just that good, having appeared in The Times, The Guardian and The Wall Street Journal (just to name a few).

His central contribution this time is “Jumble”, a quasi-philosophical take on the oddity of jumble sales (or rummage sales, if you prefer). Not many comics can get away with a splash page of Freddie Mercury appearing to exclaim “Ooh isn’t that lovely” whilst accompanied by a trio of wolves, but here, Collins manages it successfully and with purpose. The image (revealed to be a strange composite of a Queen/ wolf fanatic’s principle obsessions on the back of a leather jacket) becomes a totemic representation of the ordered, human chaos of the jumble sale tradition.

Containing perhaps the best metaphor ever committed to print - “they are the hand of God rummaging around in a box full of shite.”- the quantum mysticism of Collins’ writing is further complimented by his gorgeous artwork. Making liberal use of this volume’s green/blue colour palette, the comic is endowed with an otherworldly quality that fits the ethereal church-set mood perfectly. In the words of the piece’s narrator, “Jumble sales, man. They’re portals, I tell you.”. Great stuff.

Xena the Warrior Cat, Anne Holiday & Tom Humberstone

Distrust and mystery in the wake of Xena

One of the shortest pieces in the anthology, “Xena the Warrior Cat” (written by Anne Holiday and illustrated by anthology-editor Tom Humberstone) is just two pages in length and features the mysterious titular cat on the run from a potential danger, her owner.

Much credit is due to Holiday and Humberstone for taking what is a simple recollection of a lost neighbourhood cat, and extrapolating it into a comic that’s mysterious and even a little sinister at points. Charmingly, Xena  is lionised (groan) and presented as a noble monster “more than one hundred times bigger than any spider” whilst her owner is treated with much suspicion by the narrator, leading to an atmosphere that has more in common with a classic Noir-thriller than Homeward Bound.

Visually, Xena herself is drawn gracefully and with economy, full of the commanding grace a cat of her mythical stature should have. Taking place in the anthology’s full-colour supplement, Humberstone emboldens Holiday’s anecdote with a strong palette that really makes the atmosphere of the piece come alive. In terms of its place within the anthology, the comic is just like its subject, comparatively small but absolutely mighty. 

Ghosts, Luke Pearson

"Whoooaahhhhhh!" is the highest form of wit

Finally: As if his awe-inspiring gatefold cover wasn’t good enough, Luke Pearson also found it necessary to create one of the absolute highlights of the volume. Four pages long, "Ghosts" sees a young man recount his childhood fear of the paranormal and how he eventually conquered it by realising that, rather than inciting terror, seeing a ghost would be “TOTALLY SWEET!”.

Deftly told, it's a very funny take on a commonplace and identifiable fear. Taking comfort in the idea of a ghost-sighting confirming the idea of an afterlife, the narrator’s younger self goes on to considers all the other positives it may have. Of course, one of his first thoughts is what any hormone-plagued teenager would see as the chief benefit of being a barely-visible apparition:  spying on people "in the act", so to speak. Ultimately a bittersweet lament of the passage into adulthood, straight-faced (for the most part) narration anchors the more exuberant content taking place within the panels themselves.

Pearson’s got a fantastic bold visual style that contrasts rounded, bendy cartoon figures against the much more rigid geometric lines of their environment. Also incorporating an approachable diagrammatic quality, I found myself drawing slight comparisons to the work Kevin Huizenga, which is titanic-enough praise in itself. Readers can (and should) head over to Pearson's website (linked above) immediately to check out  further examples of his work. Absolutely bursting with potential, I, for one, cannot wait to see more from him in the future.

Available over at the official Solipsistic Pop website now (linked below), the anthology costs £14 (roughly $20 US including international shipping) and comes with a free tote bag. Previews and other such good stuff are also over there for your perusal head, or, alternatively please feel free to check out our overall review of the anthology from earlier this week (also linked below). Either way, make sure you don't miss out on this fantastic showcase of UK-based comics talent - or else an army of tea-drinking football hooligans will be knocking on your door sometime in the near future.



  1. Thank you for the very kind words about my story. I'm very proud to be part of this anthology and I'm glad to see it being so well received.

  2. Believe us, it was our pleasure!