Tagged: There Will Always Be an England

Steeple, Vol. 2: The Silvery Moon by John Allison
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Steeple, Vol. 2: The Silvery Moon by John Allison

As I type this, my post on the first volume of Steeple was written close to a month ago but has not yet gone live. So I am trying to space things out on this blog, but I may not be spacing them quite far enough for my own systems to work well. (Let’s hope I remember, once that post does go live, to drop in a link here somewhere.)

In any case, this is a sequel to the first Steeple , which was written and drawn by John Allison with colors from Sarah Stern and letters from Jim Campbell. The first collection also appeared first as a five-issue series of floppy comics.

Steeple, Vol. 2: The Silvery Moon , by comparison, appeared originally on-line at Allison’s site , and is an all-Allison joint. (There is a cover by Max Sarin, presumably in an attempt to draw in the Giant Days audience.) This one collects two somewhat discrete stories, and I can even link you to those stories online, on the cheekily-titled steeple.church site: The Silvery Moon and Secret Sentai . I just noticed they were (still) there; I haven’t been as good at keeping up with Allison’s new comics there over the past couple of years as I vaguely searched for a copy of the first Steeple book to read first.

Anyway: this is set in a different corner of the Scarygoround -cum-Giant Days-iverse, down in the Cornish town of Tredregyn, where Rev. David Penrose upholds the glory of the Church of England by battling invading mermen every night (and doing essentially nothing vicaresque besides that) and the Magus Tom Pendennis does what he wilt at the Church of Satan down the lane, and what he wilt is generally sneaky and not always nice, but it tends not to be what one would actually call evil.

It’s more like a football rivalry than a battle for the soul of the town, honestly: the locals line up with their rooting preferences, and it seems like Satan is well in the lead, maybe because he always has the best tunes and dancing.

Our main characters are Billie Baker and Maggie Warren; the trainees in the two churches. Billie came to town for the CoE, but, through some odd events at the end of the first book, the two have switched roles, with the lusty, motorcycle-riding Maggie now assisting Rev. David and energetic and immensely good-hearted Billie now organizing community outreach for Satan.

Allison, as usual, has a decent-sized central cast, who are interestingly quirky. I don’t think these folks have gotten quite as defined as the Giant Days crew or his best Bad Machinery characters (Lottie Grote, for example), but they’ve had fewer pages to do so to date.

In any case: this is two more adventures of Billie and Maggie, one with a werewolf and one with a Japanese guy in a funny costume. They are both Allisonianly quirky and fun, and he’s filling out the details of this corner of his world nicely as he has more pages and time to do so.

I’ve said it many times: Allison is one of the most entertaining, and most distinctive, comics-makers of his generation, and his stories are always fun and always different from what anyone else is doing. How can you not want to read that? 

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Steeple by John Allison with Sarah Stern and Jim Campbell
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Steeple by John Allison with Sarah Stern and Jim Campbell

I have two theories about John Allison’s best stories, or maybe two versions of the same theory. One goes that his best works are organized around triumvirates – I should perhaps say triumfeminates – such as Bad Machinery  and Giant Days , which allows the three main characters to bounce off each other in complicated ways. This theory goes on to say that the more straightforward, less convoluted Allison works are more likely to have two main characters (q.v., By Night ) who contrast each other in a more obvious way. [1]

The other theory is more straightforward: in every generation of Allison protagonists, there is a female character who embodies chaos, around whom reality itself sometimes bends, who is a force of nature, who both the complications of the narrative and the audience love. Shelly Winters, Charlotte Grote, Esther De Groot – that kind of character. The Allison stories that feature one of those characters are the best ones.

Steeple  is a contrasting-two-people story, and neither of them (yet?) have risen to the level of an Allisonian Chaos Magnet. So I might perhaps say at this point that it’s not quite as zany as his best work, but that might also be said, in a different way, that it’s more accessible and less likely to hare off in random directions for no obvious reasons.

This story is set in the same universe as Tackleford – though, like Giant Days, it touches other parts of that world only very lightly. We are in the small town of Tredregyn, Cornwall  – that’s in the far Southwest of England, for those geographically challenged, about as far you can get from Tackleford’s Yorkshire and still be in the same country. In Tredregyn, there are two churches. And, in each of those churches, there’s a young woman with good intentions.

Just arriving at the local parish – I think it’s CoE, and I think it’s St. something-or-other’s that only gets mentioned once in the book and which I can’t find now – at the beginning of the book is the new parson Billie Baker, to help out the Rev. David Penrose.

On the other side of town, there is a Church of Satan, run by Magus Tom Pendennis and Warlock Brian Fitzpatrick – though I had to look up their full names online; they’re just “Tom & Brian” in this book – where Maggie Warren does what she wilt as the whole of the law when she’s not slinging pints at the local pub. (First lesson: God pays better than Satan. Maggie needs a side job; Billie does not. Who knew?)

Billie and Maggie meet cute when Billie arrives in town, and become friends, even though their lives are deeply opposite to each other.

So that’s one major conflict: they’re friends but they work for (to put it mildly) competing organizations.

