Our latest round up of the best small press comics forces us to take a real look at ourselves and our society, with the depravity of humans in The Blame #1, malicious bullies in Skyline #1, and a capitalist society of domesticated animals in The Domesticated Afterlife. Will these thought-provoking comics leave us feeling gloomy? Let’s find out!
The Blame #1
Jon Ayes The Blame #1 is a cynical comics collection highlighting the depravity of the human condition and the general absurdity of corporate greed. Welcome to a world of drug-addicted talking dogs, dead end jobs, rubbish relationship advice and a super smart British government. Talking dogs and smart British government aside, this is a depressingly close look at our own flawed world (sorry, not sorry, Boris). With a new anecdote on each page, Ayes cleverly depicts real issues that are often overlooked, like being overqualified and stuck in a dead-end job, and the way social media manipulates us into thinking we have a voice. While a lot of the comics poke fun at politicians, the general message seems to be about the fallibility of humans.
While this might sound downright depressing, most of the spreads incorporate humour; this specific type of dark humour might not be for everyone, but we really enjoyed how unique and clever the punchline of each comic strip was. Particularly funny was a spread about passing comments, and not thinking before we speak, and a Matt Hancock parody in which his ‘canoodling’ is really a deeply thought-out plot to get him elected.
The art style was unique, and different in each comic strip. In these 22 pages, Ayes seemed to enjoy trying out different creative avenues and styles, from chibi to stick figures to hugely detailed portraits. He mostly switches between black and white, and a pink and purple background hue, and it was a joy to see the freedom he had as a self-published artist to be able to utilise this level of experimentation.
The Blame Issue 1 is currently unavailable for online purchase, but in the meantime, check out Jon’s website!
Skyline Issue 1
Skyline #1 is a coming-of-age comic about a group of children growing up in Indiana in the late 1980’s. Told through the eyes of a young boy, this short comic follows his adventures with his ragtag group of pals.
We love a good map in a book, so it was a pleasure to see one in the context of a zine depicting our narrators’ neighbourhood. What follows is chapter-like segments in which our narrator retrospectively tells us stories about his childhood and growing up in his small town. The element we enjoyed the most was the sinister undertone to some of the stories, particularly the first in which a local motor home is set alight and deemed to be an accident. Both the narrator and reader are unsure/can’t prove that any malicious intent was behind the act, but there’s certainly an aura of unease lurking behind the panels.
Not all the stories leave the reader with an ominous feeling, though. Some chapters just involve some good old-fashioned fun between friends. Resnick’s small town with a slightly ominous backdrop, scary bullies and strong friendships was reminiscent of It by Stephen King (sans the murderous clown of course). It left us feeling both nostalgic for a simpler time of larking around with your friends carefree, and also slightly terrified of small towns.
We really enjoyed the art in this one too. While we were expecting a City Monster by Reza Delevand type vibe from the cover, the interior differed completely, with black and white pencil sketches. Resnick manages to combine a simplistic style with more complicated backgrounds, and the colour tone compliments both the building feeling of tension, and the sense of nostalgia by imitating comics of the 80s.
The Domesticated Afterlife
Our last small press graphic novel eclipses its predecessors in length by about 200 pages! The Domesticated Afterlife by Scott Finch is about a reformed metropolis of animals, in which they can live in semi-luxury, on one condition…they must be fully domesticated. In this consumerist society, dogs walk amongst chickens and work under cats in a total subversion of their animal instincts. We see animals on the outside of the city, those who refuse to let go of their natural premonitions living in harsh conditions: out in the cold with no food, no home, no water. It seems like the message here is to conform to this new ideal or die.
However, the new ‘ideal’ isn’t exactly, well, ideal. Throughout the 200+ pages, we see how the animals struggle with being domesticated; how depressing they find it to dress in human clothes and go to their corporate jobs, and how difficult it is to repress their natural instincts. The unfairness of capitalism and consumerism is also prevalent throughout, from the gluttony of the upper class to the constant need for something ‘new’ or ‘better’. It’s really dark to see the animals, particularly the dogs, plaster smiles on their faces as they fight every instinct in their body, and it’s truly uncanny to see them walking around as if they were human. It’s made clear that, while this new order is meant to be superior, it’s actually torturous.
Of course, this story has similarities to Orwell’s Animal Farm, in its use of anthropomorphised animals to reflect the negative aspects of human civilisation, and again, proves the point that there’s no such thing as real equality or satisfaction. Finch’s first full-length graphic novel is definitely experimental and out there, but we think that’s what makes it great. Each panel is filled with so much thought, from its text to its shading and sketches. It really makes you think about and dwell on what you’re reading (& maybe have an existential crisis about the world we live in while you’re at it).