Reads is a new anthology issue from the people who brought you Tiny Dancing magazine. Seems the comics have rather outgrown the format there and were demanding their own publication. Good for the comics.
Right, essentially this one got the big thumbs up from the start with Rebecca Strickson’s wraparound cover that manages to be really visually striking in an old fashioned children’s reading book style thing. Nice. Inside it’s 48 pages of variable material, but some rather nice stuff….. so here we go, Reads #1:
(Hilary Harper in “Revenge Of The Dinosaurs” by Ricky Miller and Steven Horry)
It’s a sure sign I’m enjoying a strip when I get to the end of the episode and feel disappointed it had to end, then excited to find there’s more in the issue. And that’s just what happened with Hilary Harper by writer Ricky Miller and artist Steven Horry.
It’s a very basic, but very enjoyable tale of witchcraft and wizardry and a lead character that I couldn’t help but feel owes much to Jon Pertwee’s Doctor. Or maybe that’s just my age showing. Nevertheless, it’s a good two-parter and one I want to read more of.
Horry’s art is very nicely done here, and everything, art and story has a deliciously lighthearted feel, up to and including the guest appearances by a Kray twin and lovely Lulu. Yes, that Lulu;
(Yep, Lulu. As featured in Hilary Harper by Ricky Miller and Steven Horry)
Next up we have Bad Times Ahead, as written and drawn by Michael Gosden and David White.
When up against something so fun and so nicely drawn as Hilary Harper, this strip, far rawer and loose, was going to be a problem. But even giving it that, there’s still not all that much to praise of Bad Times Ahead. It just felt crude and too loose, not without interest, but a mere shadow compared to everything else in Reads.
The story here all concerns Shelby Matthews, who’s just discovered his best friend skewered to a desk with a large tribal spear. Not the best of starts to a working day. After this we get some potential intrigue from on high, setting up storylines to come. But not ones I’m all that interested in.
(Bad Times Ahead by Michael Gosden and David White)
If Bad Times Ahead wasn’t for me, Tim Bird’s Suburban Dreamer, a simple, dreamy tale that does just what it says, is far more to my liking. Storywise it’s slight to say the least, but that never really bothers me these days when dealing with these more dreamlike, abstract, mood piece comics. And I do like Bird’s art; simple, clean of line, and very pretty to look at:
(Suburban Dreamer by Tim Bird)
And over just 4 pages he delivers a tiny mood piece of suburbs vs urban, ending with a beautiful page of landscapes that made me really stop and admire just how good it was. There’s a worry here that I’m simply turning into a landscape bore, but Bird captures a moment of quiet reflection ever so well:
(Oh crap, I AM turning into a landscape bore. But what a lovely landscape that is from Tim Bird)
The final strip in Reads is Metroland, and it’s here that the real problem with Reads came to me. Initially this tale of failing indie band Electric Dreams and their spiralling breakup driven by band politics seemed just difficult and slightly clunky, with references to past events, hints that this is more than simple music drama dropped in clumsily.
But it gets better, becoming interesting as it goes on. Here we’re concentrating on two of the five band members across two chapters, watching as they make their move towards taking control of the band.
(Metroland by Ricky Miller)
There’s a raw excitement about the artwork here, something that works in its rawness that, combined with some interesting ideas and the intriguing hints about the future, makes me think Metroland, despite first doubts, is going to be one to keep an eye on.
As I was looking at the publisher’s website, it became obvious that the Metroland and Hilary Harper strips were continuations from the Tiny Dancing magazine. In fact Metroland is a reprint from Tiny Dancing, slightly rejigged. It didn’t matter at all with Hilary Harper, as this strip seems very episodic in nature anyway, Steven Horry’s art here is far, far better than his earlier efforts, and the inclusion of Ricky Miller as writer has really tightened and improved the strip.
But Metroland is a slightly different thing. Initially I was a little ticked off that it has this big, big backstory that really enriches the tale and takes it into some unexpected and really interesting places. Things slotted into place, and it certainly explained some of the clumsiness I’d felt at the start of Metroland. But I think Miller has taken the opportunity to do a little bit of a restart here, something confirmed by taking to editor David White, and there are plans to include some of this backstory in future episodes.
And what a backstory it turns out to be, as that extra information takes the story far beyond simple indie band politicing and into somewhere where the frequent disappearances of the main songwriting duo is because they have a habit of travelling across time and dimensions using the Metroland gateway in the Metro club:
(Metroland by Ricky Miller)
Yes, that would be the same Metro club that one of the band members convinces his gangland crime boss father to buy in the Reads strip – see what I mean about it really adding to the whole story – suddenly we’re somewhere completely different, and the story opens up to something really intriguing.
Initially I complained that it should have at least included a little summary page, but now I’m willing to accept that Miller is tweaking what may well be a rather large and epic tale, concentrating on the small scale indie band goings on and developing the fantastical elements as he goes on. Take that view, and the intrigue and fascination of these strange mentions of dubious goings-on is quite enough. You don’t need to know the magical weirdness uderpinning the strip, not yet, and on reflection I think I’ll trust Miller to do it his way.
You may well want to investigate their sister title at the Tiny Dancing blog where you can find the first instalments of both Hilary Harper and Metroland. You can purchase #4,5, and 6 from the store, or download free digital versions of #1-5. Like I say, it’s not essential to read what’s gone before, but with Metroland in particular, it may well give you a thrill for what Miller has yet to come.