“Passive Smoking On The Last Train Home.” COMICS! Sometimes It's All About Family, Innit?

Sunday, and I've been caught a mite short. So I'll just blast through this and see how we do. It's an old Vertigo/DC Comic you might want to look out for in the dollar bins. And I'll tell you for why after the "More..."  photo Mob01B_zpsbbwxws0l.jpg MOBFIRE by Pleece, Ushaw & Gaspar

Anyway, this... MOBFIRE #1-6 Art by Warren Pleece Written by Gary Ushaw Lettered by Gaspar Logo and publication design by Rian Hughes Art & Text © Gary Ushaw & Warren Pleece All other material © DC Comicss DC Comics/Vertigo, $2.50 each (1994-1995)

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Inheriting the family firm at short notice due to the sudden demise of a parent is always a tricky business. For Jack Kellor it's trickier than usual since the Firm his dad ran was decidedly dodgy, not entirely kosher, a bit on the illegit side, you feel me. And that's putting it kindly. See, John Kellor's business was mucky business. Crime if you must. And if you really must then come tooled up, but mind it's with something a bit tastier than a shooter, because in this slightly-to-the-side-of-reality world the scallywags have got a bit of the supernaturals on their side. See, way back when you could leave your door unlocked at night (or were stupid enough to think you could) Jack Kellor ran into a black fellow in a severe state of duress and saved his bacon. Turned out he wasn't just some bloke over here to fill in the post-war labour shortage by driving a bus. Nah, only a blooming witch doctor wanne? And thereafter indebted to the man who saved his hide (because that's how magic works, and who am I to argue?) this Bocor gave John Kellor a decided edge, at least for a bit. After all, it may well have been magic and all that, but in the wrong hands it was just a new weapon, so the other gangs picked themselves some tasty talent handy with the old hocus-pocus and there you go, Bob's your uncle and Fanny's your aunt. That's the world Jack's now chucked into, bad enough to make you wish you'd stayed in bed. But Jack's a chip off the old block in that he has ambition, but where his dad's ambition was to build it up, Jack's going to burn it down. Unless the Bocor gets a whiff of it, because he owed Jack's dear old dad, not Jack; in fact he owes Jack shit, and it looks like he's going to try his level best to make him drown in it. So, no, inheriting the family business might not be all it's cracked up to be for Jack.

 photo Mob05B_zpsbumttsgh.jpg MOBFIRE by Pleece, Ushaw & Gaspar

The six issues of MOBFIRE were published in 1994-1995 and thus far remain uncollected. This can only have been due to poor sales as pretty much everything was collected back then. If MOBFIRE did sell poorly it wasn't because of any lack of quality, but probably due to the lack of familiarity with the talent involved. I mean, I have no idea who Gary Ushaw is. I hope he's healthy and life has been kind to him, because he wrote a pretty good comic here. The first few issues of MOBFIRE are the densest and tightest, with by far the best writing which serves to suck you in quite nicely. Ushaw and Pleece then keep you on your toes with a surprising development at the fourth issue point, which then results in a lengthy guest appearance by John Constanine. As nicely written as that part is it's an odd choice for a creator owned series, and won't help the chances of a TPB now the rights have probably reverted. Shame, because for all of its six issues MOBFIRE is a pretty good time ,with a varied cast, some surprises and betrayals and it all ends in a bizarre fiasco of violence which is delightfully insane and resembles a Pampers advert directed by 1980s David Cronenberg.

