As I said a short while back here – in probably the most well-received edition of ‘Small Pressganged’ since its inception – I tend to shy away from those areas of genre fiction that most obviously equate to what we describe as the “mainstream” in comics. Super-heroes, in particular, are something I am extremely reticent to cover in this column. So you can be assured that whenever I do touch on the world of capes and cowls, even in a tangential form, it has to be work offering something more than just a rehashing of the same tired old themes.
As you’ve probably surmised from that opening paragraph Graveyard Orbit #1 is, indeed, concerned with the world of super-heroes but, as anyone familiar with the writing of John-Paul Kamath on his horror series London Horror Comic knows, this is one creator who can always find a new twist on even the most clichéd conventions of any given genre. I’ve reviewed a number of issues of LHC over the years, and also interviewed Kamath a couple of years back, and always been impressed with not just that aforementioned ability to breathe new life into overplayed plots – often by injecting an incisive topical commentary into them – but also by his dedication to the pure craft of storytelling. The end notes of his comics always provide intriguing insights into not just his creative process but also the self-publishing journey, and Graveyard Orbit is no exception to this.
The aim of this new ongoing series is to provide 28-page self-contained stories in different genres that negate any need for trade-waiting tendencies but also, presumably, will allow Kamath to flex his storytelling muscles on longer-form work than the shorts that make up London Horror Comic. This first issue concerns itself with the introverted Edgar Tibbs, a young man whose obsession with super-heroes ensures they flow from his imagination as daydreams that overlap the events in his real life. An awkward job interview turns into a cross-examination by super-beings in his mind, for example, and then a dejected post-mortem with imaginary comics character buddies afterwards. A flustered moment with an attractive girl in a cafe morphs into a James Bond-style fantasy before the reality of social failure kicks in. In short he’s a fanboy Walter Mitty.
As a premise in and of itself that certainly isn’t a unique set-up for a comic. Just this very year Willem Samuel has done something quite similar with his critically acclaimed Mengelmoes series from Soaring Penguin. But what makes this such a layered tale is that Kamath raises it above the usual fond ribbing of a compulsive fan and adds a greater context to the proceedings. Graveyard Orbit #1 isn’t seeking to simply snigger at the completist comics collector mentality. It’s also addressing the notion of just why it is that such characters can have such a hold on the lives of a certain section of the buying population; an old-fashioned salute to the inspiration of heroism on the four-colour pages, and the ideals that such creations aspire to. It turns the usual stereotype of the sad nerd on its head and accentuates the positives they take from their comics reading experiences.
Part homage then and part satire but there’s also something rather meta about this book. The parallels between Edgar and a certain Peter Parker are apparent throughout, especially in Edgar’s widowed Aunt May-like mother and inspirational Uncle Ben-style father whose presence in the issue is felt throughout and helps Edgar come to a life-changing decision about the true nature of heroism. Kamath’s dialogue is snappy and clever when the comedic sequences of the book call for quick patter, and touching and considered in those more reflective parts of the comic.
Frequent Kamath collaborator Lee Ferguson’s style is a perfect fit for the super-hero world embodied in this debut issue. There’s a fine line to be drawn here in making some of the obvious analogues to established iconic characters like Galactus, Wolverine and Batman both recognisable and yet, for obvious reasons, far enough removed from their original iterations to not cause concerns on other levels. Visually this issue is something of a rollercoaster ride between big, bombastic super-powered melodrama and quieter moments of more introspective storytelling. Ferguson is more than up to the task of portraying the polarised emotional extremes of the two.
You can always count on a John-Paul Kamath story to find a different slant on any given subject and this near vindication of the super-hero fanatic treads a different path than the usual snide portrayal of that side of fandom that we’re all – myself included – capable of lapsing into on occasion. A good-natured romp with subtler underlying themes, this is a strong start for Graveyard Orbit. I’m intrigued to see exactly what fictional realms Kamath will take this book into next.
Graveyard Orbit #1 is available to buy online here priced £4.00. For more on London Horror Comic visit the LHC site here. John-Paul Kamath will be at the Comica Festival Comiket tomorrow Saturday 16th August.
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