Reviewing the middle and the end of John Allison’s Scary Go Round….. start confused, end impressed….
By John Allison
I’m rather conflicted with this one. Part of me absolutely loved Allison’s webcomic series that’s collected as 8 volumes. And part of me found it utterly frustrating. It’s incredibly funny, with clever dialogue, smart/stupid jokes, some fantastic characters and a very, very scattershot approach to storytelling. Which is what I think gave me the big conflict.
A proviso though – I’ve meant to read Scary Go Round for a couple of years now and finally got around to grabbing a couple of the books from Allison at the recent Birmingham Small Press Comics Festival. Except I only grabbed books 5 and 8. So perhaps that isn’t the best place to review the series from?
I should have gone back to the very start and read the whole thing online, but god forgive me, I just can’t do it – there’s just too much of it to begin, to be honest, and I’ve got so much else that needs reading. So for better or for worse, what I write here is solely based upon those two print volumes I’ve seen and a little dipping in and out of the series online. And like Allison says in the introduction:
“If Scary Go Round Book 5: Great Aches is your introduction to the SGR universe you have both my sympathy and my gratitude”.
If you know nothing about Scary Go Round, I’m probably not going to be much help. Indeed I’m not even going to mention many specifics of the story or it’s characters outside annotations for the strips I’ll put up as examples. Instead I’d rather focus on the feel, the style and the appeal of the thing. So instead of trying to let you know what Scary Go Round is about, I’ll retreat to the safe position of a picture painting a thousand words and let Allison’s introduction to Great Aches do the talking for me. Back after these….
Okay, how did you like that? If you enjoyed it for the gags and the characters, you’re in luck, there’s 8 books worth of similarly funny stuff. If you’re intrigued to see what grand adventure these characters will have, maybe this isn’t the series for you.
The Scary Go Round series started as a computer drawn thing, and there’s some of that in “Great Aches”, the 5th collection. It leaves me slightly cold to be honest – still bloody funny, but not that inspiring to look at. However, by the second story in here, Allison’s ditched the computer and begins doing the strip by hand. It’s a huge improvement – fluid, organic, vibrant, playful, visually interesting and often, quite simply gorgeous.
(Allison’s computer drawn artwork from early in Great Aches – the funny is there in the words and the visuals are nice, but nothing that made me go wow. Not yet anyway.)
(….ah, that’s much better. Allison’s hand drawn stuff from Great Aches onwards is so much nicer, fluid and freer, and it just adds to the existing funny.)
Scary Go Round takes place in the fictional Yorkshire town of Tackleford, a typically plain, slightly dull place that just so happens to have more weirdness going on than Midsomer, Sunnydale or Twin peaks could ever dream of.
There’s so much going on in Scary Go Round – it’s a breathless romp where anything can, and does, happen. There’s no time to catch your breath anywhere and the adventures just roll on, one mad situation after another. Take Great Aches for example – Robotic ambassadors, characters off to hell on a guest pass to see how an ex-girlfriend is doing, and then, boom, we’re into a story about Mayor Tim getting involved in an invent off where the loser gets exiled to Wales. But most often, no matter whether it’s death, zombie-fication, or something even worse (like exile to Wales) – the resolution sees the cast back to square one, back in Tackleford, ready for the next strange thing to be thrown in their way.
Allison admits to making a lot of it up as he goes along and he’s somewhat flighty with his characters – the cast grows through the series and Allison isn’t afraid to drop or sideline characters he’s spent hundreds of pages concentrating on. It’s a fascinating way of doing things, this continually moving buffet of comics.
(The start of Recklessly Yours and the focus, and the characters, change again. Just as funny mind you.)
By the start of Recklessly Yours Allison has shifted the focus almost completely to the younger cast members at the local grammar school and Shelley and Amy are relegated to mere supporting players, before returning, in ever increasingly strange tales of child-like lizard men, and finding undersea Atlantean adventure before the proposed epic grand finale featuring one of the recurring cast; the creepy, mysterious “The Child”, and his very Michael Jackson looking father take us out in a hail of unspeakable things.
Allison’s timing couldn’t have been worse. Jackson had just died and Allison felt he had to radically downplay the ending and use it as a low key lead in to Bad Machinery. It’s a shame, but it’s completely understandable and I for one enjoyed the change of pace and the sweet, sentimental way that Allison says goodbye.
Like I said way, way back at the start of this, I was very conflicted about this series. But even whilst I’ve been struggling with writing this review I’ve been dipping back into both books and I’ve suddenly had a mini epiphany – my frustrations with Scary Go Round are all due to the fact that I’m just plain reading it wrong.
It’s not a comic designed to be one story, it’s not a comic that follows a traditional narrative. It’s more like a sketch show or a funny soap opera. In fact it owes rather a lot, in style and spirit, to Hewlett and Martin’s Tank Girl – in as much as it’s not about the narrative as it is about the characters and the ridiculous situations they’re thrown into.
Reason be damned, enjoy the bloody ride. Once that realisation took hold I suddenly launched back into the books and to be honest, had an absolute blast.
Don’t be stupid like I was and look for a complex 8 book story – treat it like it should be read – as a great series of wonderfully insane and surreal moments in the various characters’ lives and you’ll most likely absolutely adore it from the start.
John Allison’s Website is here, his shop is here. The Scary Go Round archive is here, his new ongoing series Bad Machinery starts here, but recently he’s been doing the mini Giant Days series. Is that enough links yet?