 photo Mob06B_zpswe6hyzfg.jpg MOBFIRE by Pleece, Ushaw & Gaspar

Whoever Ushaw is and whatever he does now, MOBFIRE shows he could write a tidy little comic. The characters are varied and nicely sketched, including but not limited to the addict sister, the mother whose bitterness is rooted in denial of the filth her life style rests on, the chipper best mate and Jack's lady friend (who is not only a woman of colour, but also clearly stronger than Jack in every way without it coming across as unctuous pandering). Ushaw's also a dab hand at that '90s Brit Talent staple the Stream Of Consciousness Babble. You know , the one Morrison and Gaiman dabbled in, Milligan excelled at, and the ridiculously neglected John Smith claimed as his own kingdom and within which he has since dwelt, seeing off all comers quite successfully. Ushaw holds his own in this tricky arena, but his effort impresses perhaps more than it should as he cleverly uses it to confound any creeping misgivings about his portrayal of the Bocor as a largely monosyllabic slab of black Evil. Dude's got depths, just pray you never see them. While the whole thing's played mainly straight Ushaw's not above a bit of playfulness. At one point the criminal enterprise is explicitly explained in terms which make you momentarily wonder whether Ushaw is in fact describing the Free Market as gangsterism. Which he is. (As they say - it's funny because it's true.) Then there’s a Scots bloke who has spooky mirror powers, and if he isn't a cheeky riff on Mirror Master then I'm Beryl Reid. (I'm not Beryl Reid). Not only that but the wee scunner ends a violently bloody encounter by recreating a visual joke made famous by Harry Worth.

 photo Mob04B_zpskadganva.jpg MOBFIRE by Pleece, Ushaw & Gaspar

Don't worry if you're coming up blank there. Harry Worth is a particularly British reference point and Ushaw is pretty sweet at including these without over-egging the colloquial pudding. The singularly British references are there, but they don't run around on fire screaming in a catastrophic and self defeating bid for attention (see James Robinson's FIREARM. Or don't). E.g. at one point a couple of thick necked guards are partaking in some manly banter, and one mentions he won't be going “up The Arsenal” because “it's the big wedding on The Street.” Sure, the football reference is pretty basic, but the latter part is interesting because he's referring there to a wedding on the popular British TV soap opera Coronation Street (AKA “The Street”) rather than an actual wedding on his street. Britain not actually being that big on street weddings, since the weather is for shit and the folk are mostly miserable social inverts. Basically, for the duration of the book if you get the reference everything's better, but if you miss it there's no harm done. Best way really.

 photo Mob02B_zpshkn6n2qa.jpg MOBFIRE by Pleece, Ushaw & Gaspar

The uniquely British atmosphere is aided no end by the art of Warren Pleece which makes the book worthy of rediscovery all on its lonesome. Warren Pleece is a talented comic book artist, by which I mean he clearly understand the nuts and bolts of putting a page together, but more than that Warren Pleece is a singular talent, because over and above that stuff he understands the importance of conveying a sense of place. The place here is Britain and it looks like Britain. It doesn’t always, not in the comics. There's a bit more to it than Big Ben and a red bus, hard as that may be to believe. Pleece doesn't get much space to play with, but he makes the space he's given work like work is going out of fashion. In crowd scenes everyone is dressed differently, and there are a range of ages on display, but everyone has that singularly worn out and worn down lack of finish which marks every Brit out in a crowd. The shop signs proclaim “MARKS & SPENCER”, “C&A” and “WOOLWORTHS”. Yeah, Woolworths has gone now, but it used to be there; it used to be everywhere in the UK, and so Pleece's art captures not just a place but also a time. And there's also the infernal golden arches in a nod to the cultural homogenisation only just getting a toe hold back then. And Pleece packs all that in one panel on a seven panel page.

