Solipsistic Pop Issue 3 – the all ages alternative…
Artists: Krystina Baczynski, Becky Barnicoat, Adam Cadwell, Warwick Johnson Cadwell, Francesca Cassavetti, Faz Choudry, David O’Connell, Daryl Cunningham, Rob Davis, Joe Decie, John Cei Douglas, Marc Ellerby, Sarah Gordon, Anne Holiday, Tom Humberstone, Daniel Locke, Lizz Lunney, Mark Oliver, Luke Pearson, Octavia Raitt, Edward Ross, Philippa Rice, Anna Saunders, Julia Scheele, Tom Smith and Andrew Waugh.
Edited by Tom Humberstone.
(Great start – and a perfect cover for this all-ages themed issue – Marc Ellerby’s Chloe Noonan)
“Solipsistic Pop 3 is being built as a UK alternative comic anthology that is accessible and appealing to children and young adults. Inspiration for the book is equal parts RAW, DC Thompson, Panini and McSweeneys.”
“30 original and exclusive stories from 26 of the finest comic artists living in the UK. Every imaginative, inventive and inspiring graphic tale within Solipsistic Pop 3 is uniquely tailored to be accessible to readers of all ages. An alternative comics primer for adults and children alike. Includes a free Solipsistic Pop pencil for readers to create their own comic! Plus! An A3 poster & re-peelable set of stickers designed by Philippa Rice.”
(From the Solipsistic Pop 3 Press Release)
Solipsistic Pop is now a year old, and with three issues completed, it’s the singularly impressive endeavour of Tom Humberstone – to create something intriguing, artistic and representative of the best in UK comics. I loved the first issue, but thought the second issue was a minor let-down, possibly because the first had so impressed me. So I approached issue 3 with some caution, wondering if it would be able to live up to the very, very impressive standards so far.
Thankfully I needn’t have worried. From the very first moment I saw it, issue 3 just pushed all the right buttons and practically everything inside really does do the anthology proud.
As before, Solipsistic Pop is themed – both in content and colour – this time it’s brought to you by the colour red and the demographic of all-ages. And it’s a really, really impressive book that does a fine job of being knowingly nostalgic and very modern and cutting edge cool – something that children and adults alike can hardly fail to find something wonderful inside.
Lets’s start with that cover – Marc Ellerby’s Chloe Nooonan makes a triumphant return (and in colour too!). It’s Chloe doing her best monster hunting thing, complete with typically cutting lines of dialogue (your Pixies lyric this time is from this) and with her best pal Zoe at her side, it’s a funny two pager of misunderstandings and mistaken identities. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I want more Chloe Noonan – someone give Ellerby a series.
(Little Adam has the best day, complete with Bash Street Kids, Teacher, Dennis and many more. From Solipsistic Pop Issue 3)
The first strip by Adam Cadwell follows in much the same mould as Ellerby’s opener – albeit Cadwell using a Beano/Dandy style to tell a slight, yet fun tale of his own childhood, complete with Cadwell dropping in guest appearances by so many very familiar faces:
Past this immediately familiar look, there’s some very good, but very alternative looking strips, attempting to show that kids comics don’t have to always follow a DC Thompson template, not visually, nor in blindly following the rule of gag. Take Tom Smith’s “A Joke” – really simple yet lovely artwork and a great nonsense rhyming story packed with silly ideas. Or Joe Decie’s “The Fabulous Find“, no gag, just a wonderfully inventive idea of creating a revolutionary comic technique using old scanners from rubbish dumps. Or Daryl Cunningham’s “Stan” strips – gleeful little things playing with the medium and realying on the unique conventions of comics. Smith’s is a silly rhyme gag, Milligan-esque perhaps (Spike, not Peter), Decie’s other quite thoughtful in it’s silliness, Cunningham’s visually playful.
(A Joke by Tom Smith. Silly, nonsense poetry and lovely art from Solipsistic Pop 3.)
There are strips beyond the funny, or flight of fancy style as well – it was lovely to see John Cei Douglas return to comics (last I saw of his work was back in 2008 with the wonderful Buffalo Roots) and his tale “Living Underwater” is lovely to look at, remarkably reminiscent of Stephen Collins’ work but his tale of a youngster’s existence underwater, bereft of company, lacking in joy and eventually deciding it’s time to head upwards – an obvious metaphor for depression and isolation felt a little out of place in an all ages book. But then again, I suppose all ages encompasses everyone, even though I can imagine a child looking at this and being simply bemused by it.
