Ed Doyle and Alan Holloway’s Sentinel comic has made quite an impact in a short amount of time with six issues released over the course of the past year and coming a very creditable third in the Comic Scene ‘Comics of the Year’ poll for 2020. Modelled very closely on DC Thompson’s classic Starblazer and the other ‘Picture Libraries’ it published, can Sentinel bring this format of storytelling to a new generation of readers?
One thing that is evident from the get-go with Sentinel is a love of the titles that inspired it. Starblazer in particular had some fantastic creators producing some great comics, featuring work from the likes of Grant Morrison, Ian Kennedy and Mick McMahon, a selection of which was collected in last year’s Starblazer: Space Fiction Adventure in Pictures anthology.
Doyle and Holloway have clearly studied this very British format (pocket sized, black and white, 64 pages long, self-contained) and what makes it work and re-produced it in Sentinel. Another thing that stands out with this title is the variety. Where are Starblazer was very much a sci-fi title (launched, like 2000AD, following the great initial success of Star Wars), Sentinel has already given us fantasy (“Scales of Justice”), horror (“Misty Moore”) and comedy (“A Fare to Remember”) as well as plenty of space adventure. The current issue gives us “Bad Kitty”, a story of a cat, a dog and a thief, courtesy of Holloway and guest artist Morgan Gleave.
“Bad Kitty” tells the story of Carlos Harrison, an intergalactic scammer whose plan to rob galactic millionaire Rover Kingston goes horribly wrong. Soon Harrison gets drawn into a plot to murder Kingston, orchestrated by his brother T.C. To complicate matters further Kingston is a dog and murderer T.C. is a cat…It’s a story that the book’s editorial refers to as being “admittedly very silly” but it’s none the worse for it. Holloway fills the issue with lots of bad puns and plenty of references to cartoon cats and dogs of his youth including Snoopy, Garfied and Hong Kong Fooey. The humour is part Red Dwarf, part Ace Trucking and a lot of fun. The plot fits the extended format perfectly with the small page size meaning that the story doesn’t outstay it’s welcome. Carlos Harrison is a likeable rogue in the mould of The Stainless Steel Rat and I wouldn’t be surprised if he turns up again further down the line.
Morgan Gleave’s cartoonish style of art is well suited to a story of anthropomorphised cats and dogs. Gleave has already made a mark in the independent comic scene this year with a couple of strips in anthology The ’77, most recently Skate Worm in the current issue. It’s to Holloway and Doyle’s credit that they are happy to welcome guest artists into the book, something they did most effectively with “A Fare to Remember” with interior artist Paul Spence capturing the kinetic style of Belardinelli at his finest and a cover by the legendary Hunt Emerson. Gleave’s style is instantly recognisable and he does great job of creating in Carlos, Rover and T.C. three visually striking and memorable characters (even if Rover does also remind me of the Fisher Price dog…).
Sentinel is produced by fans of British comics but they are fans who can tell a great story and really understand a very fondly-remembered format. D.C. Thompson seem to have been paying attention to Sentinel too. Their flagship picture library book Commando has started releasing Commando: Sci-Fi recently, comics that are pretty indistinguishable from the original Starblazer. I miss comics that that don’t require an intimate knowledge of years of convoluted back-story and continuity and comics that make me smile. Sentinel does that and it’s certainly worth checking out.