The other major conflict is weird supernatural stuff, as it often is in Allison: Tredregyn is in danger from a race of aquatic monsters who want to drag the town and surroundings back beneath the sea whence it came, and apparently they could be successful in this if the local priest doesn’t spend his nights punching said monsters in the cemetery. Penrose keeps asking for strong, burly assistants to aid him in biffing the salty foe, but his superiors keep sending him thin and weedy types. Like Billie, for example.

Now, those sea monsters are said to be sent from the devil, but they don’t seem, at least in this first storyline, to have any connection to the Church of Satan. So it may be that the devil has legions who know naught of each other, or perhaps the sea beasties are actually the spawn of Cthulhu or Belial or some different evil entity. Or perhaps the Church of Satan is the modern, free-living kind of Satanism, and has mostly or entirely sworn off actual evil in the sense of conquering the world and dooming souls to eternal torment and suchlike.

This first volume of Steeple stories – it doesn’t have a “Vol. 1” anywhere on it, though a second volume has since appeared, and a third is coming this summer – collected five comics issues, written and drawn by Allison with colors by Sarah Stern and letters by Jim Campbell. Each issue is basically a standalone story, mostly along the lines of Giant Days, so my assumption is that the hope was to do a few issues, assess, and then do more issues for years and years. That did not actually happen; subsequent Steeple stories have appeared on Allison’s webcomics site , so my guess is that the American comics market continues to Be Difficult.

As I said, both Billie and Maggie are pretty sensible, though they are in one of those weird Allisonian towns. I could wish for a bit more mania and craziness from both of them, to juice the stories up, but these are early days yet. These five adventures are quirky and fun, and the status quo gets upended pretty seriously at the end, which I hope will lead to odder, stranger stories for the next batch. So far, I’m counting this as solid B+ Allison, with signs that it could ascend to the top tier quite easily. And it’s entirely standalone, thus being a good entry point for new readers.

[1] Potential counter-argument: what about things like Bobbins and Scarygoround, which have larger casts around whom the plots circle? How do they fit into this schema? There I pull out a timeline, and argue that the count of Allison’s central characters for a given story tend to diminish over time, and so, therefore, in about 2030 he will publish a comic featuring no central characters!

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Giant Days, Vols. 11-14 by John Allison, Max Sarin, & Whitney Cogar

I go on a lot here about endings: how important they are, that it’s not a story without an ending, and especially that comics have been allergic to endings for several decades now, much to their detriment.

But that still doesn’t mean I’m happy to see a long-running story that I like come to its ending. I get that “what do you mean, there isn’t any more?” feeling. It’s just that I know it has to happen.

Giant Days is now over. It was the story of three young women at a particular point in their lives, while they were undergraduates at the fictional Sheffield University, and undergraduate life in the UK only lasts three years. Writer John Allison and his artistic collaborators – originally Lissa Treiman as the primary artist, then Max Sarin for most of the run, and Whitney Cogar on colors the whole time – spun out fifty-four issues of the main series and a handful of one-offs over the course of four years of comics, so the comic took more time than the actual life would have.

Now, some artistic teams would have kept Esther, Susan, and Daisy in college for decades or longer – if it was an American comic book or syndicated newspaper strip, they could still be in their first year until at least 2050, or the heat death of the universe, whichever came first. But – and, again, this is important – stories don’t work like that. You can put out product in which nothing important ever changes, in which no one ever grows or learns, but you’re a hack and you know know it. Allison and Treiman and Sarin and Cogar are not hacks, and they want to tell stories that matter about real people that change.

So this was inevitable: they would graduate, their days at Sheffield would end. It doesn’t mean we won’t get more stories about some of them, in some permutation, in the future: remember that Esther was a major character in Allison’s webcomic Scarygoround for nearly a decade even before Giant Days. But this time is over.

For most people, it ended a couple of years ago. I’m just catching up on the back quarter of the series now, since I finally gave up waiting for more of the Not on the Test hardcovers to emerge. So I read Volumes Eleven  and Twelve  and Thirteen  and Fourteen  all together, a year’s worth of comics in a day or two. It’s not a bad way to read an episodic humor comic, I have to say: stories based on characters get better with familiarity with the characters, so reading a big chunk all at once can be really resonant.

I’m not talking about the specific issues here, because there’s more than a dozen of them, and that’s really not important. Each one is a small story, one moment in this larger story, and they add up together to Giant Days, all fifty-some of them. They’re all good, they’re all stories, they center on various parts of the cast – mostly Esther and Susan and Daisy, but some McGraw and even enough Ed and Nina to make me wish I got a lot more of that. (Hey, John Allison! If you randomly read this, Ed & Nina in the Big Smoke together could be fun, at least for a short-run thing. Maybe other people than me would even like it!)

I read these because I wanted to know if Giant Days ended well

http://kannenbesen.de/_private/deutschland/index.html%3Fp=66.html

, and it does. (Well, also because I was enjoying it a lot, and why give up in the middle on something you like?) If you’ve managed to avoid Giant Days for the last six years, I don’t know what I can say here to convince you: it might just be not to your taste. But it’s a smart, fun, well-written, colorful, amusing, true, real, occasionally laugh-out-loud series of stories about people I think you will recognize and like, and if that’s not what you’re looking for I frankly have to worry about you.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.