Review: There’s something very funny down in Gary’s Garden….
David Fickling Books / The Phoenix
Gary Northfield’s garden is a wondrous place, full of all manner of beasties, some small, others not so small, but all with a vibrant life of their own, but this is no nature documentary.
No, it’s a riotously funny comic that delivers page after page after page of inspired silliness, just the latest in a long line of inspired silliness with Northfield’s name on it (Derek The Sheep, Teenytinysaurs). It’s his best yet, an absolute riot of ridiculousness, a feast of funny.
The idea here is delightfully simple, take a common or garden, well…. garden and give all the possible resident creatures personalities. It’s the sort of thing children all over do all the time, familiarity immediate and engaging. But there’s a long way to go from a tale of beasties living in your garden with characters and names to something as ridiculously, wonderfully absurd and clever as Gary’s Garden.
The cleverness comes from Northfield, who brings his own very playful sense of humour to all creatures great and small. Lesser artists would deliver straight forward animal gags, but not Northfield. We get funny sure, but it’s swiftly, fabulously veers off to absurdity, surreal moments, unpredictable brilliance. It doesn’t take all that long to set the tone either, like the absurd moment on page 8 of Mr Spider and his rather captive orchestra.
Across nearly 60 pages you’ll meet poor, stoopid as anything Chompy the caterpillar so desperate to join his butterfly brother and the multicoloured flyers, acrobatic birdies making a playground out of washday or discovering the gastronomic delights in Gary’s kitchen far exceed those meagre offerings he puts out in his garden, a desperately manic squirrel on a nut hunt contrasting perfectly with the laid-back approach of old uncle Henry the spider, the continuing weight problems of Podgy Pigeon, and (as they say) much, much more.
There are even chances to fly off into moments of wild imaginings on the parts of the beasties, as we watch Professor Ladybird Zarpov assemble ‘John Ladybird, explorer of Mars‘ (or the next-door garden), ‘Larry Ladybird, Lord Of The Jungle‘ in their exploration of a ‘strange, new world, teeming with alien beings!‘ Zarpovia turns out, not so surprisingly to be the fish-tank in Gary’s lounge.
I’m with Chompy: “Tsh. Ladybirds. They are SUCH space cadets.”
It’s just funny, from start to finish, the invention continuous, the laughs pretty much non-stop. Some silly, some clever, some relying on situations, the ridiculous idea of Camouflage Club where it’s tricky for the organisers to work out who’s attending a perfect example, others relying on a line of dialogue to have you spluttering.
This for example…
“Half past leaf.” So good, so clever.
All through Gary’s Garden Northfield’s artwork delivers with a beautiful sparsity and economy to the line, often merely a few lines deliver an enormous amount, but the marks are all perfectly judged, economy so deftly and well done.
Look at a couple of examples and you’ll easily see what I mean, the ridiculous ease that he gets over the mania of Rupert the squirrel on his nut-quest…
Or Chompy finding himself in a spot of bother…
Simplicity done so well, so effortlessly, so funnily. Northfield delivers this sort of thing all the way through.
Artistically my absolute favourite strips are when we share the night-time escapades of Boris and Monroe, fox and hedgehog making unlikely friends. Northfield does night-time as a beautiful mix of purple, red, green, blue and yellow, all picked out against a black page. It’s a fabulous effect. On top of that the continuing adventures of the pair, night warriors, picking their way through the gardens with a mixture of skill and pure, dumb luck has me in stitches.
There’s even chance for Northfield to create something genuinely touching to end on, as we meet Mr Leaf. How you get a tragic and emotional story of friendship and loss with the changing seasons where the main character is a leaf I’ll leave to your imagination. Although I hope you don’t get too upset when I tell you that your imagination is more than likely no match for Northfields.
And speaking of Northfield, he’s a regular presence all through the book, there in the background, it’s the author himself, the bumbling, hat wearing fool who imagines himself a beloved provider for the birds…. bless him…
The birds may not appreciate poor Gary, but we do. All the way through Gary’s Garden there’s manic invention running riot, rampant silliness, ridiculous characters and magnificently farcical setups. Fabulous book.