Stray Lines is an Irish anthology comic published by Cardboard Press and crowd funded, through fundit.ie. It is a well-packaged anthology, with no discernible theme, but ‘collects stories from a selection of Ireland’s most interesting underground cartoonsts.’
I have to say, I was well impressed with this selection. What’s more is that this collection, some 64 pages, is available at a stunningly good price. An electronic digital version is available for a meagre £1.70; yes, one pound, seventy pence, while the hard copy is £6.60 including worldwide postage and packaging.
From what I understand Paddy Lynch commissioned the stories, although he allowed considerable freedom with the remit, and to a degree I think this worked well. I am a 2000AD fan, and the anthology comic is something dear to my heart, but this is like a summer special, all the stories being complete and self-contained, so perfect for anyone new to the creators here to just walk into. There are five stories in the collection, and I found four of them to be a match to any independent comic work of the moment.
Paddy Lynch himself has a story in the anthology. Now I always think that any editor, or publisher must find it hard to include themselves in a collection. Perhaps it isn’t especially that being published is one of the drivers, but Lynch’s artwork and story are more than deserving of inclusion here on their own merits. Friendly Local has a style that gives a nod to the European artists, the facial expressions, the deftness in which Lynch portrays human interaction and without doubt the realistic vocabulary is fantastic. The story itself is observational, following a young chap, a mildly dodgy character to say the least, feckless for sure. There is a dark moment in the story, which had an interesting conclusion, perhaps purposely leading the reader in one direction, the reader expecting serious drama, only for it to peter out, to lose its strength but not effect on the story, which continues with its genuine reflection of a local character.
Barry Hughes‘ Glass Trampoline is an unusual story. The artwork is very angular in style, utilising a variety of greys to fill the pages, while the initial setting, a sitting room and furniture has a particular sixties look to it. The main character crashes through a glass coffee table and enters a quite wonderfully bizarre world, which has a psychedelic feel to it. Here he meets wizard with gold claws, a bird-headed, beautifully-bodied creature dressed in hot-pant style cat suit, high boots, fishnets and a wide belt, exuding sixties fashion, who subsequently pecks off his hand. Then he meets a pair who talk in riddles, but he answers his own question, oh and a flying tiger too. It’s brilliantly surreal in its truest sense, unusually odd; the main character enters a fantasy like dream world, surprising and unexpected, while containing non sequitiurs. I actually thought the one moment of insight was very thoughtful, and that the end, hinting at what is reality, linking back to the fantasy was neat.
On the other hand, I could not for the life of me grasp or wrap my head around Animals Attacking Their Own Reflections by Gus Hughes. The artwork is of a primitivism style, flat and truly 2D. The story lost me. Now this is quite OK, even in my favourite days of 2000AD and Battle comics, I would read the stories I didn’t like the best first, leaving the best to the end, so this worked well for me. Unfortunately I think that I am too out of step with what Hughes was trying to do, I can understand that I may seem dense here to some, but I am not afraid to say that I did not rate the story and disliked the artistic style.
I wondered if it was a metaphor for modern jungle based reality TV, or some strange comment about Mondo jungle movies of the 60’s and 70’s. I like many unusual styles, Hugo Tate by Nick Abadzis, which ran in Deadline is an example of basic art which I liked, but Abadzis, like many artists who may draw incredibly simply are demonstrating that simplicity is in-itself a skilled art, and with the likes of say Laika, demonstrated traditional comic book art to a high calibre.
I think that if the story were drawn by a realist artist who portrayed the jungle in its truest beauty, the strangeness of the story may have carried through, but I just felt unrewarded with this one, but in fairness, as you can see, it got me thinking, and perhaps another reader than me would be of a very different opinion, such is the subjective nature of things.
A story that was a favourite for me was The Illustrator by Andrew Judge and Chris Judge. This is a lovely historical story. I really liked the gentle lead up, the fine architecture and background artwork. The style of art when it is close up with characters, again nodding to European styles, clean lines and simple but nicely expressed facial reactions, a thinner style to bodies, and from what I can see an incredibly well researched piece of work. The story features a number of aeroplanes during the Second World War, and their nose art, and in a number of panels, the first, has a Super Fortress beautifully drawn, and another page with a DC-3 side is incredible. I hope the artist looks at the calibre of these, as they are an incredibly good standard.
My only quibble was that I had expected that the pin-up art would be of a different style, as I felt the simple line art not the most suitable for this part of the illustration. Yet that desire to see better in no way should detract from the fact that this is a really good little story, and as I say, without doubt my favourite; just once an artist shows their potential, and exceeds my expectations, I am then a demanding reader and want it to stay at that level. The quality of the story, simple but a very fresh and new angle to a historical episode, was very welcomed.
Finally, Endless Lap by Phillip Barrett, was stunning. The artwork is cleanly done, of a mildly European style, reflecting the realistic cartoon styles of Hergé and Marjane Satrapi, and I have no compunction in saying that it was to their high standard. There were a number of pages, which staggered me; the second page has a sequence of panels that was brilliant. The backgrounds and architecture again so neat and perfect, allowing the character and story to stand out and be told both in words but artistically too. The story itself is broken into two parts, both featuring a different central character. I liked the narrative, the way when the first protagonist was asked if she was ‘lost’, she replied ‘no, I’m looking for a signal’. It is a clever bit of story telling. The two stories are linked, but in very subtle ways, I was pleased how Barrett leaves clues, fastening the two, and of course the point that I took from it, is the lead up to the ‘What If’ moment. What if when two people meet one another, if it were destined to happen. It was really quite lovely.
Overall, I have to say I think it’s a great collection. I am hopeful that more can follow, and I am pleased that Lynch has had the courage to publish such a varied selection of stories even if it means one out of five is not to my own personal taste. Of course, I am quite taken aback by the superb value. I have to say, for less than £2 for the digital and less than£7 for the hard copy, any comic reader would be missing out on some great value cutting edge comics here.
(Note, costs were worked out at time of writing, the PDF is €2 and Hardcopy €8 including worldwide postage and packaging)