Some things bear repeating even if they’ve been said many times before.
Dan White’s Cindy and Biscuit is the best all-ages comic series I have reviewed in five-plus years of ‘Small Pressganged’ that is yet to be picked up by a publisher. The last collection carried pull quotes from the likes of James Stokoe, Brandon Graham and Kieron Gillen and the book has twice been nominated for British Comic Awards. It’s staggering to me that work this accomplished is still being self-published (in print runs of just 100 copies according to the interior pages) and being seen by such a relatively small number of people.
Cindy and Biscuit details the misadventures of Cindy – a young girl who is something of a loner – and her loyal canine pal Biscuit. These constant companions see the fantastic and supernatural things in an otherwise mundane reality and fiercely fight off the likes of alien invaders, phantom menaces and monstrous mer-creatures. As far as Cindy’s concerned, though, the real monsters in her world consist of school bullies, adult indifference and those perceived injustices we all remember from our childhood days.
The most recent C&B story The Bad Girl was published in two-parts in 2015 and 2016 with its far longer page count amounting to the first graphic novella outing for the duo. After a rare perfect day in the classroom and at home for Cindy, life quickly returns to its usual pattern of seeming unfairness for our heroine. After being accused of destructive acts at school and falling out with her mum, Cindy runs away from home. But deep in the woods around her house she will have to finally face the evil presence that has been ruining her life. Can she stop this malign entity and put an end to the threat of the Bad Girl once and for all?
Taking in vast, sprawling alien tundras and providing grotesque monstrosities that look like escapees from Ken Reid’s World-Wide Weirdies, White’s most ambitious Cindy and Biscuit story to date is also the most epic. And yet, at its heart, this is actually a very recognisable, very human drama that is simply dressing itself up in the metaphorical trappings of the bizarre and the eerie to make its carefully affecting points.
As I often say here at Broken Frontier, for myself a true “all-ages” comic is one that children and adults can interpret on different levels of understanding. As with Lorena Alvarez’s Nightlights (reviewed here earlier this week at BF) kids may see this as a rousing romp of an adventure full of hideous beasties and animated action. Adults, though, will see a much more nuanced and sophisticated study of a lonely little girl confronting emotional terrors that are far, far closer to home.
Once again White’s use of the form is both considered and powerfully effective in exploring its themes. Visual characterisation is as pitch perfect as ever. The companionship between Cindy and Biscuit is a particular highlight as embodied in Biscuit’s frantic delight at seeing Cindy return from school in Part 1 as he joyfully leaps around the confines of a single panel.
Throughout, White’s playfulness with the standards of the medium is also intuitive and inventive without being ostentatious or distracting. Panels sit within panels, characters move through panels or around the same image, and his use of lettering effects to emphasise story points is clever and often witty.
Ultimately, it’s up to the individual reader as to whether they enjoy Cindy and Biscuit on its narrative surface level or look to the deeper allegorical connotations of events. Both interactions are entirely legitimate and that dual level of understanding is another great strength of White’s writing. Even the cutaway “secret origin” of Cindy and Biscuit in Part 2 offers some profounder insights into her worldview beyond its cuter flashback frivolity.
In Cindy, White has given us one of comics’ most beautifully endearing and empathetic creations – a defiantly fearless yet utterly fragile heroine full of all the contradictions and inconsistencies that we all embodied at her age. It’s impossible not to become instantly invested in this angry but frightened little girl and her loyal canine chum. Exemplary comics from possibly the most under-rated creator on the UK indie scene at the moment.
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