Desert Island Comics – Episode 76 – John Allison

Published On November 23, 2014 | By Richard Bruton | Comics, Desert Island Comics

Time once more for our regular (ish) feature where we take a comicker and drop them off, nothing but their favourite 8 comics and a single luxury to their name, on our exclusive series of desert island locations.

This week it’s the turn of super-talented John Allison, webcomic pioneer, creator of Bobbins, Scary Go Round, Bad Machinery, Giant Days, Expecting To Fly and more.

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Allison’s a veteran of the webcomic scene, having started his first strip, Bobbins in 1998, back when t’Internet was powered by cogs and levers. Or something like that.

Since then his comics have become essential reading, his work full of funny, whimsy at its best, full of fascinating young characters written as young characters with Allison consistently nailing the nuances of youth whether in the dialogue, language or art.

His long-running Bad Machinery, about a couple of trios of school sleuthers, three girls, three boys at Griswalds Grammar School in Tackleford, Yorkshire, is on a break now until late 2014, and Allison has recently replaced it with a new short story, Expecting To Fly. It is, as with a lot of things Allison, well worth bookmarking and catching up with daily.

There are two Bad Machinery books available from Oni Press, The Case of the Team Spirit and second book The Case of the Good Boy, and you can catch up (or try out) the entire Bad Machinery series online – you might as well start at the beginning. According to Allison, there’s a case for every term of school, which means we’ve just finished case 8 of 21. Lots to come, so much to look forward to.

Now, without further ado…

Desert Island Comics – Episode 76 – John Allison

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Mighty World Of Marvel 16/17 (1984)

When I was a kid, my dad would bring a comic home for me. I got the Rupert The Bear comic, but then that folded, so I got Transformers UK. You know, appropriate for an 8 year old. And I’d get the odd Spider-Man summer special, with a little Avengers back-up story, the dribs and drabs of reprinted US stuff we got in England.

But there is a little gap between the two, where he bought me Mighty World Of Marvel. I think he was in two minds about this as suitable material, because they were kept on top of the kitchen cupboard to give to me later in the week , but I found issue 16 and read the whole thing standing on a stool. Mighty World Of Marvel was an anthology, #16 had an Alan Davis Captain Britain story which was pretty dark, and #17 had the first part of a Magik serialization, that needless to say, unsettled me as a small child. Issue 16 also had X-Men/Micronauts which was great, but I was so scared of those comics that I threw them away after a month. And I never threw anything away.

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Machine Man (Ltd series) (1984/5) by Tom Defalco, Herb Trimpe and Barry Windsor-Smith

This was serialized in the back of Tranformers UK. They’d run some old Ditko Machine Man first, then this. Can you imagine the jump from Steve Ditko to Barry Windsor-Smith for a 9-year old? I appreciate Ditko now, but we went from this hokey Sixties-looking story to great elegant futureshock vistas in the space of a week. The old Ditko characters were all greatly aged, which isn’t something you think abut as a child. All these things took me out of myself. It was elegiac, intricate and clever. I think Tom DeFalco wrote it. I never really associated Tom DeFalco with any of those words before.

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Transformers (US) 17 (1986) by Bob Budiansky and Don Perlin

I think a lot of these comics I loved were total accidents of timing. I worked out at some point that there were American comics that these stories were being reprinted from, and shops you could buy those comics from. They were all a long way away. But at 9 I got my mum and dad to take me to Odyssey 7 in Leeds, and bought this one issue of Transformers. I was used to the weekly reprints, but the US title was further ahead. Now, the Bob Budiansky US Transformers stories were almost always worse than the UK-originated ones, but somehow I managed, in my only visit to a comic shop, to get the one issue where they went back to the robot home planet. Instead of “Sparkplug Witwicky” and the dumb human Transformer friends (who one month included a fake Bruce Springsteen), I got this wild all-robot alien tale where you find out that things back on the homeworld are just absolutely dreadful. I could not possibly have imagined it would be this good. I felt like I had made this happen by sneaking a look ahead. It was just captivating. So of course I didn’t go to a proper comic shop again for nearly 4 years.

