In recent years, the British independent comics scene has not been the picture of rude health. There are passionate and talented creators at work, but in terms of material that not only evokes the mood and culture of these islands and still translates well to other countries, we aren’t exactly leading the pack. However, since 1998, writer/artist John Allison of Manchester has been producing brilliant strips featuring the strikingly normal, and normally striking, residents of Tackleford, a fictional Yorkshire town.
If this all totally fails to ring a bell, it’s most likely because John Allison is one of a species that rarely seems to crop up in comic shops – a webcomic creator. Not only that, but his first regular series, Bobbins, was one of the first comic strips to find success in that medium, and despite a successful sideline selling print collections through conventions and mail order, Allison still publishes free daily comics online.
Great Aches collects most of 2006’s daily updates from Allison’s website (www.scarygoround.com), and the stories herein serve as perfect examples of the likeable, witty and scattershot sensibility that has made the strip so popular. Bobbins, the previous incarnation of his comics, served as a testing ground in terms of art and writing, and changed dramatically over the course of its five-year run. Starting out as a Seinfeld-inspired slice-of-life comedy drama, drawn sketchily in flat-toned pen and ink, it later shuffled its cast, took on a clean, computer-assisted art style and mutated into something altogether more eccentric. After killing off a number of cast regulars, taking the survivors to a somewhat weirder world and changing the name, Scary-Go-Round was born.
Allison’s work is still developing as he goes, shifting from computer-drawn to hand-drawn art at a moment’s notice, but always confidently maintaining the equilibrium of speed and quality. The cast still rotates, with new sets of characters being introduced and old ones being subbed in and out, killed off, resurrected and killed again. This system provides Allison with a huge back catalogue of players (in a manner pleasingly reminiscent of the Simpsons), which invokes a warm, familiar glow as old incidental personages make cameo appearances or even move to centre stage for a storyline or two.
The strip’s supernatural drive adds a great deal of focus to its plot arcs, and helps it to avoid falling into the trap of navel-gazing character meditation. Despite this, Allison finds time to explore the lives of the Young People, or ‘kids’, and demonstrate their ‘alright’ness, particularly in Great Aches, wherein a number of teenage cast members’ lives and loves are spotlighted without the comic losing sight of devil bears and Communist robots. This lack of self-involvement also means it’s one of the few comics in the world where the characters can talk about music or wear a band’s t-shirt without raising bile in the reader’s gullet and making them want to set fire to the book using a bed of shredded NMEs as kindling.
Great Aches showcases a great English storytelling talent, telling charming and undoubtedly English stories, who deserves a wider audience. Also he draws cute girls. Become part of the ever-widening fanbase and pick up a copy of Great Aches today. We’ve got copies in-store now for £10 apiece, with the new volume, Ahoy Hoy, turning up very soon indeed. If you’re still not convinced, check out the archives here and buy a print copy later – the man is deserving of your money.
Recommended by Tom