Into The Woods

I do love an anthology book. Just as well, given that they are the backbone of theUKcomic book publishing scene. Brought up on the Beano or Dandy, we progressed onto books like the Eagle or 2000ad, and indeed now Clint. It’s ingrained into theUKcomic book reader that this is the way to read your books. Well at least to those of my generation. Or maybe just me…

At their best they have an urgency and sense of excitement to them, limited space causing the story writer to ensure maximum impact per panel to get their message across. It also means that often it provides frustration that just at the point you’re really starting to tune into the story, its time for the next.

So Stacey Whittle’s anthology “Into the woods” is very much in theUKcomic book tradition. It’s also a fantastic showcase for a wealth of up and coming comic book creating talent, currently working in theUKsmall press scene. Stacey is of course a passionate supporter being as she is, co presenter (along with contributor Lee Grice) of the Geek Syndicated “Small Press Big Mouth” podcast, which if you’re reading this you’re almost certainly acquainted with (and if you’re not you really should be). This book is the product of months of hard work on her behalf (as well as that of the individuals involved), and that time and dedication has paid off into a hugely satisfying and impressive set of twisted fairy tales.

I have to declare interest at this point. At least two close friends of mine are involved and obviously I enjoy both their contributions a great deal. So it’s worth dealing with their contributions from the top. First David Wynne, of Hypergirl fame, teams up with writer Daniel Clifford, who’s Sugar Glider I’ve reviewed on the site previously. Their tale is a twist on the old crossroads deal, but in an unfamiliar setting. It’s a nicely unnerving story and surprisingly brutal, and as ever Mr Wynne’s art work is outstanding.

Secondly, Nic “off the MOMBcast” Papaconstantinou teams up with Bevis Musson of “The Dead Queen Detectives” comic (amongst others) to present a fairy story so delightful that I was actually left with a lump in my throat upon finishing. In fact of all the stories presented within, it’s the one that plays the Fairy Story brief with the straightest bat, and Bevis’s gorgeous art takes the story to a level of cute which charms you, very close to death. I’m biased of course, but this was my favourite of the bunch.

Needless to say then I enjoyed both of these contributions a great deal. However it was just as much of a treat reading work by creators who I’m less familiar with. So without wanting to spoil any of the stories (and importantly not wishing to leave any contributor out) I’ll take a whistle stop tour through them…

First up is “Red Riding Hood” by Richard McAuliffe and Sarah Dunkerton, which as the title might lead you to believe, is a creepy retelling of the classic tale, and the perfect introduction to the book, with lovely rendered pictures and a script that leads you to a very dark conclusion.

Next up is “Time for a Change” by Ollie Masters and Valia Kapadai. It’s a lovely still, thoughtful story that feels very much after Sandman, and oozes charm. It has a powerful stillness to it, which is one hell of a thing to achieve in such a short story, and still have something to say.

Following is “The Madness of the Sea” by Scott Harrison, Lee Grice and Filip Roncone. This time a more nautical theme with a young boy who lives in a 19th Century port makes a mysterious discovery that has massive implications for him, and his small community. This is one of the more frustrating tales in the anthology, but only because I felt so desperate to read more at its conclusion.

“Samhain” by Matthew Gibbs and Alice Duke comes next and changes direction with a more modern tale that uses some superb misdirection for its twist also features some delightfully rich illustration by Alice Duke, whose work I’ve not seen previously, but on this evidence I’m keen to see much more. Wrong as it is to pick favourites of those that I’ve not seen before this was my pick in terms of pencil work.

Lee Robson, Simon Wyatt next brings us “The Lang Pack” a story that feels teleported straight out of the pages of 2000ad. It’s another superb example of a creepy twisted tale. Great compact story telling here with some lovely art making for a very polished episode, which evokes its period setting perfectly.

Blood and Sacrifice by Stu Art also feels as though it could very well have graced the pages of Tharg’s famous anthology or the late lamented Battle, and is the tale the feels the most removed from its companions, whilst at the same time adhering most closely to the title (all will become clear upon reading). It’s a Nazi chase thriller, and reminded me of Savage a great deal (which is great, it’s a personal 2000ad favourite), with its crisp and rich visuals. For such a short tale it’s remarkably gripping.

The final tale not already mentioned is “Changeling” a DEEPLY disturbing and creepy tale told by Alexi Conman and Conor Boyle. Of all the stories within this one easily made my flesh crawl the most, and is most certainly the one you’re best advised to read while hiding behind the sofa.

The book is topped off by David and Daniels story “The Black Shoes” and Nic and Bevis’ tale “Amber and the Egg”.

The anthology was launched this weekend just gone at the Cardiff Comic Con to a great deal of well deserved plaudits and good wishes. It’s a fantastic achievement to have brought this together in the first place. For the vast majority of those involved this isn’t the day job, and trying to get an indie book with a couple of creators can be challenging at the best of time. To bring together an anthology of this quality is no mean feat, and deserves congratulations, but that alone isn’t a reason to buy it. The reason that you should buy this book is that it is really very good indeed, and testament to the deep rich vein of talent in theUKsmall press scene. I loved it.