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New Mutants 64 (1987) by Louise Simonson and Bret Blevins

We found a little stall in Keighley Market where they’d get some US Marvels and DCs in, but my “friend” Alex Smith would go in and hoover them up because he was “of money”. This was the lone New Mutants I managed to snag. It’s the episode with Cypher’s funeral, where Warlock goes mad and marches his poor mate’s corpse around. I loved Bret Blevins artwork so much. In the late eighties he was so far ahead of every single person working in comics, and I still think that. Two think that two or three years later everything was Jim Lee/Whilce Portacio/Rob Liefeld crosshatching hell, and Bret was gone from comics. Louise Simonson’s writing on this title was beautiful too. And again, what an issue to have as your lone keeper. Just devastating.

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Daredevil 255 (1988) by Ann Nocenti, John Romita Jr, Al Williamson

I was 11 when I read this, and it frightened the life out of me. The Typhoid Mary story deals with some pretty adult issues – temptation, infidelity, long term relationships, but sensitively – Ann Nocenti is an underestimated writer. I like the Comics Code for the same reasons I like the US network TV constraints – creativity is required in lieu of cussing and sexing up a storm. This story is a writer really writing to the limit of what they could do. Typhoid Mary is this great, conflicted character, and poor old Daredevil is just falling apart. I don’t think John Romita Jr was ever quite as good again as he is here – his Eighties economy of line is something I really admire. His covers around this time are perfect.

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The Maxx (1995) by Sam Kieth

I was tired of superhero comics but not of comics, and The Maxx was really my bridge to different stuff. It has that nice mid-Nineties weirdness, that little extra room to be weird. And Sam Kieth’s art! When the initial arc was over, I lost interest, and I don’t know how these comics would read today. I never remember the storyline connecting with me. But as an artist, I was blown away by the invention that had gone into it, “world-building” and so on. It didn’t look like anything else. It was its own little world.

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American Elf (1998-2013) by James Kochalka

Once I was making my own comics in the late nineties, I really tried to educate myself about indie comics. And for me, Kochalka’s the one. American Elf is the best thing he’s done, it’s both the root and the branch of his wider work. Taken in miniature, it’s sweet, weird, touching and hopeful, taken as a piece I think it’s one of the great works of biographical literature. James cuts an unusual figure, one time I had to hide my head in a suitcase while he sang an acapella song about a vampire into R Stevens (Diesel Sweeties) face. He’d just thought the song up 30 seconds earlier. He’s a one-off. I love his art and how he looks at the world.

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Achewood: The Great Outdoor Fight (2004) by Chris Onstad

Chris Onstad is the greatest American humourist of the last 25 years. He’s a giant. I can think of no one who writes as well, or who can match the initial run of Achewood. And now it’s back, it’s still strong. The only fault I could find with Achewood in its imperial phase was that, as a writer, it was hard not to try to ape it. I know that I wrote things that leant heavily on its logic. In the end I had to be disciplined with Achewood and not read and re-read it the way I read books as a child. I’ve internalized most of the other stuff on this list, but I have to be careful with this one. But my days as a bargain-basement Onstad were probably the most successful of my career.

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Ant Colony (2014) by Michael Deforge

I’m pretty jaded about comics in 2014. I spend my whole day making them, so the last thing I want to do after that is read more. But in Luke Pearson and Michael DeForge, I think we have young talents that beg to be read and will stand up against anything from the canonical shelf. DeForge is capable of breathtaking invention, and can unsettle me the way those Mighty World Of Marvel stories did as an 8-year old. I think Ant Colony is his best work to date – wild, inventive, horrible and human. He draws well and writes well, and I can’t imagine that I could ever match him. That’s the sort of thing that makes me try harder.

LUXURY: the internet

I wouldn’t have a career without the internet. I wouldn’t ever have made it into comics. I would never have had the little audience that spurred me on to keep trying to get better. Sometimes I miss the thrill of solo discovery that now seems impossible to find, but I know I wouldn’t have half the life I do now without the internet.

…. hmmm, nice try Mr Allison, but no contact with the outside world allowed on the desert island! However, we’re all about compromise and accomodating here… so we can give you a special computer preloaded with the entire Internet circa 2005. There’s got to be something on there you haven’t seen!

Thanks very much to John Allison for those great picks. Fancy a go at a Desert Island Comics yourself? Get in touch with us here at the blog.

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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.

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