In the dark in London…..

Published On March 28, 2012 | By Richard Bruton | Comics, Reviews

It’s Dark In London: A Graphic Collection Of Short Stories

Edited by Oscar Zarate

by Woodrow Phoenix, Neil Gaiman & Warren Pleece, Josh Appignanesi, Graeme Gordon & Dix, Alexei Sayle, Chris Webster & Carl Flint, Steve Bell, Stella Duffy & Melinda Gebbie, Alan Moore, Iain Sinclair & Dave McKean, Carol Swain, Chris Petit & Jonathan Edwards, Oscar Zarate


I remember seeing this back in ’96 when first published and in many ways back then it was ahead of its time, just as now it feels slightly behind the times. Things have moved forward, yet this feels anchored to its time, just as the theme of a dark and sleazy city moors the work in the darkness of a London that many wouldn’t even recognise today.

It’s Dark In London is/was described as “an uncompromisingly adult descent into the dark underground world of the capital” . But the comics medium has moved on, and something cutting edge and dark from 16 years ago seems somewhat tame in 2012. Instead, too many of the stories in here just feel like they’re trying a little too hard to be mysterious, foreboding, overly-literary, deliberately vague, meaning lost in creating something atmospheric. The abiding feeling is one of frustration, leaving me wanting a little more storytelling and a little less trying to leave us all in the dark.

(Woodrow Phoenix – You Are Here)

But it does at least start so very well…. Woodrow Phoenix’s opener works so sweetly, one of the best things in the volume, a wordless 4-pager, a snapshot of London scenes, that has you clawing for meaning, making your own connections, but after that it’s all rather slight, good writers and artists giving us substandard stories.

Neil Gaiman and Warren Pleece’s The Court took me right back to the stuff Pleece did with his brother Gary in Velocity magazine. Beautiful art from a much underused artist. But the story; most beautiful boy in the world, sold to a mob boss to continue the existence of his people – well, it’s very Gaiman by the numbers – always a risk with a top name writer contributing to an anthology.

(There’s some Velocity stuff at the Pleece’s archive, and in theory some of it will be in a new collection entitled The Great Unwashed coming out at some point from Escape Books. When? No idea.)

(Neil Gaiman and Warren Pleece – The Court)

Likewise Alan Moore’s contributions are similarly lightweight and fragmentary. Prose pieces merely summarising the longer form psychogeography of his brilliant performance pieces; The Highbury Working, Angel Passage, The Birth Caul, Snakes And Ladders, Unearthing, the main course to the mere morsels presented here.

And Moore’s 12-page I Keep Coming Back, beautifully re-drawn by Oscar Zarate for this new collection, is similarly slight, interesting but never really anything more, a thought piece on returning to a London he spent so much time wandering in his head whilst writing From Hell.

(I Keep Coming Back – Alan Moore and Oscar Zarate)

A lot of the entries here look a damn sight better than they read. in Frozen; Carl Flint’s caricature cartooning looks great, but the story by Chris Webster just comes off as ridiculous as the conceptual art it seems to be lampooning (piss statues? Really? Oh, actually…. maybe not so ridiculous). Melinda Gebbie’s art on Lucky Dip, Jonathan Edwards’ re-done art on Too Late, both far, far better than the story they’re illustrating. Ilya’s piece The Body is fascinating, a great artist working a photocopier to get some pre-digital effects – expressive and stylised. But again, the story rather skates on by.

One strip that does get close to Woodrow Phoenix’s opener in providing enjoyment and intrigue in equal parts is Carol Swain’s Come Down Town. This one gets the balance between story and art, meaning and mystique, just right. It’s a rare highlight here.

A mystery and a police procedural, a literary police detective investigating a bizarre series of crimes that paint London just that little blacker each time. Initially a simple curiosity; a library and its books painted black, the artist goes further and further, blacker and blacker…. the ending is left somewhat open, the tension builds throughout, the mystery is there, the art is lovely, suitably dirty and rough, just as good as you’d expect from Swain.

(Carol Swain – Come Down Town)

Iain Sinclair and Dave McKean’s The Griffin’s Egg sums up everything I’m trying to say about It’s Dark In London. Sure, it looks really nice, but it’s McKean in full collage mode, and just looks a little rooted in time. And if any author sums up the problem with It’s Dark In London it’s Sinclair, the epitome of a certain style, an artistic genius or an author far too wrapped up in his own overly-literary writings… I veer between the two, finding him breathtaking or frustrating, often depending more upon my mood and receptiveness than the work itself.

Whatever you think of him, one thing is certain, this is slight, inconsequential stuff compared to his prose.

(The Griffin’s Egg – Iain Sinclair and Dave McKean)

It’s Dark In London wants to be all about the mood, and I can appreciate the themes, the ideas, the intention to create an atmospheric piece, but it just isn’t satisfying or involving enough. I wanted more of the dark heart of the city and sadly far too much in here is simply trying too hard, being too esoteric, and as a reading experience it’s shallow and unsatisfying.

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About The Author

Richard Bruton

– Started in comics retail aged 16 at Nostalgia & Comics, Birmingham. Now located in Yorkshire, he’s written for the Forbidden Planet International Blog since 2007. Specialising in UK Comics and All-Ages comics, Richard’s day job in a primary school allowed him to build the best children’s graphic novel library in the country.

One Response to In the dark in London…..

  1. Reuben says:

    Re: The Great Unwashed
    No idea when it’s out, but there is a review of it by Andrew Collins in the current issue of The Word magazine.