 photo Mob03B_zpszkv4hfh6.jpg MOBFIRE by Pleece, Ushaw & Gaspar

On another page he slides into sight the delights of typical pub grub, discreetly colouring the drinks with a typically urinous wash. Another panel on the same page shows us there’s a man in an England shirt with a tat on his neck (in every pub in England there's a man in an England shirt with a tat on his neck. Either that or he just left, or he's due in shortly. Bide your time and he'll be by, the man in the England shirt with a tat on his neck). Ella, who Jack runs with, lives in a flat and Pleece treats us to the sight of laundry flapping on the balcony and contrasts the visually tedious edifice with a short arsed but far more characterful terrace. In one panel, that is, on an eight panel page. Get the drift? Pleece's faces are distinctive with their porcelain sheen and implacable drift chinward towards Punchinello levels of grotesquery, and it's easily these that make the most marked impression. But the fact Pleece bothers to give them a fully realised world to move through lifts his work from the quirkily accomplished and into the great. Because of course it's a fully-realised world; it's our world and capturing that is a kind of magic I can believe in. Utltimatley though the book works because Ushaw and Pleece are firmly in creative cahoots, any doubts about that are kicked to the curb with the bit of business in #5 on p. 9 & 10 involving the flowers in the cafe. It does nothing to propel the plot, but does everything to assure you Ushaw and Pleece are having fun, and doing a bang up job while they are at it. Look, what I'm getting at is Ushaw's writing and Pleece's places make MOBFIRE VERY GOOD! So if you see it, tuck in!

NEXT TIME: Go on, guess! That's right – COMICS!!!

"...Spring-Heeled Jack, The Duke of Clarence, Walter Sickert, Arthur Askey..." COMICS! Sometimes It's The Full English.

In which I sulkily refuse to acknowledge my recent absence (ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no lies) and just go straight into talking about a comic about an old man who fills his days by chuntering incessantly about nonsense to a disinterested and increasingly uncomfortable audience in the low single digits. I can’t imagine what attracted me to it.  photo Figgs02B_zps0f9erfnl.jpg ALBY FIGGS by Warren Pleece

Anyway this…

ALBY FIGGS by Warren “The Boy” Pleece Blank Slate, £8.99/$13.99 (2014) © Warren Pleece 2014

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What’s in a name, eh? There are worse places to start after all, so over here in the UK Alby is an archaic diminutive for the name Albert, one more commonly encountered today in the heathen lands of Australia and New Zealand, or in movies with astoundingly literal titles in which young men run around CGI mazes. Then there’s the fact that the fruits of figs(sic) are renowned for their laxative and irritant qualities. Keep you loose they do; sparing you the details, sparing your blushes. Basically “Alby” tells us he’s an old geezer, while “Figgs” metaphorically encapsulates (oooh!) his tendency to run off at the mouth and cause low level distress in his listeners. He can talk the hind legs off a donkey, and no mistake.

 photo Figgs04B_zpshnmp0y1t.jpg ALBY FIGGS by Warren Pleece

Alby’s a pretty common character type in the UK but probably less so in, say, America, as falling prey to his type of harmless verbals depends on a bone deep politeness and a terror of causing offence being present in his target. Now no one wants to come right out and say it, America, but you are a bit uncouth for that, more of a British ”thing”, donchaknow. Mind you, truth to tell, Old Blighty’s getting a bit brusque too. There was a time though, there was a time, when you couldn’t make it from one end of a shopping esplanade to the other without being buttonholed by some loquacious old dear, whose weirdly needy extemporising combined with your repressive upbringing would lead to you nodding glazedly through a highly dubious reminiscence involving Christopher Biggins, Hot Gossip and a Fray Bentos pie while time turned treacley around you. You don’t get that so much now. Seriously, you don’t miss it ‘til it’s gone, do you?

Of course you do still get buttonholed, but it’s buttonholing of a different order, usually by shifty eyed men asking for “bus fare”. However, in a nice nod to traditional values it is still an unspoken but required formality to humour their entire spiel and enter into the shared fantasy that this “bus” isn’t made of heroin or Tennants Extra. No word of a lie, they look really hurt if you just give them the money and hustle off with a “Yeah, sure.” Look at you like you just shat on the social contract. Heart-breaking it is. Not that you’d care, America. Anyway, Alby’s a different breed to those lost to the phantom bus routes of addiction; his addiction is to attention and he’s not after handouts; the only currency he wants is conversation. Nah, I just said that for cheap alliterative effect. Conversation’s a two way street and Alby’s a one way diversion which adds hours to your journey. The scenic route, if you will. He just wants your attention; he just wants someone to listen. I know, I know, I’ve totally lost you now, America. Listening to people, what’s that about; little wonder we lost our Empire. Hang in there, America, I’ll pick something violent next time, promise.

