Another anthology title – this one masterminded by Rob Jackson, artist behind Great Deeds Against The Dead and Bog Wizards, and who already has one good anthology under his belt with the Pasty Anthology. Gin Palace features a few names you may already be familiar with from the FPI blog and a few lesser known artists. Although Jackson says there’s no theme to Gin Palace, many of the artists involved have taken the idea of the title and produced alcohol related stories (hmmm, comic creators and alcohol – who would have thought it eh?).
The main problem with Gin Palace is the length of many of the strips; they’re just a little too short for their subject matter – 2 or 3 pages may be enough for a quick, funny gag strip, but anything else really does need a few more pages.
Jackson’s tale; “The Ballad Of Hatty Jack” is a silly, slightly surreal romp through Victorian England where the hat really does make the man, and there are few hats bigger than Hatty Jack, an accidental crimefighter. There’s fun to be had playing on the Victorian setting, chance for Jackson to put a lot of funny incidental jokes into his pages and the inclusion of Sherlock Holmes was a fine, fine touch -
“call himself Murdock Bones … it’s amazing the amount of laudanum he puts away. Wears a fake beard and glasses and a fake nose …. always covered in make up to make himself look dirty .. dresses like an actor who is playing a tramp”
(A city of hats, Murgatroyd & Urchins Ye Olde Laudanum Shop – all part of the rich comedy vein running through Rob Jackson’s Hatty Jack – from The Gin Palace anthology.)
Then there’s Francesca Cassavetti’s 8 page strip: “Measuring Up“. As with pretty much everything of Cassavetti’s that I’ve seen there’s a delightful lightness of touch in both the sentimental, nostalgic story and her rounded, flowing artwork. From childhood to adulthood Cassavetti reminisces over her relationship with alcohol with some typically honest moments that many of us will recognise.
(Francesca Cassavetti’s first memories of drink, gentle, comforting sentimental stuff – but beautifully done. From The Gin Palace anthology.)
But it’s Dave Hughes, whose previous “Thomas Wogan Is Dead” was reviewed and thoroughly enjoyed here, who really impresses with his stupid but fun science story about a scientific experiment gone awry; “Little Scary Monsters“. Somewhere between Thomas Wogan and now, his style has really sharpened up, his lines are tighter and the whole 5 pages just look really, really good. Noticeably he’s also sticking with the computer font, developed for the reissue of Thomas Wogan from Tabella Press. And it does help to make his strip look far more polished and professional than everything else in Gin Palace. An insignificant thing perhaps and no amount of good lettering will help a bad strip, but when applied to something good like Dave Hughes, it just adds another level of surface polish.
(Recreating Miller and Urey’s famous experiment to create amino acids and generate the basic building blocks of life – although they never reported little scary monsters as a by-product. Maybe they had a secret room full of them? Dave Hughes art from The Gin Palace anthology.)
And after those three strips, Gin Palace is full of decent, but relatively inconsequential strips, short on page count and struggling to be anything more than enjoyable diversions:
Ant Mercer’s “Interview” is a slight two pager on how not to interview for a new job – handy hints; don’t use the phrase “Ladies. I. Am. The. Shit“, don’t swallow a spider and whatever you do, definitely don’t throw up on the desk. There’s another single page word gag later on with “Kennedy“, and both made me think that Mercer’s style looks nice, but there’s just not enough here to really see.
Simon M gives us “In The Gin Palace“, a well drawn three pager on the frustrations of trying to get a drink in a crowded bar. It’s too short, but shows great promise, a lovely cartooning style and beautifully constructed flowing panels:
(Simon M – In The Gin Palace, from the Gin Palace anthology.)
“Rain” by Jared Rosello is another short strip at just 3 pages, but it does work as it’s merely a quick, wordless one idea gag with some great cartooning. Rosello’s a new name to me but I can’t help but think I’ve seen his stuff somewhere else, either that or I’ve seen the style before – who am I thinking he’s drawing like? Answers in the comments please.
(Jarod Rosello – The Rain, from the Gin Palace anthology.)
Gin Palace ends with the weakest of the lot; Lee Johnson’s “Sin Cat” which certainly isn’t helped by a few layout and technical problems which offsets some of the pages and cuts tops and bottoms of pages off. It doesn’t make it unreadable, but it doesn’t do anything to help. The strip itself is trying too hard to be radical and different and would have been better served by tightening up both narrative and art.
All said, Gin Palace is good, but not excellent. With the likes of Solipsistic Pop and Birdsong already out recently, it’s just that little bit off the pace. There’s just not enough meat on it’s bones and no matter how good the strips are, especially the three by Jackson, Cassavetti and Hughes, the majority of what’s on offer is just that little bit too slight, that little bit too forgettable. Having said that, Rosello and Simon M. are two I’d very much like to see more of.
Gin Palace is available from Rob Jackson, priced £2.50 at his website.