Here in the UK the tradition of comic strips revolving around the conflicts between childhood adversaries has given us some of our most fondly remembered characters. From the British Dennis the Menace terrorising his perennial enemies Walter and the Softies in The Beano to the cyclical enmity between Bully Beef and Chips in The Dandy, the eternal struggle between juvenile tormentor and tormented has been playing out for decades in British weeklies.
Next week sees a slightly different comics take on the theme via Image Comics when writer Skottie Young and artist Aaron Conley’s Bully Wars hits shelves; a serial narrative that takes the standards of the bully archetype and recasts them from an unlikely perspective.
In the opening issue we’re introduced to twins Edith and Ernie and their geeky chum Spencer on the first day of high school. The trio almost immediately find themselves the prey of the odious long-time bully Rufus. But the status quo is about to change for this menacing monster. High school means he’s no longer the top dog of the bullying community in Rottenville, and only by teaming up with his one-time victims will he be able to survive the impending contest known as the Bully Wars…
Presumably pitched at a younger, all-ages audience Bully Wars will have an instant appeal to its target readership. There’s likeable protagonists to root for, slapstick humour, a possible redemption storyline and a relatable scenario taken to engagingly ludicrous extremes. Young economically sets up his premise with all the information needed to hook the reader immediately and, while the plot in this first issue is admittedly slight and the characters at this point are defined as much by their functions in the narrative as their personalities, there’s much here to indicate that for the kids it’s aimed at Bully Wars will be appealing escapist fare.
It’s the art of Aaron Conley (vibrantly coloured by Jean-Francois Beaulieu), though, that brings Young’s story to vivid and occasionally fittingly grotesque life. His characters are deliberately disproportionate, wonderfully emphasising their individual personas through their skewed physicality. Each panel is packed with detail that reflects the frenetic hustle of the school day. Early sequences where panels sit upon each other and create a sense of movement through the local neighbourhood are particularly impressive.
The first three pages of the comic are a delight in this regard and one can only hope Conley’s sense of idiosyncratic page design is given more opportunity to flourish as the story progresses. One page towards the end of the book rejects panels for a more fluid approach but nonetheless provides an effective sequential depiction of Rufus’s newfound identity as prey rather than predator over the course of a day. Nate Piekos’ word balloons enhance the comedy in a number of places with shifts in shape to denote emotional intensity.
Bully Wars is perhaps not the most complex comic you’ll read from Image this month but it certainly is one of the most fun. A well-executed comfort read with a valuable message underlying all the hijinks and tomfoolery, and a creative team clearly having a ball with an oddball cast of characters.
Skottie Young (W), Aaron Conley (A), Jean-Francois Beaulieu (C), Nate Piekos (L) • Image Comics, $3.99
Advance review – Bully Wars #1 hits shelves next Wednesday September 5th
Review by Andy Oliver