Review: Coin Op Comics #8 (Coin Op Books)

One of our favourite discoveries at the recent Thought Bubble 2019 Comics Festival was Peter and Maria Hoey’s incredible Coin op Comics, a book and series which will make you look at comics and cartooning in a completely new light, but just what is so special about it?

Publisher: Coin Op Books
Writer/Artist: Peter and Maria Hoey
Price: $19.95 from CoinOp

Coin Op Comics comes to you in a glorious hard cover format and is a collection of 4 different short stories (and a collection of beautiful musician profiles), which in this issue have the common theme of infatuation. It’s an eclectic bunch, with no real obvious story or narrative, but each one feels like an exploration of how comics are told. It’s a book which sort of straddles the twin towers of comic books and art books, but with a heavy lean towards the latter. It reminded us a lot of Daniel Clowes in terms of some of it’s style and it’s esoteric outlook, but it also feels like something quite contemporary like Jon McNaught’s Kingdom or Tim Bird’s Great North Wood for it’s brave use of space and design to tell a story.

Opening chapter Rear View Mirror sees recurring characters Saltz and Pepz retelling the Orpheus and Eurydice story, but with the back drop of a 30s Art Deco Jazz cartoon. It has that initial feel of a Laurel and Hardy or Abbot and Costello movie in the way that these characters are placed within a specific story rather having their own story told. Saltz is a super cool saxophonist and Pepz a kind of hipster pug, and when when Saltz is killed by some greasers called the Vipers he goes into the afterlife to save him – but unlike the original myth he goes on a golf cart and is confronted by a Hades who looks like Alex the Droog from Clockwork Orange. If you know the story you can guess what happens, but the whole thing is told in this really slick way that evokes that vintage movie vibe we mentioned earlier, especially with it’s arched panel structure and clean stark lines. It’s perhaps the most accessible of all the stories, but is still a long way from being conventional!

The second, is a strange rambling story about a recurring dream. It is told using panels that run from top to bottom as well as left to right and it gives the story a kind of disorientating pattern that goes with the dreamlike theme. (This one especially reminded us of Kingdom with it’s dense panels and sharp close ups that are used to tell the story. It sees a man being plagued by a mysterious voice and so he writes down a letter to try and control it, but the whole thing is left open ended and is perhaps the most confusing of all the stories. This is emphasised further but there being a faint image of photographs in the background of some of the panels which really makes you second guess what you are reading and exactly what is going on.

Perhaps our favourite of the stories is Intersection, which  is a really smart ‘what if’ story which follows the thought process of a man who wishes he had met his wife earlier in life – but when he is given the chance to do that (via a strange time travel incident involving a bus crash), it sees his life take a very different turn to the idealised one he had hoped for. This one is told using circular panels and a really simple muted colour scheme (that is almost duotone but not quite), and the whole thing is a really thoughtfully told. It’s almost like an anti-romance story as it takes this quite sweet romantic notion and really twists it on its head to give it an almost tragic sense. However, that reading can really depend on how romantic or idealistic you are as a reader. And the final take on the story is ultimately left to the indivudal to decide if it is a happy or sad story. Which is a very clever piece of writing.

The final story Anatomy of a Caper is perhaps the most conceptually ambitious, but also the most esoteric. It is a simple story of a bank heist told across four pages which features a single image spilt into 12 panels. The frame of the overall image stays the same and the caper plays out within the various panels of the page. It’s a really clever idea and works perfectly for a simple story like this, with certain elements of the story being told in different parts of the page and make it almost into a spot the difference contents between pages. It reminded us of a much cleaner version of George Wylesole’s Internet Crusader for the way that it uses the whole page to tell a story and that the reader has to find which part of the page they want to look at first rather than being led through it in a traditional left to right pattern. There’s not a lot of substance to the story, but it’s a lot of fun to follow how it is constructed.

Over all, Coin Op Comics is a wonderfully clever and original read, that is very carefully considered and compiled. The use of unconventional layouts and storytelling techniques is incredibly slick and the high stylised artwork, which varies subtly fro story to story, works seamlessly within each page. While it may be lacking in an obvious story or narrative it is such an amazing book to look at that you find yourself pouring over the intricacies of each page rather than worrying about there being a story to get lost in. The hardback format elevates it to being something really special, as does the vintage hues and tones and the clean crips lines throughout. The major negative for UK readers though is the price – at nearly $20 plus shipping it is not the cheapest of reads, but it is well worth it if you can find a copy. (For now you can at least get a sample of how great this series is with an anthology of previous issues which is available on Amazon.

A glorious mix of old school and contemporary cool, this is one of the most inventive and exciting comics we’ve seen all year!