On paper, smell and Pantone: A review of Solipsistic Pop, issue 2

Solipsistic Pop is an an anthology of Britain-based comic book makers. I’ll save you the long spiel and give you the short – that’s it exactly, short comics put together well.

Like good pop music, all of the comics in the anthology are short – some sweet, some bittersweet but all with great force.

I’m not saying that everything within collection 2 is abso-blindin-lutely amazing – I’m no longer given to hyperbole [unless it’s a particularly startling episode of something I might have liked since I was 8…] – but there is a high level of quality throughout that gives any moments of what might be considered minor weakness an edge and a group benefit.

[Sylvia Plath levitates a dog only to think of her obituary] Sylvia Plath: World famous dog-levitator and poet. [Sylvia closes the blind and continues to write.]

To start at the end then, which – like the included Funnie paper’s middle-section, cryptic Quadropticon – is at the beginning [yes, I did form that sentence to be as cryptic.]

I start with this because I started with this – I opened the book and the The Funnies fell out the back like a hidden surprise in what you thought was already a pretty interesting gift. Steven Collins writes and draws the aforementioned Sylvia Plath dog-levitator hilarity on the front Funnies page but that whole page is excellent satire, well drawn, with witty observation.

There follows two pages from Anna Saunders and Julia Scheele that I have to admit I prefer both of their work that has featured in other sections and/or issues of Solipsistic Pop. Their pages aren’t particularly weak, per se, but aren’t quite at the high level set by others. Anne Holiday and Tom Humberstone [the editor of Solipsistic Pop and a Whitechapel regular like myself] give us a slice of suburban wonder and weird with Xena the Warrior Cat which sits happily illustrated between some Little european Nemo dream and Britain’s pastoral New Town but it is the pace and spacing which set it apart; it leaves you slightly perturbed but also hungry for more of that feeling.

Mark Oliver gives us more utter, mind-bendingly brilliant weirdness in issue 2 as he did with Jailbyrd Jim in issue 1. This isn’t just an illustration – take a look at the link to the preview in the previous sentence and you’ll see that it’s practically a puzzle. A maze, a game, an illustration that doesn’t ask the eyes for caress but instead challenges them to flip upside down and take another look then do it again until those eyes form part of some new appendage. Some commentators have compared Mark Oliver to Tom Neely and they’ve got a point there but only one of comparison because Mark is so, so very much, weirder and more interesting.

The ever reliable Matthew Sheret gives us a very non-mathematical slice of darked, darkening, and eventually lit romance in Mean, Median, Mode with Julia Scheele illustrating the three parts complimentarily and fiercely. As in the last issue, Scheele’s work is given direction and small but important boundaries – much like her excellent work on 69 Love Songs – by Sheret’s writing here and so enriches both. Like good coffee and chocolate, they mix well.

The Trouble

What follows then are two pages of what a good proportion of people would call quirky comics – comics that people read with their ‘knowing’ hat on, “I read this, though I know its illustration to be simply done, because the illustrator knows it is simply done and therefore highly intellectualised.”

Which is fine, it really is.

I’ve no real problem with it and realise that it fits The Funnies as a category but, unfortunately, it’s not for me. I chuckled inwardly a little but can’t say that I liked them enough to laughed out loud as I did at Marc Ellerby’s Polar Opposites that followed. Joe Decie’s Google Walks is more a philosophical funny that reads like watercoloured comics but is an interesting finish to what is essentially an included newspaper.

On Paper in the Middle

Sparing you my current obsession with Haptic Philosophies and the importance of print, let me just say that the aforementioned included newspaper alongside the high quality of the printed book feel great.

In an age of free-digital, it’s of importance that a paid-analog thing impresses itself on your hands.

Solipsistic Pop gets this right.
Very right.

From the newspaper’s light size and feel to the card covers of the book and that smell that comes with small press printing. I’m not one to overly-fetishize a book but, if I were,  this book would be amongst those I did. A beautiful thing to behold in all that words senses.

On Pantone

The book itself uses only a small number of colours, favouring black, white and blue but it is in that choice of a small Pantone range that the comics stand out and speak for the illustrators themselves.

The Funnies are in all colours and this contrast is a good editorial choice. It gives the book a distinct flavour – were I a better critic, I might discuss how this sets it apart from multi-coloured Beanos, Dandys, Eagles and even Franco-Belgian Pilotes by encouraging us to invest in the world of this particular comic that is [as Kristyna Baczynski‘s Sapling exemplifies] both dark and light, old in knowing and yet still developing to something new each time – much like Nobrow but distinctly more lo-fi and, if I’m honest, more interesting because of it.

Though the lo-fi ‘quirks’ of The Funnies didn’t work for me in the newspaper, quick-fire medium, it’s within the book that they stand out and take on a life of their own. Here they’ve an opportunity to give you a narrative reason to be interested, to appreciate why they’re using that lo-fi feel – in many cases to represent the mundane-wonder and unexpected nature of experience…admittedly sometimes through anthropomorphism – and to therefore make you question how far what you’re reading represents what you’re living. It then skirts the Middle line between the two and gives you a set of comics that range in themes from youth to age, reaching new understanding and becoming confused, having your life saved and ending your own – experience and the lack of experience.

Aptly, a conversation between a graduated student and an old arthritic man in The Tears of Tommy Cooper sits just a little before the middle of the book. The middle of the book is The River – an effective and effectively Zen piece on time and being from Anna Saunders.

Fruitless as it would be to review each comic in the anthology – I’ll leave that to anyone that’s read this far of my own review – I’ll instead give what else stands out for me: 1987‘s use of simple but rich stylised colouring; the utter, slightly creepy weirdness of Gnomes; the existentialism of Mud; the moment’s of comedy in Ghosts [now there’s an illustrator that does remind me of Tom Neely]; and the darkness of Kept that reminds me of my mother and makes me guilty for not being able to know whether or not it is like that.

“Oh my God she’s a PozzyPop!”
[- I giggled a lot at this]

A goodly proportion of this review will only make sense if you’ve read it and that’s the point –

Solipsistic Pop, issue 2 is worth the £12.

It is an anthology about feeling in the Middle – whatever that may mean to you. Even through it’s faults, it is an excellent anthology and one you can return to.

Go out and buy it. Hell, you even get a free tote bag to carry it in.

If you can’t afford to buy it, ask to borrow my copy. I doubt I’ll let you – it’s too beautiful to place into the hands of strangers but you’ll never know if you don’t ask.

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