This is the remaining two-thirds of John Allison’s attempt to see if he could reconfigure the essential Britishness of his writing and port Tackleford wholesale to its American equivalent: Spectrum, South Dakota.
(No, I don’t quite see it, either. I’m thinking some old mill town in western Massachusetts would be better, or somewhere in coastal Maine, but I am an East Coaster to begin with.)
In case that’s confusing: John Allison writes sprightly, fun stories with various levels of fantasy elements, set mostly in the English Midlands, often centering around the quirky town of Tackleford, first as a series of webcomics (Bobbins , Scarygoround , Bad Machinery , and see these posts of mine) and increasingly as floppy comics that people actually pay money for (most famously Giant Days ). A couple of years ago, he launched a series called By Night, with many Tacklefordian flourishes, set in, as I said, the distant town of Spectrum. The comic was drawn by Christine Larsen and colored by Sarah Stern, who also provided variant covers.
I covered the first collection here back in May, and now I have the rest of the story: Vol. 2 and Vol. 3 collect the rest of this twelve-issue series. So far, it doesn’t seem to have spawned a sequel.
And I still find it basically the same kind of thing as the first volume: fun, but subtly off and not quite as enjoyable as Allison’s stories set in a greener and more pleasant land. The dialogue often falls somewhere between Allisonly snappy and actually colloquial American, as if he were trying to stretch to speak in a foreign tongue and not consistently succeeding. Nothing is actually wrong here: it’s a fine adventure comic, with snappy dialogue, quirky characters, and a plot that bounces around and makes things happen. It just feels like someone trying to “do John Allison in the USA” and subtly missing the point.
So: former friends Jane and Heather have discovered a portal into a fantasy world, and of course intend to monetize that…by making a documentary film about it. (Allison is always quirky, even when he’s trying to be American about it.) This is slightly hampered, first, by their being driven out of the fantasy world by the authorities there, and, secondarily, by the increasingly heavy-handed tactics from authorities here related to the corporation that built the portal and then went bankrupt, pauperizing the town.
These two volumes feature a lot of running about, and an array of colorful characters, from drug dealers to a small green troll-like fantasy-world person, from aged (and possibly insane) scientists to salt-of-the-earth vermin-extermination working men. There are nefarious plots from both ends of the portal, surprising revelations, applied mad science, semi-random murder, and pulse-pounding board meetings.
All of the ingredients are fine, and By Night could seem really awesome to someone not familiar with Allison’s other work. (Or to someone violently allergic to anything non-American, I suppose: goodness know we do have those.) It’s not one of his best works, but that is a very minor quibble on my part — this is a better run of comics than nearly anything cover-featuring a person wearing a mask and published in the last eighty years.
I still think most readers would be better served as an introduction to Allison by diving into Bad Machinery or Giant Days (depending on their preferences), but what do I know?