By Craig Collins and Iain Laurie
You’ll have some idea of what you’re getting into from that cover. Not a great idea perhaps, but if the bloodied scuba diver possibly escaping from a fridge puts you in mind that this may just be a little bit weird and a little bit disturbing, I think you’d be in the right neighbourhood.
Roachwell is a comic of deliberately obtuse strips, surreal moments, a world where things just happen, strange things, bizarre things, dark, twisted little things.
Seemingly unconnected, each individual Roachmill strip gives us something that, at times, almost plays out as a dark and demented series of gags – where the punchlines involve invisible monsters, the band M People,battery acid, dental advice from Freddie Mercury, and much more. And those punchline payoffs I’ve just listed are so weird that I can freely give them away knowing there’s no way I’m spoiling them for you. Or maybe it’s just easier to show you one….
Yep, that about covers it. One of the more immediate gag pages. But the humour in the strips is a dark humour, and it’s not always easy to find. Perhaps absurdist is a better description of Roachwell, that way we cover the strips where the gag isn’t so overt.
Bizarre deaths, freakshow oddities, even a double pager in Gaelic and a Turing strip suitably encoded (and yes, I spent a little while deciphering that one) – Roachwell is full of strangeness.
It doesn’t always work as well as it could, doesn’t always hit the right tone, but more often than not in here the absurdity of the scene, and the invention of author and artist rather impresses.
Each strip is a self contained page (or two), all with that absurdist comedy going on, and a dark, near claustrophobic feel, aided and abetted by Laurie’s artwork; a disturbing, polished mix of linework ranging from delicate detail all the way through to bold, thick strokes. It’s not perfect by any means and there’s a couple of strips where he overdoes it, and there’s too much texture, or too much detail in the backgrounds just don’t work as well – simple works best for Laurie, minimal backgrounds allow us to look all the more at some excellent character linework.
So it’s a nice looking, funny, absurd collection of one off gags, a nice diversion, but without anything really pulling it together into more than that? Oh no, not at all…..
That final strip changes everything. The last Roachmill strip, an epic six page finale (the first page is there above), is almost some sort of test, as Collins and Laurie pull everything together succinctly and brilliantly. And it’s a surprise, primarily because it’s so unexpected, and made me go back over everything again, picking up so much more second time around. Where I’d thought of it as some near throwaway collected of good surreal dark comedy, now it became much more; a collection of moments leading up to the inevitable end for Roachmill.
It’s a clever, solid, surreal and funny comic – and at it’s end, it manages all four in one strip. Impressively done.
You can buy Roachwell from Collins’ Etsy shop.