Rob Clough Reviews Solipsistic Pop #1

Posted by on January 28th, 2010 at 10:00 AM

Rob reviews the new anthology series featuring British alt-comics artists, SOLIPSISTIC POP.

The artists behind British anthology SOLIPSISTIC POP #1 were clearly so anxious to have their voices clearly and distinctively heard in a comics scene still dominated by genre concerns that the book included a manifesto, an introduction and an afterword.  It’s the sort of thing one might have seen in a ’90s anthology from an energetic group of young cartoonists who had just discovered art comics.  In terms of its formal qualities, the SP crew went all-out in the design and execution of the book.  It’s a full-color anthology, has two minicomics bound into its inside covers, and even has a full-color “Sunday comics” insert.  On display is quite a diverse array of talents, some more fully formed than others.  On the whole, it’s an impressive showing from a group of artists with whom I was entirely unfamiliar.

The main book mostly contained serious stories, while the insert focused on gag work.  Most of the stories were quite short, but each artist worked quickly and directly to make an impact.  To my surprise, I can’t say that there was a truly weak entry in the bunch.  Some worked better than others, of course.  I thought Mark Oliver’s “Jailbyrd Jim” strip, a sort of pastiche of George Herriman & Marc Bell,  was a bit on the incoherent side.  Rachael Reichert’s “Spiderwings” was a lovely water-color story of a spider trying to find love that felt a bit insubstantial compared to the rest of the offereings.  The Mike Rimmer/Andy Blundell story “I Never Knew Her” was the sort of loner’s lament that reminded me, both in story and exaggerated image, of the sort of thing that Dave Choe used to do.

Those stories at least were interesting and contrasted nicely with the other styles employed in the anthology, which was sequenced in a way that made sense to the reader aesthetically.  Julia Scheele’s orange-brown dominated strip about her life in a Christian school as an atheist was followed by Daniel Locke’s account of his sleep being disrupted in unusual ways, a story told in black & white and dominated by narrative captions.  The single green tone underlying Joe Decie’s tale of a man whose unusual sense of smell was diminished by an unknown tragedy was followed by Tom Humberstone relying on a faded sepia to depict a high school friendship drifting apart.  Phillip Spence’s “Ninja Bunny” story was rendered in a simple style, but with a surprisingly lush use of color in its depiction of the countryside and a bizarre, Ditkoesque world.

The two standouts of the collection followed rather disparate aesthetic impulses.  Anna Saunders used a lovely, clear line that reminded me a bit of Anders Nilsen’s Big Questions work, and her entries acted as a sort of interstitial framework that bound the anthology together.  Her “Through The Square Window” mini was a heartbreaking account of living through madness, while “Insomnia” was a clever strip about animals counting themselves to go to sleep.  “Patterns of Boom and Bust” was a vibrantly kinetic strip that’s literally about staying in motion, while her Sunday comics entry, “The Daily Grind”, was a cleverly-designed strip about walking but always staying in place.  This is an artist whose work I wanted to see more of right away.

The other standout was Stephen Collins, whose gag work in particular caught my eye.  His sense of page and panel design is quite clever and innovative without being intrusive.  In “Exit Music”, he began with the idea of living through a daunting swimming lesson solely because he didn’t want to die listening to a bad song.  He extrapolated that idea and imagined an underwater graveyard consisting not only of the bodies of the unfortunate who died listening to terrible pop songs, but brain caverns that one could tour that had the lyrics of those songs on display.

His “Sunday Columnist Adventure Stories” was hilarious, showing us a space explorer battling a monster, all while trying to come up with an idea for his banal, first-person style Sunday newspaper column.  As he lay on the surface of the crater-pocked planet bleeding out, he started dictating the kind of annoying account of a trip to IKEA with the  “Life Partner” and daughter Jocasta that plagues newspapers.  Even more clever was “Commuter Trains Of Thought”, a strip that’s a subway map, with each colored line representing a different person (middle manager, waitress, lawyer, CEO, etc).  Each “stop” on the line is a different thought articulated by that person, and when the routes intersect or run together, that’s reflected in the story.  His entire back page of the Sunday comics section is one of the funnier send-ups of “activity pages” that I’ve ever seen, and this is a pretty common trick for a cartoonist to employ.  Collins is another cartoonist whose work I’d like to actively seek out right away.

Solipsistic Pop is a welcome addition to an already crowded landscape of comics anthologies.  There’s nothing here that I’d say is truly innovative (either in terms of content or design) along the lines of when anthologies like Kramer’s Ergot or Non exploded on to the scene in the ’00s.  Instead, it’s part of a wider continuum of comics that takes as its inspiration the entire spectrum of where comics are at this point in time.  For a group of British artists, I’m guessing that the statement made in Solipsistic Pop was one of allegiance to a particular kind of thinking about comics, a creation of an alliance of mutual inspiration and an art object to act as a beacon to other like-minded artists.

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3 Responses to “Rob Clough Reviews Solipsistic Pop #1”

  1. […] “[Solipsistic Pop is] part of a wider continuum of comics that takes as its inspiration the en… – The Comics Journal […]

  2. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by ventedspleen: Solipsistic Pop 1 gets a substantial and, on the whole, positive review over at The Comics Journal

  3. […] While we’re reading comics news malarkey, I direct you over to the Forbidden Planet blog where Sean Azzopardi and Merlin are being interviewed about the their forthcoming trade of Necessary Monsters. Also, Rob Clough reviews Solipistic Pop over at the Comics Journal. […]