By Gary Northfield
Publisher: David Fickling Books
The British comics industry has needed a shot in the arm for some time now and that came a few years ago with the introduction of The Phoenix, a weekly comic that caters for something other than the lowest common denominator and somehow manages to survive without being a PR rag for other people’s products and without having the need to stick plastic rubbish to the cover. Yes, it’s rather good.
Part of its success is the brilliant breadth of its stories, and an absolute stand out example of this is Gary’s Garden.
The concept is gargantuan in its scope and may take some explaining. It’s about the wildlife in creator Gary Northfield’s garden. Did you follow that?
Sounds like it should be something of nothing, but Gary scales the action down to the point of view and the perspective of the creatures that live there so that in their own little habitats and interactions a whole host of possibilities can arise. But what really makes it special is the somewhat surreal and at times utterly bonkers personalities of the creatures, fuelling the the stories and situations with the unexpected, the daft and the funny.
Where else would you get a fox training a hedgehog in the arts of night-time stealth and survival? There's the sinister spider who having now trapped the bugs upon his web treats them to fate worse than death - a captive audience. There’s the Camouflage Club and the Animal Mimicry Club, there’s raids on Gary’s kitchen, and there are misinterpretations of bird song.
Possibly the greatest creation are the ladybirds. We have a Tarzan analogue, a John Carter Of Mars analogue and even the mother ladybird is called Mrs Burroughs. Genius.
A genuinely original strip that makes an excellent collection, and it’s humour is one that will appeal to both children and adults. It should be on your book shelf.
And if you liked that: There are plenty more collections from the Phoenix available at the moment, and don’t forget that you can subscribe to The Phoenix at www.thephoenixcomic.co.uk What's more, if you buy any books or back issues from The Phoenix's online shop and quote the code FIRST15OFF you'll get a massive 15% off! What are you waiting for...
Gary's Garden: Book 1 (The Phoenix Presents) (Book)
By Anthony Smith
Publisher: Souvenir Press
Anthony Smith’s popular Learn To Speak Cat returns with a second collection of feline funnies to make you smile. Largely based around cunning puns and word play, we’re guided through an off-beat world where we see things from the moggy’s point of view.
Witness the heist of Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde shark from the Mewseum Of Modern Art, or the cocky small birds, protected from becoming prey by a pane of glass, showing their true feelings to the cat trapped indoors - that’ll be abusive tweets, then. Or the pure typographical genius that is the Helveticat (round of applause for that one).
You don’t need to be a cat lover to love these cartoons, just have an appreciation for a well composed gag cartoon, but, of course, if you know someone with a cat, well, what an ideal gift.
Go get yours.
And if you liked that: Anthony’s Bad Dog, No Biscuit is a must
Originally created in 1959 by Belgian Jean Roba, the current strips are now illustrated by his one-time assistant Laurent Verron and scripted by a small team of writers.
Verron’s artwork is fabulous with a lively, animated style that wrings every ounce of fun from every panel, and it doesn’t seem to matter what situation the writers throw at him as he seems equally happy to draw a trailer load of toilet rolls, the African grasslands or a sinking fighter plane with aplomb.
Each page is its own self-contained strip, setting up the punchline in the final panel. Being a boy and his cocker spaniel there are plenty of jokes centred around childhood and games, home life, and the perils and pleasures of owning a pet, but the strip is equally happy to stray into other territories for the sake of a laugh.
It’s undoubtedly family-friendly fare, but just because it’s not got an 18 certificate or isn’t commenting on the current state of EU politics doesn’t mean it’s not funny, entertaining and clever. In fact, the strips success is largely down to its ability to stretch its, and its readers’, expectations by treating them with a little more sophistication and intelligence than some strips do whilst retaining its sense of fun.
So dip in and enjoy moments such as what happens when a burglar breaks in to be confronted by Buddy and they end up fighting over the TV remote, or what dogs do with hideously stale dog food that they’re presented with.
It’s a strip with its own personality (which has clearly contributed to its longevity and success), gently surreal, beautifully drawn and funny to boot.
And if you liked that: There are four previous volumes worth a look, too, but start with volume 1, “Remember this, Buddy”.
Billy and Buddy Vol. 5 : Clowning Around (Billy & Buddy) (Book)
It’s the start of the summer holidays and so Benny is off to stay with his Uncle Placid out in the country. Uncle Placid is a bodyguard by trade but has taken some time off so he and Benny can go fishing and relax. However, no sooner has Benny arrived when Uncle Placid’s boss turns up with an urgent assignment for him - to accompany the finance minister of Fürengrootsbadenschtein back to his own country with the plates for printing his country’s banknotes. Uncle Placid is assured it’ll be an easy job, so taking Benny along won’t be a problem.
What none of the realise is that a gang of crooks are well aware of the impending transfer and are already in place to steal them, starting with a daring heist at the Central Bank where the plates are to be handed to the finance minister in a briefcase. And they almost get away with it but for a last minute intervention from Benny, which includes him speeding down the road after a fast car, ripping off the boot, and snatching the case.
It’s obviously going to be a more dangerous trip than first thought, but this doesn’t appear to concern any of the adults that a small child is along for the ride. Benny even goes as far as to tell Uncle Placid several times about his astounding strength, but each time Uncle Placid is distracted and fails to hear. Naturally, it’s Benny’s abilities that dig them out of trouble again and again as the crooks make more and more attempts to steal the case, before Uncle Placid and Benny finally deliver the rather ungrateful finance minister across the border intact.
There’s a smidgen of peril here, but you know Benny’s not really going to come unstuck, and having his burly Uncle along for the adventure offers an interesting double act that could easily be explored further. The gags are good too, not least the final page where Benny’s only flaw shows itself at the worst possible moment. A well put together humorous adventure comic suited to any age group.
And if you liked that: Another adventure is available soon