Full speed ahead on another mission to save the universe. Or possibly not.
The Captain Star Omnibus
by Steven Appleby
The enemy craft came closer and closer. Atomic engine stoker ‘Limbs’ Jones, a man whose brain was equally distributed amongst his nine heads and whose hair was distributed to another person entirely, went pale.
“We haven’t a chance!” he gasped
“Well spotted, Jones,” replied Star.
You probably know Steven Appleby’s name and his work, since he’s been around, in various magazines and comics for many years now and has carved out a very nice niche in the book world as well. (You may even have seen the Captain Star cartoon series with Richard E. Grant doing the voice of Star). The book that really made me love his stuff was Alien Invasion: Steven Appleby’s Guide to Having Children. Perfectly timed to coincide with Molly’s 1999 appearance and a welcome distraction from the constant uncertainty and paranoia of new parent books.
Anyway; Captain Star – strips and short pieces done for a bewildering number of newspapers, comics and exhibitions and collected here in entirety for the first time. Star’s tale is essentially a riff on the idea of the retired Dan Dare character; bouncing off the walls of his house whilst dreaming of the stars – except Star and his world are a touch more eccentric (to put it mildly). This tale starts with Star waiting for new orders from Mission Control, orders that look increasingly unlikely to appear. But in his waiting he does have the company of his loyal (or at least willing to put up with him) crew on his ship, “the Boiling Hell”; Navigator Black, Officer Scarlette, and Atomic Engine Stoker “Limbs” Jones.
(Captain Star and the crew of the Boiling Hell – not quite “The Right Stuff”. From The Captain Star Omnibus by Steven Appleby. Sybertooth Inc.)
Absurdist. It’s the simplest way to describe Captain Star and Appleby’s work in general. Surreal is another. And it’s very funny is yet another.
“Alien hordes approaching fast, Star! Permission to open fire!”
“tut tut Scarlette – we shall flee. Full steam ahead Jones”
Appleby’s quick-fire, surreal, absurd and very, very funny in places cartooning works because of a combination of his ridiculously good, stylised artwork and his ability to deliver great short strips that deliberately and intelligently shy away from attempting much of a story. There’s no sense here of Appleby really trying to create any sort of longer narrative – there may be occasional multi-page tales, but mostly these are just connected by odd gags and bizarre moments rather than elements of characterisation or story – and that’s no criticism either. Appleby does disconnection so well, the idea that he should try to make longer stories is as absurd in all the wrong ways as his work is absurd in all the best ways.
Instead we have panel after panel, page after page of ridiculously surreal moments in Star’s life; (flicking at random through the book) the wasp delivered to his door, the Captain Star egg farm producing anti-social eggs, Star on why rockets can’t be female (“Don’t be stupid, Jones – it has no breasts“), the snowstorm onboard the Boiling Hell (“it has been snowing aboard the Boiling Hell ever since “Limbs” Jones serviced the ship’s air conditioning“). I could go on and on and on, but why don’t you just pick up the book and see for yourself how delightfully inventive, silly , funny and absurd it all is?
(“Cat wants to go out ……… best get another cat from the store.” Captain Star and his crew’s haphazard approach to health and safety in space. From The Captain Star Omnibus by Steven Appleby. Sybertooth Inc.)
The essential thing with Captain Star is to read it as a series of barely connected funny sketches. Take it slow and steady, maybe a week of dipping in and out and you’ll find it wonderfully strange, funny, ridiculous and well worth including in possible Christmas present ideas this year. Reading it in one go lessens the ridiculous, surreal nature of Appleby’s writing – and we really wouldn’t want that.
“Slugs and snails and puppy dogs tails….”
“That’s what you may be made of Jones, but I am an entirely different kettle of fish!”
“Cod and hake and pieces of skate, eh Star!”
Jones, Scarlette and Captain Star agree to differ on the origin of the species.
Steven Appleby has a website, beautifully designed and a complete bloody nightmare to navigate around.