Vern and Lettuce – Molly’s favourite comic (and I’m rather fond of it as well…)
Sarah McIntyre burst onto the comic scene with the very first Vern And Lettuce strip in the very first issue of the DFC Comic back in 2008. And from that very first exposure to her work the strip became a highlight of the comic, both for myself and most importantly for 8 year old Molly, who became a huge fan (and she said so in her interview here and review here).
This collection has long been awaited in the Bruton household and it took a while before I could actually get hold of it from Molly’s clutches. Molly’s original summary of the book was simple:
“The characters are great. Fat sheep playing a Tuba and a bunny with lots of little bunnies following her around. Very funny. I love the colours of the artwork. And I love little things like the swirly dotty fleece on Vern and the patterns on Lettuce’s dress.”
And when I asked her what she thought of the book after she’d read it (and reread it several times) she simply added:
“It’s my favourite comic.”
I really can’t think of any way she could have said it better and can’t really fault her judgement either.
(Sarah McIntyre at the recent Edinburgh Book Festival. Photo from our own Joe Gordon’s Flickrstream)
And whilst Sarah’s work as an illustrator for children’s books (Morris The Mankiest Monster, You Can’t Eat A Princess and her latest Titus Takes The Train) has taken her away from comics somewhat, with only her mini comic Dear Diary coming out since the end of Vern And Lettuce, I’m genuinely convinced that she’s one of the best cartoonists around, with a warmth and character flowing through her artwork that seems a genuine reflection of her personality.
(Vern And Lettuce page 1. Molly and I were hooked straight away. From Vern And Lettuce by Sarah McIntyre, published by David Fickling Books.)
Vern And Lettuce is such a simple thing; the adorable and gentle adventures of Vern the sheep and Lettuce the rabbit. They live in a tower block in a place called Pickle Rye, that looks rather like some idealised leafy suburb of London, where Vern tries his best to keep the grounds of Pickle Rye park looking just right despite the continued interference from a group of decidely troublesome moles.
But behind the simplicity of the story and the loveliness of the characters is …… well, actually, there’s not that much behind them at all. This is unashamedly exactly what it looks like right there on the cover, a truly delightful comic of wonderful characters and lovely stories. And just as it isn’t overly complicated, it isn’t trying to be incredibly funny either. It’s far better than that. This is a warm, humourous strip, with every page containing something to raise not a laugh but a pleasing, contented, enjoyable smile.
The fun never stops and the quality never dips. This is a quite magnificent book, perfect for all ages.
(Lettuce’s little brothers and sisters – chaos reigns. From Vern And Lettuce by Sarah McIntyre, published by David Fickling Books.)
Over the first 11 pages of this 47 page hardcover, we’re slowly introduced to some of the colourful animal inhabitants of Pickle Rye; the moles do their thing, Vern tries his best to keep the park looking good, Lettuce’s baby brothers and sisters gambol and scamper all over the place, unbelievably cute but never failing to cause chaos wherever they go, Polar Bears are moving in after their ice floes have melted.
These are just some of the perfectly sketched characters you meet; each one lovingly rendered, always with a delightful lightness and a gentle touch of humour.
The early strips are all simple one page affairs, with McIntyre getting acclimatised to the rhythms and pacing of a weekly page, with rabbit babysitting, surprise picnics, baking with the rabbits (or more accurately despite the rabbits), housewarming parties and birthday presents.
(Lettuce has a great idea. From Vern And Lettuce by Sarah McIntyre, published by David Fickling Books.)
But around a third of the way in, as McIntyre’s confidence grew we shift from the single, relatively standalone pages to embark upon a major storyline that takes up the rest of the book; “Lettuce and Vern’s Pop at Fame“, wherein Lettuce decides that she and Vern really, really need to become huge stars courtesy of TV’s Barnyard Talent, presented from the big city by the impossibly suave fox Ricky Renard.
Despite Vern pointing out that a talent show really rather requires them to have a talent, Lettuce is having none of it, and leaves Vern barely enough time to practice a few notes on his newly acquirred tuba before they’re off to the big city, complete with those baby rabbits as stowaways. They’ll have many adventures along the way and end up uncovering something foul (and rather smelly) underneath the city streets. Our wannabe pop stars become the unlikeliest of heroes and we, the reader, have a wonderful, fun filled time following their increasingly adventurous exploits.
(As Vern And Lettuce will discover – all is not as it seems with our mysteriously aristocratic pigeon. From Vern And Lettuce by Sarah McIntyre, published by David Fickling Books.)
The art of Vern And Lettuce is as much of a delight as the characters and the story. And it’s all down to McIntyre’s simple lines, flowing across each page, organic, rounded and just plain lovely. Her illustrator’s talent gives us the simple beauty of each panel, but it’s her eye for making great comics that creates such wonderful storytelling.
And in addition to all of this lovely artwork, there’s those gorgeous colours. Indeed, it was the colour tone of the strip that really marked out Vern And Lettuce when it first appeared in the DFC and still impresses now with this collection. Each page is awash with a slightly muted colour scheme, that was a complete change from everything else in the DFC comic and is just a impressive now in this collection.
Vern And Lettuce was always going to be a winner here in the Bruton household. We’ve loved it from day one. This collection simply reinforces what we already knew; Sarah McIntyre’s wonderful furry characters and their simple, delightful stories are quite wonderfully realised in a great collection.
As for the future, McIntyre’s recent interview with with Phillip Reeve contained this:
“I have a whole bunch of picture books lined up with David Fickling and Scholastic, and yes, one of them is a Vern and Lettuce picture book! I’m a bit apprehensive about starting anotherVern and Lettuce comic in completely the same format because it was so hugely time and labour intensive. I’m weighing the idea of simplifying the comics format, maybe giving them something like four panels per page. I’m too fond of Vern and Lettuce and their neighbours to let them go. They feel like family and I’d miss them too much. They all have complicated back stories and are hopping around in my head like children who really need a wee. I’m not cruel enough to keep them waiting like that for too long!”
So there will be More Vern And Lettuce. This is a great thing. But first I implore you, get out there and pick up a copy of this first Vern And Lettuce collection, it’s a wonderful, warm and delightful experience. And it’s one you’ll end up loving just as much as Molly and I do.
Vern And Lettuce is released on 30th September.
(Now you’re as convinced as Molly and I are that Sarah McIntyre is quite wonderful, you may want to go and read the interview she recently did with Matt Badham for the FPI blog.)