Back in what seems like the prehistoric era before smartphones and free range chickens on heroin, I worked for one of the UK’s now departed comics distributors, Neptune Distribution. We also had a a publishing arm which published under a few names, but the first was Trident Comics, which gave new British talent a break. It was us who gave people like Mark Millar his first big break. Sorry about that.
Anyhow, I’d often see nervous, perspiring youths with milk-bottle glasses, and complexions like a moon of Jupiter, who would thrust their portfolios into my grubby hands at the bar knowing I’d be able to show it to our editor. And I’ll be frank: 50% of what was seen was the most unmitigated shite, or had elves in it – and I fucking hate twee elves. In fact only around 5% was instantly publishable, another 10-15% needed some work, while the remaining portfolios showed some promise, but the artist needed to learn not to draw like <insert Big Name Superhero Artist here> and develop their own possibly interesting style. The reason I drop this anecdote in is because reading the British Showcase Anthology shows what can be done with artists who take their time to develop their own style, and not just musclemen in tights.
That isn’t to say there’s a resounding array of golden talent; there’s not. There are some creators on display who could do with a bit more work, especially when it comes to things like storytelling. Furthermore, there are people like the writer/artist Simo, who produces fantastic work reminiscent of the Golden Age of Heavy Metal mixed with a touch of Raymond Biggs. His story, “Red Apple”, a melancholy tale of post-apocalyptic Britain, is a delight that opens proceedings and set me up with high expectations. Some of those expectations slip with “The Morlock Manifesto”, a Steampunk tale which is fine, but feels like it’s been done before.
Tom Ward and Phil Buckenham’s “The Hanged Man” is something to skim over, but Pat Scattergood and Kate Beaumont’s “The Passage of Time” is an absolute joy and a highlight of the book. Seriously, this tale of an old woman looking back at her life is touching and wonderfully realised with Beaumont’s art helping tell the sort of story one doesn’t get in mainstream comics on either side of the Atlantic. Yes it’s a tad sentimental, but these creators have real potential to do something with their careers if they develop as I hope they do.
The rest of the book is equally patchy, “The Heathen Masses” tries but doesn’t quite get there in a tale which isn’t what you expect, and “Blast From the Past” is a bit too self-reverential and doesn’t make me want to see what the creators of these strips do next. “Car Pool Tunnel Syndrome” is a fun strip from some potentially promising newcomers, with Sophie Traves’s art looking especially nice for an artist just starting out.
“Tinker, Sailor, Soldier, Skinner”, is a punchy little horror tale, but like so many of the stories here is set outwith the UK, which unlike some works well, but for so many strips by British creators to be not saying anything about the UK seems like missing a trick, especially as the dialogue doesn’t read ‘American’ in many of the stories, or just ends up padding scripts with clichés. Which leads me into “Secret Identity”, a story which dabbles with cliché and does something different with it, which many of the strips here do to be fair. That said, I just don’t feel with some creators here that we’re seeing what they’re actually capable of.
“From the Depths” is another story which does a good job in the short time it has, as does “Humanity”, but the book dies out with a whimper with the story “Endless Knight”, which to be fair tries to do something a wee bit different with what is basically an old EC Comics type of story.
So all in all, 5% of this book is utterly splendid. But most of the work here relies on adapting either writing or art styles we’ve seen before rather than what’s individual to them. But most of the strips fall firmly into the ‘needing work’ category, which makes titles like this important. There are so few companies out there taking risks on new British talent and this is to be applauded for putting such a variety of work out into the world, so well done to all involved and thanks for not putting in any fucking elves!