Too Much Sex & Violence #1

Too Much Sex & Violence is the latest comic project by Rol Hirst, creator of PJANG – People Just Ain’t No Good. That previous book was an anthology of short stories, mostly about how fundamentally awful human beings are to each other, with art by various creators.

For this book, Hirst has changed approach. Art duties are still shared by an assortment of artists, but here there’s one persistent narrative, albeit one that is broken up into character-centric segments, with a different artist handling each.

The book is based in Fathomsby, a small town full of weird happenings – the quote on the back states that “there is some seriously weird shit going on in this town”, and this first issue seems to support that assertion. This looks like it’s going to be an opportunity for Hirst to explore small town English weirdness, where PJANG focused more on urban horribleness.

And this small English town is certainly weird. Almost too weird, actually. In his introduction the author mentions Psychoville as a huge influence on the structure of this book, with its separate and distinct, but interwoven character-centric storylines. However, it’s hard not to see that League Of Gentlemen, that show’s predecessor, isn’t also a huge influence.

Part of the reason I like small-town narratives like this is how the weirdness seeps in from otherwise mundane details. Too Much Sex & Violence starts from the point of having the weirdness all on the surface – within the first few pages we’ve got shape-changing old men, and before long events have devolved to the point where we meet an assortment of characters of a supernatural bent. It’s possible that this is less evocative of actual small-town peculiarity than Hirst intended.

However, the more direct approach to this weirdness holds an appeal of its own, even if it approaches rural creepiness from the opposite end of the scale than I’m used to. Thrown into the middle of this is an everyman character – an honest cop from the city who has been transferred to Fathomsby – who may or may not end up being the reader’s way into this peculiar place.

The writing and art sell the story well. The writer knows what he wants from these scenarios, and the artists, wildly different though they are, are well picked for the parts of the story they’re required to tell. And there are some damn good artists in here. There’s a good variety of art here, with expressionism from Andrew Cheverton, clean and cartoony work from Paul Rainey, bold and composed pages from Martin Eden, and some beautifully drafted art in a more mainstream style from Nigel Lowrey, to name a few.

There’s humour as well as intrigue, with some incredibly sardonic ideas, and characters you’ll want to know more about.

The only thing that doesn’t quite gel right at this point are the transitions between segments, which don’t quite work smoothly for me. I’m not sure exactly why – the lettering is the same throughout, and Hirst’s voice is consistent, too – but it feels in some cases as if the change in art styles would be more comfortable if they were addressed more structurally. In some cases there’s a clear break between subjects, but in others there’s been an effort to maintain a written throughline, and while it isn’t ever confusing, a consistent motif to highlight the change of scenery would make more of a feature, and less of a distraction, of the different artists.

Still, this is a really engaging and unusual first issue, and I’m intrigued enough by the format, the scenarios posed and the art and writing to look forward to more.

Too Much Sex & Violence #1 is £2.50  (including postage in the UK) or in digital format for 99p – buy it here.