The Common Swings
by Chris Browning
(On the left, the small version, on the right, the deluxe Lulu version of The Common Swings)
The Common Swings isn’t so much comics as it is a humour zine, full of text and visual gags, but little sequential art. It’s still an interesting work though, if only for the sheer hard craft that’s gone into it, maybe think of it as a Victorian Viz and you get the idea. Or perhaps as a collection of the sort of things Alan Moore sticks in the back of a copy of The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, except written out in full.
It’s put together as a mock Victoriana journal, from publisher Lord Beany Fengshrift, Eighteenth Lord Of The Admiralty. And to give you a feel of the work all you really need to know is a few of the titles; “The Paranormal Casebook Of Finton Quince”, “Heroes and Heroines of Crime Fiction”, “Forgotten Flora and Fauna of Great Britain”, “Aint It Grand To Be Jolly Well Shot – the musical” and “Bookshops we have loved and known”. All written in mock Victorian character, full of pomposity and grandeur, lots of silly names, daft situations and enough in all the pieces to make you smile.
(Two of Browning’s pieces from The Common Swings; all done in that mock Victorian penny dreadful style)
Your enjoyment of The Common Swings will vary wildly depending on how much patience you have with the concept – personally, I thought it was good, but I found my mind wandering through some pieces and my eyes straining through others (Browning does insist on packing his pages with some microscopic text).
(Chris Browning’s rather good-looking comics – except there isn’t enough of them and what there is is simply a gag involving a set of lost captions and speech bubbles)
One frustration was that the one bit of comics in the whole book actually looks really good but is nothing but one extended gag – first presenting a thousand tiny words of “the story so far” on one tiny page and then running seven pages of silent comics followed by two pages of captions and word balloons that “fell off due to a printing dispute“. It’s a silly and mildly funny device, but it would have been far better to see what Browning planned for the comic – since those seven pages alone look really good; well laid out, attractive, interesting stuff. I’d have loved to have read it as comics, but I really can’t be doing with cutting and pasting everything where I think it should be. (Such a spoilsport).
(Common Swings is fun of good gag cartoons and strips – but suffers from a tendency to go on a little. Case in point; on the left a simple, effective and funny single panel gag. On the right, the Heroes and Heroines of Crime Fiction piece – 8 of these to a page, 5 pages in total. Less is more.)
The gags throughout The Common Swings are pretty good, with some better than others of course. All done with a fun, tongue in cheek style. The main problem with The Common Swings is that Browning does have a tendency to run a gag into the ground, using 5 pages where 2 may have sufficed and delivered the gag just as well. Take Heroes and Heroines of Crime Fiction for example; a nice gag with mini bios and titles of fictional crime fiction characters – except with 8 characters per page, 5 pages is a little too long.
But overall The Common Swings is a nice, if slightly unusual debut from Browning. Personally I’d like to see him try a little more comics next time round as I think his artwork’s definitely up to being something enjoyable.
More details and ordering information for both versions of The Common Swings Issue 1 on Chris Browning’s Common Swings blog.