Octavia Raitt’s “Molly Vs The Wondertaker” is one of my favourites in the book – a lovely little bedtime story for a child who’s “discovered the joy of denouncing things as boring“. Four pages of great children’s bedtime reading and a nice payoff that should have children giggling away. Similarly worth a giggle or two was Andrew Waugh’s “Teething Problems“; 4 pages of simple, pretty cute artwork teaching us the lesson of not letting your childlike robot play outside, no matter how irritating it can be when cooped up inside.
(Molly Vs The Wondertaker by Octavia Raitt – a perfect antidote to a child who starts overusing the B word we all dread (Boring, not anything else you may be thinking of). From Solipsistic Pop Issue 3)
There are missteps of course, although like any anthology, my misstep could well be your absolute favourite. Some of the strips just either did nothing for me or seemed a little too much filler. But they are few and far between. This issue is by far the best Solipsistic Pop thus far.
The biggest problem I had with this issue of Solipsistic Pop concerned the colour scheme. In issue 1 the scheme was an orange/brown palette, issue two a delicate blue palette and both managed to be visually interesting without particular intrusion. But I found the red in issue 3 just too distracting, too visually imposing too often. It’s perhaps most noticeable in the strips that use the reds as a background rather than those that simply use the red for character highlighting. Lizz Lunney’s usual brilliance seems diminished by too much red, whilst Philippa Rice’s My Cardboard Life characters, usually so gorgeously technicolour really seem washed out – although the story she tells is still great fun.
(To be honest the scan doesn’t quite do Faz Choudry’s work justice – in print it’s beautifully luscious, giving a genuine illusion of full colour with the limiting red pallette. From Solipsistic Pop Issue 3)
Whilst mentioning the colour, I have to talk about Faz Choudry’s “The Elephant Of Surprise”, which manipulates and works the extra colour so hard that he’s made a single colour tone look like it’s full colour – simply incredible work and a nice little tale of childhood memory and the importance of children being seen and heard, lest they may just slip away unnoticed to all. Likewise Luke Pearson’s “The Egg“uses the colour well, Pearson’s quickly proving himself a real rising star on the scene, and this childish flight of fancy is no exception.
But the out and out best in book has to be Rob Davis, who absolutely aces his 5 pages of “The Torturer’s Garden“, relying on that simple visual cue we all know – the black and red sweater motif and a “menacing” presence – to lay out a pretty frightening and chilling look at childhood – certainly nothing like the happy-go-lucky life of children’s comics normally. This is one of bullying, resignation, parental disinterest and a chilling inevitability that the cycle of “menacing” never really ends. Brilliant. Brutal, and very possibly upsetting or confusing to a younger reader – but brilliant nonetheless:
(Rob Davis’ The Torturer’s Garden gives us a side of a child’s life rarely seen in comics – using a familiar character – “My Menace” who does rather suit the red and black colour scheme). From Solipsistic Pop Issue 3)
The All-Ages Solipsistic Pop Issue 3 could have easily played it safe and gone for a volume of cute gag based children’s comics strips. But it’s wonderful that it didn’t.
The clever (and brave) thing that Humberstone and his contributors have done is fill this issue with so many interesting, comics – there’s funny stuff of course, but also wildly impressive ideas overflowing from the pages – thoughful ideas, nonsense ideas, reflective ideas, it’s really got everything – from slightly off-kilter kids strips of old to a more modern looking alt comix style for a switched on audience whatever their age. It’s taken the idea of all-ages comics and run with it, manically laughing and dancing.
Whilst writing this review of Sol Pop 3 I received Kenny’s Twitter review (posted here) and found myself enjoying the differences in our opinions – what he loved, I often didn’t, what he really didn’t like, I thought great – exactly what a good anthology should do I suppose – the flip side of having something for everyone to enjoy is that no one can like everything.
But I am intrigued by his idea that it’s possibly time for Solipsistic Pop to change formatting and, instead of being a bi-annual paperback anthology perhaps change to an annual event – something similar to the America’s Best Comics idea – celebrating the very best in UK comics? In my opinion, it certainly needs to unshackle itself from the interesting but ultimately constraining single colour theme of each issue. And possibly drop the idea of themeing the volume at all.
But if Tom continues the 6 monthly format and keeps the theming I wont be complaining too much, as it’s up there as one of the finest examples of just what makes the UK comic scene so strong and vibrant at the moment. Issue 3 is genuinely the best so far, a wonderful celebration, diverse, readable and at times quite brilliant. Thanks to Tom for nearly killing himself each issue – now lets look forward to issue 4.