Propaganda – Where Grows The Bitter Herb by Ben Powis.
Where Grows The Bitter Herb
by Ben Powis
I reviewed a couple of Ben Powis’ books a little while back; Whale Hunt and Turtle Guitar and he’s been kind enough to send me a copy of his latest comic; Where Grows The Bitter Herb. And I’m really pleased to say that it’s another step forward for this really talented newcomer to comics.
The first thing you notice is that little A5 comic looks absolutely great. Totally professional, great cover, fantastic reproduction. If you’re still harbouring ideas of the small press and self publishing movement being all wonky card covers and badly reproduced black and white photocopied pages this should make you think again. It looks a damn sight better than most comics from the big boys.
But once you get beyond how nice the book looks superficially, open it up and be amazed at how good it is as a comic. Where Grows The Bitter Herb is a quaint quest story in the style Ben started using in Turtle Guitar but this time he’s produced 36 pages of really great work. The story is simple and innocent; indeed, it would make a lovely children’s book:
All is not well in the village, a mother lies sick and dying. The only thing that can save her is a magical herb that grows atop the tallest mountain, but who will be brave enough to quest for it?
That’s the plot. Very simple, linear and easy to read. With his mother dying, he ventures off into the unknown; first by airship and then, after airborne calamity, by foot. Our hero ventures through dark forest, underground caves of singing rainbow birds and out onto the ice sheets at the edge of the mountain. All for love and all in search of the Bitter Herb.
But it’s the execution of the plot that turns this into something quite lovely. Incredibly complex and detailed art; lush colours and intricate, complicated backgrounds populated with simply drawn creatures of varying degrees of strangeness. Like Turtle Soup and Whale Hunt Bitter Herb is an all ages tale and my 9 year old thought it was absolutely great. She loved the art and the creatures were very funny little things was her verdict of the comic. You also get a limited edition badge when you order the comic; Molly is proudly wearing hers to school this week.
I made the comparison with Maurice Sendak in my last review and I’ll stick to that here. The same playfulness, the same richness and invention in the artwork. Bitter Herb is just a great comic and I can’t praise it enough. After just three comics he’s proving to be a real rising star in the UK comics scene. I’ll be following Ben Powis’ career with much interest. And I shall stop here before he begins to think I’m going to start stalking him. So while he plans where to go to escape me, make sure you head to his website and give him cash for his excellent comics.
Richard Bruton was lead on a quest by an enchanted wizard penguin to seek the fabled mint condition Captain Britain collection; he’s never been quite the same since.