Small Press Spotlight: Harvest, House of Sweets, Camp Bleh

With Thought Bubble just around the corner we are being bombarded with quality small press comics to review. We start with three slightly horrific titles:

Harvest

Set in a quiet rural backwater, Greta is a young girl struggling with the mundanity of life in the countryside after leaving university. Unemployed and saddled with debt, she spends her days getting drunk with her boyfriend, helping out in the local pub and trying to sneak her boyfriend out of her house before her step mum comes home. However, there is a dark under current to this seemingly quiet world, whether that is Greta’s fire themed dreams or the behaviour of her friend Aggie’s son. Harvest is the debut graphic novel from Julian Payne and Zoe Elkins and is a difficult book to describe without complete giving away the ending. It’s a slow burning character piece at first, that uses small momenst to drive the plot along. It’s one of those books which could be decompressed into a simple 24 page one shot, but is better for being given room to breath and really tell a proper story. The artwork from Payne is quite loose in places, and skates that fine line between being simplistic in both a good and a bad way. It lacks a certain degree of polish in some places, but at the same time if all those rough edges were removed it wouldn’t feel half as endearing as it does.  Instead it benefits from it’s more zine-like/DIY ethose and aesthetic. (And is a book which we think will probably look better in print, than the digital sample we reviewed) With it’s dark undercurrents and almost pencil sketch like style it reminded us a bit of Graham Puttock’s Circusside (although not quite as outrageous), while the dark under current of village life evoked the sinister Frank On The Farm. All in all this is an interesting debut and one with bags of potential for these creators and characters.

House of Sweets

Fraser Campbell and Iain Laurie’s twisted revenge thriller The Edge Off was rightly one of our highlights of last year, and this fantastic pairing have reunited for House Of Sweets an equally dark and strange tale that once again defies description – but here goes! If The Edge Off was Taken meets William Burroughs, then House of Sweets has elements of The Shining, Grimm’s Fairytale, Lovecraft and the Evil Dead, all one creepy cottage. Hans and his sister Netha are heading out into the woods to find an old cabin they knew when they were kids. Hans is trying to get away and write, while his sister is trying to get away from personal troubles. Once in the cabin, past demons begin to haunt and torment them and their dark secrets return to bother them. While perhaps not as instant as The Edge Off, House of Sweets is still a gloriously dark and twisted fairytale which has a really tragic vein running through it. While it’s not immediately obvious exactly what is happening, Campbell’s use of rhyming couplets and a poetic cadence give it a dream like fairy tale quality, which Laurie turns into a nightmare with his unique and twisted artistic style. The forest is a perfect place for this story to be set, with Campbell and Laurie revelling in the hidden secrets of the forest as well as the twisting gnarled shapes of the weathered trees. And they further play on the theme of secrets by using masks to hide the characters dark pasts. As you might expect, it’s not always the easiest of reads, but these two have a unique style of comic creation that is dark and unsettling, but also completely absorbing so you can’t help but be swept into this dark little recess of a wooded glen.

Camp Bleh

Writer Matt Garvey continues his one man mission to bombard us with every conceivable kind of comic, and this month he has a crack at all ages horror with Camp Bleh! A homage to classic slasher movies, as well as the creepy ghost story genre, Camp Bleh sees a group of kids on a summer camp sat around a camp fire telling a creepy story. But in the woods there is an actual boogeyman coming to get them. However as the story evolves, so too does the monster in the woods. It’s a really smart balance of knowing horror references (Dracula, Wolf Man, Friday 13th etc) but without going too overboard and scary at the same time. There is enough detail for older kids to get something out of, but it is also tame enough that it could be read by the right younger reader as well (Parental discretion is definitely worth being applied for really young readers). This pitch at kids horror is definitely helped by some fun and colourful artwork from Rosie Hague. She gives the characters a cartoonish feel which felt a bit like Hamish Steele’s work, while also giving the monsters a really smart, albeit very conventional and classic look – and without too much gore or scariness as well. While it’s perhaps a little bit light on content for adults, for kids this is not bogged down by being too clever or too knowing and is all the better for it. So if you’re looking something a bit different for your kids to read this halloween than giver Camp Bleh a go.