Comics are for grown-ups

Skellington

Skellington
Scary Go Round book 3
by John Allison

As the title intimates, this is the third collection of Allison’s Scary Go Round web comic strips in print, in this case taken from May 2004 to March 2005. All of those comics are still available, for free, on the Scary Go Round website so why would I (well, okay, Tim) buy this in book form?

First of all, it’s a book! And we like books. They are good. Slightly more seriously, I struggle a little to follow a storyline of any length in a webcomic. Too much clicking, too much waiting. I am impatient like that. Also, Allison has thrown in some bonus features – rewritten bits, introductions to each story and some sketches he did for character development. I really like the extra insight that this gives. And last but not least, we buy his books to support an author who is creating great work.

But what is Scary Go Round? Well, previous to this book I had only read snatches of it over the years so I am almost a newcomer myself. As far as I can tell, it is a comic that follows the lives of a group of mostly 20-somethings living in Yorkshire, to whom insane things happen often. But there’s the occasional story that doesn’t involve the regular characters at all, which is either to confuse the reader or to give Allison a break/change/fun new experiment.

In this volume, most stories centre around housemates Amy and Shelley. Shelley is sensible, responsible and works as the mayor’s assistant. Amy is ditsy, haphazard and works for a crazy inventor guy who she may or may not have a crush on. There’s a fairly large cast of regular/recurring characters, including Shelley’s former housemate Fallon who is some kind of kickass secret agent (in fact, she has her own book, titled Girl Spy).

Storylines include Shelley and Amy going to a death metal concert, and a teapot time machine. From mundane daily life to extraordinary oddness, the dialogue is funny and the interaction between characters warm and realistic.

According to Tim, who knows about these things, Scary Go Round and its predecessor Bobbins (from which several characters survived) were some of the earliest webcomics and are important in terms of carving a new genre and format. Scary Go Round itself has now ended, but Allison’s new webcomic Bad Machinery is going strong.

Published 2005. Print version no longer available but I’m hoping the e-book will be added to the Scary Go Round store soon.

Action hero with an immaculate beehive

Modesty Blaise: Top Traitor
by Peter O’Donnell (story) and Jim Holdaway (art)

Modesty Blaise is proper pulp fiction. Her adventures were told over 40 years in newspaper comic strips, novels and a graphic novel. Creator Peter O’Donnell lovingly crafted this magnificent heroine scenario after scenario in which to show off her…particular skills.

This collection, recently re-released, gathers together the strips of three stories – about a missing spy, a robbers ring and some deadly secretaries. They are from early in the character’s run and, while dribs and drabs about her past are revealed, there’s still a lot of mystery.

So who is Modesty Blaise? She is the former head of a criminal gang, now putting her talents to better use as a sort-of independent crime solver. Imagine Charlie’s Angels if all the angels and Charlie were one character with absolutely no affiliation to any government or government agency.

Modesty is wealthy (now), well spoken, well dressed and knows a lot of important people. She’s also smart, skilled with an array of weapons (including her body) and fearless. In these particular stories she’s a very 1960s heroine, with a beehive, unnaturally long eyelashes and an endless supply of turtleneck sweaters.

This collection includes an interview with Peter O’Donnell in which he is at great pains to point out that she is not a spy (despite what the film posters said in 1967) and that she’s not a feminist. She’s a fantastically strong female lead who does usually save the day herself, by leading her team, but she doesn’t spout any political or socialist morals and she’s certainly not afraid to use her body to get what she wants. And that is one of the things that makes this series so very pulpy. Modesty gets naked or near-naked a lot. She sometimes has a man in her bed. She answers to no-one.

She doesn’t do it all alone, though. Her faithful right-hand man and best friend is Willie Garvin. He is the muscle – and the artwork really emphasises that – and has a particular skill at throwing knives. He’s rougher than Modesty, with a broader accent and a little difficulty blending in at the smarter places they attend. He’s not as clever as she is but he knows her so well that he can predict her every move and vice versa. It’s a fantastic relationship made all the more sweet by the complete lack of sex. They frequently undress – or find themselves in a state of undress – around each other and do not bat an eyelid. Willie has his girls and Modesty has her men and that’s separate.

So Modesty Blaise is a great character, but are they great stories? I think “great” might be too far. They’re good fun. More realistic and single-purpose than Bond but predictable enough that you’re not on the edge of your seat when Modesty and/or Willie are in trouble. The dialogue isn’t particularly realistic and I think if I only had access to these stories as one strip per week I’d have lost interest. However, it was and still is hugely successful, in syndication all over the world. The artwork is very good but the reproduction lets it down, with some strips having the appearance of a bad photocopy.

There has been talk for years of Tarantino making a Modesty Blaise film, possibly even using the screenplay Peter O’Donnell wrote in 2002. It would be a perfect mix and I hope that it eventually happens.

These strips first published 1965–66 in the London Evening Standard.
This collection published 2004 by Titan Books.

UPDATE: I just watched the 2003 film My Name is Modesty, which Tarantino appears to have stuck his name on at the last minute (“presented by”) in lieu of making a Modesty film himself. It’s US produced, filmed in Romania, with British lead actors and not using O’Donnell’s script. It’s an origin story and I actually quite enjoyed it, after expecting an extremely cheesy affair based on the cover of the DVD that we picked up cheap as an ex-rental from an off-license.