I would like to pretend that I discovered Lucy Bellwood’s Baggywrinkles series at the UK’s Thought Bubble festival last November but the truth is that – despite being told by several creators that I really needed to check out her work with a view to reviewing it here in ‘Small Pressganged’ – I somehow completely failed to find her table before the weekend was out. Fortunately, London’s Gosh! Comics were forward thinking enough to buy up a sizeable pile of Baggywrinkles minicomics and provide me with the opportunity to cover her material here that my poor time management appeared to have scuppered.
Bellwood’s series is a mix of autobio comics and maritime-based info-strips that combine her personal experience and aspects of sailing lore to communicate a love of all things relating to tall ships. The opening issue details her first excited foray into this world and how she discovered a love for a long gone era of sailing history. Each issue of Baggywrinkles draws on the knowledge she has built up from this rather adventurous pastime working as a deckhand on the Lady Washington.
This is one of those slice-of-life comics where the author’s enthusiasm for their subject matter is so infectious that it’s impossible not to be swept away by their passion. While some of the topics covered would no doubt pique the interest of a casual browser regardless (#2’s exploration of the origins of nautical tattoos, for example or #4’s debunking of the myth of “walking the plank”), others cover what should be drier and less inspiring material (#3’s focus on sailing paraphernalia and deck procedures). Therein lies the true triumph of Baggywrinkles – Bellwood’s ability, as on-panel raconteur, to make every last piece of maritime minutiae seem a fascinating and vital nugget of information.
Bellwood’s accessible and free-flowing cartooning style underlines her engaging and highly affable presence as narrator. Minicomics these may be, in terms of both physicality and page count, but she exploits the full potential of the canvas of the comics page with fluid grace, whether she’s eschewing traditional panel structures to create a mini-narrative on a single page in #2’s tattoo tales (left), or recreating a dual sense of excitement and tension before a first night’s sailing in a densely-packed sequence in issue #1 (below right). Comedic cartooning gives way to a more detailed style in the fifth issue’s historical retelling of the original Lady Washington’s voyage to Japan in 1791, written by R.J. Mockford, underlining the artistic versatility on show throughout this series.
There’s a dual nature to Baggywrinkles – its role as both an educational strip and as a piece of autobiographical comics – that means Bellwood can shift her approach from issue to issue from personal perspective to more detached accounts of seafaring life. What remains a constant throughout, however, is her animated sense of excitement for all this archaic, yet relevant, world has to offer. We all know that comics as a medium have a unique facility for sharing and communicating personal experience with their readership but you’ll find few series that do it with such a sheer and unremitting sense of joy than Lucy Bellwood’s Baggywrinkles.
The Baggywrinkles series can be read online here or bought in print priced between $3.00 and $5.00 an issue, or as a complete bundle for $18.00 here. You can also buy them from the small press section in London’s Gosh! Comics while stocks last.
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