Gosh, it's March already, and I haven't covered a single comic for "Beyond Spider-Man" so far this year. Time to put that right with a little gem of a classic New Zealand mini-comic series, namely Jessica of the Schoolyard.
New Zealand's homegrown comic scene is a mixed bag. There's a a fair swag of well-meaning but ultimately undirected "angry radical pseudo-political commentary". There's the odd anthology series which generally contains far too "pre-teen anime-fantasy over-ambitious epic mega-series" and/or "quirky indie theater-of-the-absurd".
Amongst all that lot, there is some great stuff produced by guys like Dylan Horrocks, Richard Fairgray, Ant Sang and Roger Langridge. Sadly there's never enough of it. The realities of paying the bills must leave them little time for creating comics. I empathize fully. I struggle to find time just to read comics, let alone publish them!
But at least I've got another name to put on my watch list when I'm keeping an eye open for top-quality NZ productions. That name is Karl Wills - the force behind "Jessica of the Schoolyard".
I'm a little behind the times on this one. Jessica was being produced in the early 2000's. But with luck I'll still be able to pick up the rest of the set of these incredibly well-constructed mini-comics.
By purely physical measures, these "Jessica" comics are tiny. They're in landscape format, 5.75" x 4.24" with only eight pages per comic. With one panel per page, creating a full narrative is a major challenge... but one which Wills achieves with ridiculous ease.
His "heroine" Jessica is a foul-mouthed violent schoolgirl who lives in an equally brutal world. In "Jessica's Rival", Jessica pulls her flick knife and tackles "Typhoon Mary", the boxing champion from the Catholic girl's school across town. That should give you an instant insight into the kind of subject matter we're dealing with here. Entirely inappropriate, offensive, and downright brilliant.
Karl Wills is a total master of his craft. His plotting skills are second to none, as he effortlessly crams more into eight panels than some writers do into eight pages. His artwork is deceptively casual, but devastatingly effective. His scripting is perfect to the last precisely-placed swearword.
The production is also superb. High-quality paper stock and ink is used. Interior is uncolored, but there are touches of color on the front and back cover. Also, each issue includes a limited edition trading card starring characters from Jessica's world.
Good things come in small packages, and this is the proof. Jessica can proudly take her place on the shelf among the best comics to ever come out of this country.