 photo Figgs05B_zpsdj7xvur1.jpg ALBY FIGGS by Warren Pleece

Anyway, long story short, Warren “The Boy” Pleece captures that familiar character perfectly in the pages of this book. And, bless his cotton socks, he doesn’t just go the one-note route of having Alby yammer on in every episode with the same punchline, strip upon strip until the world freezes in the dark of a dead sun. This probably explains why Alby Figgs isn’t in The Metro every day. One for the commuters there. Heart and soul of the city they are, bless. No, instead Alby Figgs’ fundamentally mundane yet undeniably emotive encounters are instead confined to this tidy little book destined for the perusal of picto-lit sophisticates like what we is. And make no mistake as picto-lit goes this is some sophisticated stuff on show. Now, language is Alby’s bread and butter and Pleece pulls a blinder in this regard. Colloquialisms abound and the rhythm of every dodgy discourse rings true. Mind you, it’s not chat city, it’s not all wall to wall prattle. No, it’ll probably surprise you to learn that for a book in which the main character lives to talk Pleece uses silence to superb effect. Artistically ironical, I’d call that; shrewd stuff like Melvyn might bray on The South Bank Show. Pick of the litter is the strip called “Sis” set on a bus, which with its lengthy silence interrupted by a hurried and carefully neutral farewell contains such depths of truth that it could just as well be titled “The English Character in Four Panels”. ‘S dead clever is what I’m getting at. You know there’s some serious smarts on show when a strip called “The Rickenbacker Falls” is set in a guitar shop and involves not just a Rickenbacker falling, but also a decisive encounter between Alby and his nemesis which ends with doubt as to whether any fatalities have occurred. Geddit, like that Sherlock fellow, yeah? No, not that new soshul medjah effete child one. No, the old one, Rathbone, The Cush; we had proper Holmeses in them days. Oh aye, Alby’s got a nemesis, his very own mouthy Moriaty and they’ve got a history too.

 photo Figgs01B_zpsj7npsvqp.jpg ALBY FIGGS by Warren Pleece

Given that the book is composed of single page strips of four panels Peece packs them with content while keeping a visual lightness of touch. Proper storytelling, I’m talking about there; the uncanny transference of intangible but weighty emotions via the alchemical magic of words and pictures. Comics, yeah? Not everyone can make it work, but them that can shouldn’t be ignored just because they veer past the flash and the crass to focus on concerns closer to home. Thanks to Pleece’s deft storytelling touch and peerless cartooning chops, what could easily have been an exercise in sour tempered repetition instead involves a rounded character with a lively supporting cast whose commonplace days casts a wider light on all our lives. The nub, if you will is it’s just a book about an old bloke who likes to talk, but it’s bloody well done.

 photo Figgs03B_zpsylf3arvi.jpg ALBY FIGGS by Warren Pleece

Alby Figgs is a little joy, a little gem of a book. One which, in common with its titular character, tells you volumes about this country but only if you’ll only take the time to stop and listen. Go on, bend an ear and make an old man happy. VERY GOOD!

NEXT TIME: I haven’t the foggiest, me old mucker. Spare some change for some – COMICS!!!

Wait, What? Ep. 120: Beat Up

 photo f8dabd57-4b13-4eff-b84a-507a8760a3bd_zpsb112cfea.jpgStunner stuff from D'Israeli in Stickleback, currently appearing in 2000 A.D.

Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends! (If I was Stan Lee, I'd offer a No-Prize to those of you who really get that reference...but thank goodness there is only one Stan and I'm not him.)

Join me after the jump for show notes for Wait, What? Ep. 120, won't you?  (Yes, there is one this week.  I assure you, I'm not pulling an April Fool's Joke on you a week late...OR AM I????

Nope, I'm not.

By the way, we offer on-air apologies but let me apologize here for not giving you all an on-site update about last week's unexpected skip week.   In the future, I'll try to throw something together to let website-oriented Whatnauts aware that we won't be around.  At the end of this 'cast, however, we mention our skip weeks for the next six weeks or so, so feel free to get out your calendar if it will ease your anxiety.

