Monday, 24 May 2010

Review: Solipsistic Pop 2 (Solipsistic Pop Books, 2010)

Cover by Luke Pearson

Late last year, the first volume of Solipsistic Pop arrived in a blaze of fervorous glory. Bookended by manifesto-like declarations of intent, it was a long-overdue call-to-arms for British comics talent to mobilise. With Eagle-award winning creator Tom Humberstone at its helm (creator of Art School Scum and How to Date a Girl in 10 Days), the anthology’s intention was to “provide a support structure and outlet for UK alternative comics artists”, something that has been very sorely needed in the country’s barren domestic comics industry for years now. Full of enthusiasm, talent and several unwieldy stuck-on inserts, it was anything but ordinary, and all the more fun for it.

Now, six months later, the anthology returns to deliver another noble and very necessary kick in the face to readers and publishers alike. Streamlined in terms of format (gone are the essays and attached micro comics of its forbearer) and coming bound in one of the most magnificent covers in recent memory, the anthology (which comes with a pull-out supplement entitled Solipsistic Pop: The Funnies), is host to all manner of weird and wonderful strips. If sabotaged confectionery, garden gnomes and Sylvia Plath levitating dogs with the power of her mind sound like your cup of tea, this is definitely the book for you. And let’s face it; how could anyone ever be against the latter?

"Middle of the Storm" by Julia Scheele

Something that becomes more and more apparent when reading through this volume is how much more fluid it feels in terms of content than its predecessor. Humberstone has done a commendable job as editor, finding the elusive alchemy that gives an anthology the balance between overarching cohesiveness and stylistic variety. Diverse in art and narrative approaches, Solipsistic Pop 2 really feels like a gateway into the often unseen spectrum of comics talent in the UK. 

Well structured throughout; sober, atmospheric comics like Becky Barnicoat’s “Gnomes” (an ambiguous and often creepy story focusing on a garden gnome enthusiast of highly questionable character) sit alongside light-hearted, whimsical pieces of comedy like Lizz Lunney’s “Sour Rabbit and Crispy Duck”. Visually dynamic pieces like Kristyna Baczynski’s metamorphic “Sapling” contrast against the lo-fi exuberances of strips like Matilda Tristram’s “Mud” (a sequential yet non-sequitur strip following a simplistic figure rolling a sentient ball of mud around) creating a ubiquitous richness as product of their collation.

Somewhat of an unofficial unifying thread, themes of childhood and youth reappear throughout several pieces in the volume. Daniel Locke’s “1982” reads like a strained recollection of youthful memory, with a narrator recalling the feelings of illicit adventure and discovery as he breaks into his own home at the age of ten. Jack Noel contributes “Sweet Mystery”, which starts as a nostalgic remembrance of parental warnings of abandoned confectionary, before revealing itself as a simple yet masterfully-done bait and switch (proving there’s life left in that comedic troupe yet). Cover artist Luke Pearson’s four-page “Ghosts” is one of the chief highlights of the anthology, being an utterly charming and humorous account of overcoming the fear of the paranormal with the realisation that seeing a ghost in person would actually be "TOTALLY SWEET!".

Awesome even without featuring King Ghidorah, his inclusion obviously didn't hurt matters.

Autobiographical comics are well represented too, with Adam Cadwell (of The Everyday) and Joe Decie  producing very different self-chronicling pieces. Over in The Funnies, Decie uses his detached, watercolour style to celebrate Google Maps’ street-view function (which combines his three favourite pastimes: the internet, walking the streets and nostalgic reminiscence). In the book proper, Cadwell delivers the excellent and maturely constructed "The Tears of Tommy Cooper", in which he tells the story of one Saturday afternoon spent wheeling an elderly stranger home. 

Rounding out the collection are comics such as Mark Ellerby’s showcase of the wacky, sardonic characters seen in his self-published series, Chloe Noonan; Mark Oliver’s characteristically mind-bending "Quadropticon"; editor Tom Humberstone and Anne Holiday’s gently-told “Xena the Warrior Cat” and the numerous outstanding works of Stephen Collins, which includes the aforementioned Sylvia Plath strip as well as jumble-sale inspired story that featuring a delightful splash page of Freddie Mercury sitting alongside a pack of wolves. For real. 

Everything about Solipsistic Pop 2 improves upon the original volume in some way or another. The design is tighter, the content is higher in terms of overall quality, and everything from the cover to the credits page is better, brighter and bolder. Recommended highly, it’s an immensely solid collection that offers an essential look into one of the most underrepresented alternative scenes in the English-speaking comic world today. Make no mistake, whilst it may lack the inclusion of an outright manifesto like the original, it makes just as loud of a statement.

Stephen Collins' "Sylvia Plath" from the supplemental pull-out 

With too much content for just one article, be sure to check out our additional in-depth review of our five favourite comics from the collection (linked below). Available over at its official website now, Solipsistic Pop 2 costs £14 (including international shipping, roughly $20 US) and comes with a free tote bag, which fellow ATF staff-member Judith swiftly "liberated" from my clutches shortly after its arrival at HQ. Speaking of which, I'm off to call the police now.

Missing, one bag. Last seen with a fleeing French girl at the St. Pancras Eurostar terminal.


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