Propaganda’s Small Press avalanche concludes with David Baillie
(David Baillie self portrait – from his website.)
David Baillie’s one of the names of the UK small press scene. In as much as he seems to have been around for a long time and is always mentioned as one of it’s leading lights. But I hadn’t seen much of his work and certainly hadn’t sat down to enjoy it until now.
And enjoy it I did. I had three books to look at, his sword and sorcery collection Tongue Of The Dead and two of his mini-comics; Mindy Pool & The Final Adventures Of RocketBoy. Three completely different books, in content and in art style. The first thing I’m noticing about Baillie is he’s unafraid of challenging himself with new directions for his comics.
Starting with the thickest one; Tongue Of The Dead. Written, as Baillie himself says at the back of this collection “to try something different with my next self published comic. I’d done sci-fi, superhero, slice of life… Fantasy was the obvious next call”. It’s a clever tale of a heroic yet reluctant Barbarian. Imagine Conan with devious smarts and a nastier streak:
(An example of Baillie’s great line, panel composition and dialogue in Tongue of the Dead.)
After the first read of it I have to say I wasn’t that impressed. Not that it wasn’t good, just that I didn’t get enough from it to make it work for me. But subsequent reads showed me I was wrong and although there’s not much going on in the story besides a standard sword & sorcery quest with a few twists thrown in, there’s an awful lot to be enjoyed. Baillie has a wonderfully expressive and clean art style. Lots of characters, simply drawn against minimal backgrounds combine to make his pages vast oceans of white space that he choreographs so well. And his dialogue is naturalistic, sarcastic and funny all the way through. Seems that first impressions can be wrong.
But first impressions of the other two books were spot on. Brilliant little comics on first reads and brilliant on every enjoyable read since.
(Two of Baillie’s mini-comics, RocketBoy 2007 & Mindy Pool 2006. Both comics are complete on his website)
This may look like a cutesy kids comic, but there’s a nasty streak running all the way through it, as RocketBoy starts getting hairs on his chin we think his reluctance to grow up is the cause of his worry and stress, but by the end of his tale we find out just what this world of super-kids thinks should be done to it’s grown-ups. It’s funny, sweet and very dark. It’s also a really fun read all the way through. But what will get your interest, or should do, is the art. Page after page of delicate charcoal colours on the page for your enjoyment.
(Rocketboy saves the day, but those advancing years are going to get him in the end. From The Final Adventures Of RocketBoy 2007)
Mindy Pool (2006)
Last but not least of these comics is Mindy Pool. Written by Baillie following a fallow period of creativity this little breath of frsh air proved reinvigorating for the artist and great fun for the rest of us. Two stories; Mindy and Pool. Both black and white with occasional spot colour. Both decidedly adult. Both decidedly wonderful.
Pool is a day in the life of a pool attendant. Ever wondered what they think of up on those high chairs? Even worse, try telling one of the swimmers that the green dye means they’ve been caught out toileting in the pool:
(Two pages from Pool by David Baillie. Brilliantly funny and available on his website right now in full.)
Mindy is even better and funnier than Pool. Not as immediately funny, bu the slow build and eventual payoff is a masterpiece of comedy timing. A comic writer sits at a signing, miserably contemplating his failure. Couple approach. Huge fans. Huge, weird, sexually obsessed fans. Huge, weird, sexually obsessed and eventually hugely disappointed fans. The writer blows it and admits to a case of mistaken identity. And then the hilarity starts. To get so much comedy through the body language of his figures in those few panels when his figures are really just a few lines drawn as a blob with limbs is quite an achievement.
(Two pages from Mindy by David Baillie. First the realisation, then the aftermath. What you may not be able to see is the ever changing text on the board in front of him, hilarious. If you can’t read it, head to David Baillie’s website to see for yourself. If you can read it head there as well!)
But even though I’d run out of David Baillie physical comics at this point I found myself on his website; davidbaillie.net and spent another couple of hours devouring his entire online work. Because he’s very thoughtfully put a lot of his work up on his website, for all of us to read at our leisure. Of particular interest are The Indiscriminate Device, Baillie’s touching and thoughtful look at the victims of a terror attack and A Dog’s Tale, his tale of talking dogs and alternate worlds and a very confused boy. And of course there’s his regular webcomic (36 episodes and counting) The Belly Button Chronicles.
More than anything seeing his work like this allows you to get an overvew of how his art has sharpened and evolved with each work. Earlier art is rougher, cruder and slowly it changes to become the simplified and quite lovely style on show in his later works.
I’d recommend checking out his work for yourselves. Ever changing, always trying something new and different. A great artist making great stories.