What was I...?  Oh, right.  Show notes!

0:00-16:44:  Well, nothing says upbeat like talking about dead people!  Graeme and Jeff briefly contemplate the passing of Roger Ebert and -- in a bit more detail -- the passing of Carmine Infantino.  Also included in the discussion (but still alive as far as we know): Terry Austin; Bill Sienkiewicz; John Peele; advocacy v. shrill pedanticism; our own critical failings; etc. 16:44-37:01:  And as we skate merrily onto thinner ice:  Age of Ultron; the Guardians of the Galaxy Infinite Comics; and a new thesis (All-New Avenging Thesis!) from Jeff about the work of Brian Michael Bendis.  And more discussion about the concept of naive cynicism.  It could well be very frustrating for those who have to participate in this conversation via comment threads (or brought it up in the hopes we would stop talking about this kind of thing) but there are some surprising turns in here, I think. 37:01-50:10:  The first of three things Graeme really wants to talk about this week: (1) Zombo by Al Ewing and Henry Flint (currently appearing in 2000 A.D.), which also includes praise for Stickleback by Ian Edginton and the amazing art by D'Israeli, and Dandridge by Alec Worley and Warren Pleece. 50:10-54:41:  By contrast, Jeff thought he would love Agent Gates, the super powered quasi-steampunk graphic novel parody of Downton Abbey by Camaren Subhiyah and Kyle Hilton. 54:41-1:14:14: The second of three things Graeme wants to talk about:  (2) Stormwatch #19 by Jim Starlin.  Graeme is perhaps not so pleased.  We also end up talking a bit about The Inhumans over at Marvel and openly pray for the return of HEX (which probably isn't usually referred to in all-caps like that but it gives you an idea of our fervor.) 1:14:14-1:14:49:  Intermission One!  (And what is probably my current favorite of Graeme's stinger tunes for us.) 1:14:49-1:24:04: Graeme has been on NPR! Jeff has left a glass of water in the next room! And Graeme's third thing he really wants to talk about this week:  (3) Marta Acosta's She-Hulk Diaries. 1:24:04-1:37:52:  But Jeff, all he wants to do is talk about Giant-Man.  Giant-Man, Giant-Man, Giant-Man! 1:37:52-1:46:53: And Graeme reminds Jeff that Avengers A.I. which is coming soon. And then we spoil Age of Ultron #3.  (You're welcome.)  Also included in the conversation (and filed under "Stuff Jeff doesn't know until Graeme tells him"): Marvel's next event and the death of Formspring.  (I actually had just a comma there originally since I thought there might be more to the list, and was tempted to leave it just so it would look like the title of Marvel's next event was "The Death of Formspring.") 1:46:53-1:56:41:  "Jeff, tell me about a comic you liked!"  Jeff's answer?  Season Five of Mad Men.  Includes the phrase, "the Thor vs. Hulk of my heart."  Bonus topic:  What do we read comics for?  (And for extra credit, guess which one of us really hates that question.) 1:56:41-2:14:07:  Graeme read DC Showcase Presents: The Flash, Vol. 4, so we get to talk more about Carmine Infantino, as well as Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, our favorite things about Infantino's art, whether Neal Adams destroyed comic book art, Dave Cockrum, and more. [Note: Jeff mistakenly says Dan Day at least once here when he means Gene Day. Oy.] 2:14:07-end:  Closing comments! Apologies, promises, blood oaths, and so the cycle is complete.  And lo, the cycle shall start again!

It's possible (yes, really.  Highly possible, even) that this podcast is already on iTunes.  But, as always, we make it available here for your delectation.  Are you not delectated?

Wait, What? Ep. 120: Beat Up

Oh, and don't forget to check out Abhay's thoughts about Scarlet #6, or John K (UK)'s thoughts on Robert Aickman, or any of the other material by people who don't have to read the coattails of a talented and charismatic Scotsman.   And, as always, we thank you for listening and hope you enjoy!