A small press comics anthology with a 20-year pedigree seems a remarkable but unlikely achievement by any standard but that’s exactly what editor Delaine Derry Green has achieved with Not My Small Diary. A spin-off from her own zine My Small Diary, this group effort has been published since 1996 and features short autobiographical offerings from an impressive line-up of alt and indie cartoonists.
As we often say here at Broken Frontier it’s showcase books like this that provide an accessible entry route into the work of small press talent. With over forty artists involved in over 100 pages of material there’s ample opportunity here to discover the practice of an unfamiliar name and investigate their material further.
The theme for Not My Small Diary #19 is ‘Unexplained Events’, with its contributors providing stories that range from the unlikely and the bizarre to the supernatural and the otherworldly. Putting the zine ethos at the very forefront there’s not just a mix of different styles and approaches in comics storytelling but also the very occasional short illustrated prose pieces on offer as well. It’s also one of those books that sits more established names in the field next to those you may be encountering for the first time. UK readers who enjoy Dirty Rotten Comics will find a shared philosophy here. (North American readers who have yet to enjoy an issue of DRC are advised that they can do so here and they won’t regret it!).
There are a number of recurring motifs throughout these pages. Childhood perception and the veracity of memory is understandably a frequent one in the circumstances. Sometimes that’s summed up in neat vignette pieces like Carrie McNinch’s concise but beautifully paced account of a possible ethereal presence in the family home, or Peter Conrad’s ‘Bat and Owl’ that hinges on a shared fraternal recollection of flying as kids.
Similarly, Ben Horak constructs claustrophobically tight pages with heavy text box use to add to the oppressive atmosphere of a tale of strange phenomena from his younger days reoccurring in adulthood. It’s a short that manages to be both sinister and yet oddly endearing at the same time. In another flashback to more carefree days James Burns remembers the time a flying saucer hovered over his street and was witnessed by the local kids. The relative realism of his art succeeding in actually giving the depicted events a greater sense of the awesome and the fantastic.
Indeed, UFO experiences make a number of appearances with John Porcellino’s stripped back and ever relatable cartooning style revisiting an incident in his teenage years when he observed the strange behaviour of aircraft in the nocturnal sky. Fafá Jaepelt’s breezily anecdotal ‘From My Window’ tells of an otherwise unseen alien ship appearing in a photo post-development while Liz Prince (below left) uses the unique relationship that comics have with the passage of time (or in this case lost time…) to perfectly capture a sense of disorientation after an apparent UFO encounter.
Many of the entries revolve around common standards in Fortean-style tales but it’s the diary comic leanings of them – Kelly Froh’s escape from disaster thanks to a ghostly intervention for example – that gives them a more immediate connection to the reader. In that regard Donna Barr’s busy cartooning adds a suitable sense of the fraught as she explains how a near encounter with a ghostly coach and horses could have had far worse repercussions. Occasionally there are even entries that entirely sidestep that personal note, like David Lasky’s moodily atmospheric Mothman one-pager (below right) that is as creepy for its sense of uncertainty as it is for its subject matter.
On a more day-to-day level J.T. Yost reminds us that the objectively smaller mysteries can still consume us the most as he ponders on the true identity of a lost and found family pet while Joe Decie’s domestic philosophy ruminates on the possibility of a vacuum cleaner-based family curse with his trademark laidback wit. Max Clotfelter’s Civil War ghost story fits into this strand with an appealingly underground comix vibe to the visuals and a brutal punchline.
With an accessible price point for its 100-plus pages and an inviting line-up of diverse artistic styles the most mysterious “unexplained event” surrounding Not My Small Diary #19 would be in potential readers not picking it up. This is a cracking collection of top indie talent cannily curated by Delaine Derry Green.
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