Propaganda on the work of Matthew Craig and a very good dog indeed.
(Cover to Hondle: The Special Edition by Matthew Craig)
Back in the good old days, when I used to work at Nostalgia & Comics in Birmingham I used to be the regular drop off point for Pete Ashton when he operated Bugpowder as a small press distributor service. He introduced me to some wonderful little comics of varying professionalism but a consistency of passion that was lacking in the supposed mainstream of comics at the time. So it’s with great pleasure that I find myself now in the position to be receiving a lot of really lovely small press comics for this blog. And the one thing they have in common is a simple passion for making comics.
Which leads us onto the works of Matthew Craig; comics writer/artist from the Midlands who I no doubt sold comics to on a Saturday at Nostalgia in the past. A perfect example of the breadth and passion of today’s British small press scene. He’s obviously got a big love for superheroes, as most of his books feature some take on the superhero as everyman tale. Whether it’s the funky Trixie Biker, empowered by a dying pixie’s last breath to fight crime on Dixie the Superbike or Newstreet; Matthew’s stab at giving Birmingham it’s own superhero.
But while these comics were fine for what they are, I prefer it when he adds something more to the mix of fun superhero tales. Take Trouble Bruin; his biographical tale of another Birmingham superhero and his son across the years, using the superpowers sparingly to illustrate what makes this particular family slightly different. And when he needs to, Matthew turns the tale from straight retelling of a life into a heartfelt and touching recounting of a hero’s death and all the emotional fall-out that comes along. For me, this is what I would rather read and it’s a lot more interesting than the lighter comics.
(Trouble Bruin – Matthew Craig’s tale of a Birmingham hero and a loving family.)
But the one comic that absolutely stood out in the pile was Hondle; Matthew’s tale of his much loved and much missed family dog. In telling us the story of Hondle, Matthew has captured all of the joy and heartbreak that owning a much loved pet can bring. In Hondle Matthew delivers every morsel of love, devotion, sadness and great loss that you feel when you watch your pet grow from tiny puppy to old friend and then suffer that intense grief of seeing the thing you love most in your young life grow old and die.
(The first page of Hondle Special Edition by Matthew Craig. Perfectly sets the tone of the book; of unconditional love and heartfelt sadness.)
It’s full of moments of delight and happiness, but all along it’s obvious that this is written in the past tense and Hondle is nothing more than a much loved and deeply missed memory at this stage. Matthew manages very simply to transmit his great loss and his heartfelt sadness at the death of his best friend onto each page. Every happy moment is tinged with a heavy sense of foreboding, as we all know how this one’s going to end.
I even sat down with Molly, 8 years old and desperate to have a dog. By about halfway through she cuddled up tight and started wiping the tears away and by the end she was sobbing. It made her remember our own much loved cat with the same mix of happy memories and great sadness and just goes to show what a powerful piece of writing Matthew has managed in Hondle.
Following on from Hondle, I tucked into the follow up tales; Experihondle and Super Sentai Spirit Dog Hondle where Matthew gets to remember his happiest days with Hondle whilst imagining the fun and adventures they could be having. Like Matthew says on the back cover: “A new twist on a long-running tale, Super Sentai Spirit Dog Hondle takes the postmortem pooch and his scruffbag chum and recasts them as the Saturday morning cartoon you’ve always wanted to see”.
But I found myself wishing that future work from Matthew could attempt to tap into some of the pathos and emotion he so effectively put on show in Hondle. I think it’s by far his best work and I’d definitely want to read more of his work in this vein. There’s some more Hondle strips on his website, like this one:
(An example of some of the Hondle strips online at Matthew’s website)
So that’s Matthew Craig. His website is at thematthewcraig.com. Give his entire body of work a look. It’s may be rough and ready, but it’s all passionately done and a nice little read. But make sure you settle down somewhere warm and cosy to read Hondle.
That one’s very special.
Richard Bruton is a lifelong comics fan and former Comic Book Store Guy; you can read more of his thoughts on comics and life on his blog Fictions.