Chris Doherty has been promising me these comics for a long time now. But one thing and another meant I didn’t get them until Thought Bubble.
And after reading six issues I rather wish he hadn’t sent me them. Not yet.
If he’d have waited for the final issue he’d have saved me the torment of getting to the end of issue 6 and realising that I’d got it wrong – for some reason I’d managed to get it into my head that Video Nasties was a 6 issue series. But it’s not – there’s one issue left. And I have no idea when it’s due to be published.
And that’s a very bad thing, because I really, really want to know how it ends. Because, although Video Nasties has it’s faults – and I’ll get to those in a short while – it’s a very, very good bit of comic storytelling, backed up with some cracking artwork.
It’s a strange series, the title should give you some idea of what the content is, but then for the first three/four issues we get something remarkably nothing like a video nasty, in fact we get something rather brilliantly like a teen detective story run past some bizarre Grange Hill type setup. And it’s magnificently done.
(Meet Evan. Too many Video Nasties really can be harmful to his health. From Video Nasties by Chris Doherty)
The main character, Evan, is a rather stereotyped slightly fat and nerdy kid – a little too short, a bit podgy, few friends, lacking in social graces and spending far too much time watching horror movies.
In this he’s aided by his friendship with his 20 something friend Victor, who works at/owns the local video store. In the first few issues we’re introduced to Evan’s social circle, meet his friends and watch him get cajoled into helping out with the video for a big retrospective assembly about three local kids who disappeared 10 years ago.
Getting to work with the object of his teen desires – the glamorous and attractive (but only on the outside) Emily – has a lot to do with him saying yes. Little does he know where this is all going to end.
(Evan’s reluctance to get involved is overcome by the thought of getting to work with Emily. A bad, bad move. From Video Nasties by Chris Doherty)
But halfway through this hugely enjoyable school detective story we’re propelled into something far, far darker and disturbing – something tied into the disappearances, to the video store and to the video nasties of the title, in particular one very local Video Nasty – the Mr Snuffs series.
I’m absolutely not going to go any further into the plot here, because it would completely give the game away. Lets just say it’s a disturbing exploration of childhood and the depths some will sink to and leave it to you to follow up.
(Mr Snuffs. This is one Video Nasty Evan may regret seeing. From Video Nasties by Chris Doherty)
What I will say is that there’s a radical shift in the tone of the book from issue 4 onwards. And it’s not necessarily for the better. Suddenly all sense of mystery and suspense, so carefully built up in those first few issues, is lost and the whole thing is laid out for you to see. It’s a little too obvious what’s going to happen, who’s involved and how it all ties together.
Or at least that’s how I felt the first time I read these issues.
I’m not saying I don’t want to find out what Doherty has planned, but the first 3 issues were so very good that the disappointment of the second half of the story comes as a shock. The early school scenes have a great pacing about them, and a lovely, snappy, very real sounding dialogue. You believe these are school kids. To have that quickly shifted into an entirely different story is a little too much. I’d have preferred to have much more time with Evan and his friends, I wouldn’t have cared if they didn’t end up solving the mystery, I was just really enjoying the spirit in which Doherty was so brilliantly detailing their lives.
But so far I’ve read the thing 6 times, and each time, possibly knowing the shift is going to happen, it’s mattered less and less to me. I’ve come to enjoy the series as it is. What I wanted initially – a continuation of the schoolground drama – is subsumed by my increasing enjoyment and appreciation of what Doherty is doing.
As the series progresses he gets increasingly confident in his storytelling, and starts to make extensive use of flashbacks. It’s not obvious, not at first, but it’s almost perfectly done – Doherty’s not spelling it out with the flashbacks – they need you, the reader to keep up and be involved. Otherwise they could all too easily be missed.
(The 12 year old Evan meets Victor for the first time. The flashbacks in Video Nasties are subtle, and you must keep your wits about you, but Doherty’s storytelling is strong enough to make them work. From Video Nasties by Chris Doherty)
In the end, Doherty had a story in mind to tell and went ahead with it. Along the way he’s demonstrated a staggeringly good ear and eye for documenting real life in the early parts of his story with some of the best teen drama I’ve read in many years. That his idea went beyond what I initially loved about Video Nasties, to somewhere slightly less satisfying is his decision of course. There’s a good possibility that this is just my own prejudice at play, and you may violently disagree.
But whatever I think of Video Nasties, it certainly shows us that Doherty is a very talented young artist and whatever happens with issue 7 of Video nasties I’ll have had a series that was enjoyable, brilliantly drawn and entertaining. There’s almost a familiar Paul Grist feel – the mix of time frames, with characters moving freely between two, leaving the viewer to do the hard work. And there’s a beautifully relaxed, yet perfectly paced sense about his artwork that makes each page something really lovely to look at.
Video Nasties is available from Chris Doherty direct at the Video Nasties website where you can read issue one for free.
It’s a bloody good series. Flawed yes, but not as badly as I first thought. I’d love to read something by him which just does teen drama – as issues 1-3 were perfect examples of that. But his horror story, although not as brilliant as it could have been, is still most impressive. I’m looking forward to issue 7.