Sometime last year I picked up a stash of half-price NZ comics from my local comic store. I still have a fair few left to review, and today I've grabbed a couple of black and white books from the pile. Both are simply B&W photocopied A4 pages, folded over and stapled. With both having exactly the same production method, I reckon I should be able to compare the two objectively in terms of the quality of their content.
So, let's have a look and see what I grabbed. Hmm... "Pictozine" (subtitled "new zealand comics - the state of the art"). That looks nice, an anthology of NZ created short comic stories released back in 2006. And what's this other one here. "Sally Fu..." what the hell? Oh deary, deary me. This isn't very nice at all. Perhaps we'd better start with Sally and her inappropriate affection for equestrian animals. It was released back in 2004, and quite understandably was left on the shelves for me to find five years later.
With a length of 38 pages, this structure of this story is pretty simple to explain. It uses photocopied pictures from an old story book, but with substituted text to replace the original tale with something similar, but far more offensive.
Sally gets some good news, she's off to her aunt's farm for the holidays. There she rides her horse, and renews her acquaintance with her cousin, and the other neighborhood kids. They tease her about having had an excessively close relationship with her horse. Sally gets back at the kids by stealing their riding gear.
Many of the panels are repeated, leading to a dull and stale telling of what is in any case a puerile and insipid "story". From its shoddy production values to ripped-off art through to its unpleasant subject matter and unenlightening writing, this book essentially is as pleasant as the poop that oozes out the back end of Sally's horse.
I'm no supporter of biblioclasm in general. But if I did find myself wandering past a bonfire with a copy of this comic in my hand, I would be hard-pushed to resist the urge to flick it into the cleansing flames. Face it, NZ comic fans; this book you can live without.
Pictozine is a NZ comics anthology. From a funding-and-glossy-cover point of view, that's a space well covered by New Ground, a long running NZ short comic story collection that is up to issue #9 or more by now. However, as my early musings may have revealed (e.g. see my most recent coverage of NZ Anthology - New Ground #8), while New Ground is strong in some areas, consistent quality of material is not an attribute in which it excels to any note.
By contrast, this is the first ever Pictozine anthology. And while it's a simple photocopied format, the clean white lines and subtle layout of the cover immediately give the impression that this book is all about substance over form. I feel immediately curious, and with a sense of invitation, I open to the first page to find out what editor Dave Bradbury has chosen for my reading pleasure.
First up, an untitled, understated sleep-walking dream by V.L. Dreyer. Hmmm... that name seems familiar. Oh, yeah. Right. Only last month I covered her multi-part solo creation "Tour Girls in the 23rd Century" in Tour Girls Revisited. I was unkind about "Tour Girls", to say the least. But I recognized Dreyer's commitment and potential. Here is that potential beginning to be realized in a thoughtful tale about the risks of dreams, and the cost of wakefulness. A great start.
Other gems follow. A one page story "Discovery" by Matt Scheurbert is delightfully surreal. Long-time stalwart Roger Langridge offers the first of three "Fred the Clown" one-pages. Roger is surgical in his art, his timing and his scripting and never fails to hit the mark. Steve Saville follows up with "Mr. Angry", the classic kind of edgy/indie stuff you see in student magazines from time to time.
Robyn Kenealy offers a one page panel "I made a toastie pie for Satan!". Not really a comic strip, more of just a surreal one-panel concept. Becky, Ben & Frank then give us a one-page five-panel character study of a couple of weird characters in a comic store. It doesn't really go anywhere, and the lettering is painful to read.
Brent Willis gives us "My Free Maps", a scruffily-penciled one page true story which is actually effective despite being rather icky. Then Tim Danko gives us the weakest and probably the longest offering. It's a surreal white-on-black drawing that looks like something I would draw left-handed with an etch-a-sketch while drunk. I tried to read it, twice, but couldn't muster up the energy to care what it was about.
The Funtime Collective then tries to knock Brent Willis out of worst place with the one-page mini-panel story "Doctors and Nurses". The tale flitters from subject to subject, presumably being the result of the "draw the next panel by looking only at the previous panel" game. They played the game, and everybody lost - especially the readers.
Fortunately Roger is back with his second Fred the Clown story to put us on track once more. Then Grant Buist offers a cleanly drawn one-page "Fitz Bunny in Hell" which actually raised a giggle from me. Then Brent Willis is back with Ari Freeman this time, with the two page "Storytime with Deluded old Man", which is heavy on the silliness, but very light on everything else.
Filling out the middle of the comic is Dylan Horrocks - the grand old man of NZ comics creation, and one of our most successful export. Problem is, Dylan just doesn't get around to producing enough these days. Here's a perfect example right here - instead of giving us a story, we get seven pages of text with small illustrations listing all the projects Dylan would like to finish and/or start. There ya have it. Horrocks is so famous in New Zealand he can contribute to a comics anthology without writing a comic. I love Dylan's work... but it does seem silly, him taking up those pages that could have been used by an up and coming creator who actually had the time to produce something.
Steve Saville returns to give us a one-page "The Forgotten", about an office worker who is overlooked. Nothing magic, but a solid story. Craig Gillman offers two pages about a drunk man who crushes a beer can against his testicles, an act which he soon regrets. I suspect it was funnier when it happened in real life (assuming that was the inspiration). Certainly it loses something in the re-telling.
Fred the Clown is back one last time offering is more "reasons to be cheerful". Thanks for that, Fred. Then, oh, I was wrong. This penultimate story is actually the longest in the collection. Entitled "When THEY Come", it spends 11 pages tripping through some sort of distorted nightmare story about the monsters that haunted the writer's childhood dreams, and how he overcame his fears by turning the chase back upon them. The story flows almost as if it is the narration of a remembered dream.
It mostly holds together, but it's overlong, and lacks any sense of tension or purpose. That's a shame, since the credits are Dave Bradbury and Kirby Bradbury-Mills (is that Dave's son?) It's an unsatisfying story, really. If that's Dave's best then he should probably stick to editing, and leave the writing to others.
Finally, Matthew Hunkin wraps things up with a one page, five-panel gem. With only two sentences of text, his vignette about a child running in the rain while dreaming of being a fighter pilot is beautifully crafted and lovingly illustrated. It's a worthy way to wrap up the collection.
All-in-all, Pictozine is very welcome. Of course, the quality of the stories vary - generally in inverse proportion to their length... the good stuff is generally shorter, while the longer tales are generally disappointing. But in the final analysis, there's plenty there to justify the NZ$7.95 original cover price, and the $4 I paid is a bargain. Definitely, the overall quality here is more consistent than "New Ground".
Footnote: I see that Dave released Pictozine #2 back in 2007, and I'll be tracking that down for sure. No sign of any issue #3... yet.