Propaganda – Oliver Smith – Hazy Thusday & Summer Ball.
by Oliver Smith
I’d guess that if you’ve heard of Oliver Smith it will probably be because of his tireless (and shameless) promotion of the Camden Comic Stall and London Underground Comics as he does his very best to become a nexus of London small press activity in much the same way Paul Gravett did with the Fast Fiction stall in the 80s. Frankly, if you follow UK comics at all it’s been pretty hard to miss him. His London Underground videos are always a treat and the (comic) celebrity endorsements have been coming thick and fast from such luminaries as Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell. (Alan Moore video, Eddie Campbell You Tube). So in his endeavours as a marketing man for the British comic scene he’s doing wonderfully well, but what gets talked about less is the actual comics that Oliver makes.
(Cover to Hazy Sunday by Oliver Smith)
I’ve seen two so far, Hazy Thursday (2006) & Summer Ball (2007). There’s much to enjoy here, as Oliver writes simple & emotional / sentimental autobiographical tales illustrated by lush, almost watercolour effect washes over his black pen and ink. In Hazy Tuesday the effect is almost more children’s book illustration than anything else, a black & white floaty, almost Shirley Hughes style whereas the style in Summer Ball is cruder, starker, more ink than wash. Anyway, with his sentimental, emotive writing and wistful artwork these comics are very enjoyable indeed.
(Page from Hazy Thursday by Oliver Smith)
Hazy Thursday is a simple but affecting story told in dreamy, half asleep speech of a young boy / Oliver as his mother takes them on what is implied as just the latest in a series of attempts to find some idealised, better life. On this particular Hazy Thursday they’re off looking for a commune, which turns out to be no more than a doss house. The story drifts and flows with the dreamlike thoughts of the boy as we capture a series of snapshots of a day and get a growing sense of unease in the writing, as the young boy’s desire for something fixed beneath his feet gets stronger with each page.
Flash forward a few years to the events of Summer Ball – dedicated to all those people Oliver never said goodbye to. After drifting through his Prom, bumping into friends our Oliver is still looking for his ex, who’s here with someone else, someone new. But our man, with the forlorn hope of one so young, has come along to see her, possibly to attempt some daft scheme to win her back, hopeful that everything will go back to the way it was, that whatever bad thing happened to break them up will be overcome or ignored and life and love will prevail. We’ve all (if we’re lucky) been there and it’s a credit to Oliver that he nails the turbulent emotions, the quiet desperation and frustration, the awkwardness of being young and out of love so well. Oliver’s mum sums it all up beautifully on the last page
“So, did you talk to Pippa in the end?”
“Nah, she went home early.”
“Christ, two years of Ross and Rachel romance, and you let her leave early?”
“What an anticlimax”
“You’re telling me”
But Summer Ball is more than just a teen mooning over an ex-girlfriend. Oliver manages to give us the impression that we’re there with him, and sets up numerous sub-plots and supporting characters, as we drift in and out of each scene with Oliver. These are never really explored, as we’re just passing through with Oliver, drifting and a little lost. It’s a clever touch from such a young cartoonist, to draw us in and play us so well.
(Summer Ball by Oliver Smith)
All in all, Oliver Smith’s doing some pretty nice comics and he’ll be one to watch with each release to see how he matures and develops. There’s a confidence, an arrogance even, throughout the work that belies his age. From this he’s able to present us these very relaxed, flowing and understated tales of childhood trauma and teenage angst / anger so very well.
He’s very busy with London Underground so his output is hardly prolific, which is a shame that doing something so useful has stopped him making comics. However, his latest; Bloc, illustrated by Oliver Lambden (of Tales from The Flat fame) is due out sometime soon (I’d imagine before the Birmingham Show in October).