AVAILABLE AT THOUGHT BUBBLE!
Thought Bubble just wouldn’t be Thought Bubble without the annual entry in John Riordan and Dan Cox’s music industry send-up Hitsville UK. And yet that’s the prospect we’re faced with in 2019 because Thought Bubble 2018 officially marks the finale of this epic saga. Issue #7 is wrapping up the story and giving us the chance to say goodbye to this colourful cast of wildly imaginative, mind-bendingly bizarre and always utterly compelling characters.
If you’ve been following the book these last few years then you’ll know it’s been something of a mainstay of the UK small press scene with the kind of longevity for a small press serial comic that hearkens back to another, long gone, but never forgotten era of self-publishing. And, while the wait between issues gradually slowed to an annual rhythm, such is the cult appeal of the book that it’s always genuinely been one of my absolute Thought Bubble highlights every year.
For the uninitiated, no doubt creators Riordan and Cox will have the whole saga on offer at Leeds this weekend. Haven’t read Hitsville UK before? If you’re a longer-term comics fan think of it as a book that would appeal to a Deadline-inspired audience. Or perhaps to fans of Shelley Bond’s Black Crown imprint at IDW if you’re part of a more contemporary readership for whom my ’80s/’90s pop cultural frames of reference have only limited resonance.
Hitsville UK follows the misadventures of a huge cast of would-be music stars, focusing on the record label of the title and its staff, including worldweary owner Gerry Corden, morally dubious producer Greg Pastis and the nefarious and apparently supernaturally influenced accountant Stan Van Horne. The performers whose journeys we’ve been investing ourselves in over the years count amongst their number the Scooby Doo-style investigators/bandmates The Carrie Nation’s Revenge, country singer Gwillum whose beautiful voice is packaged in a form resembling Gollum from Tolkien’s epics, “Spiv Hop” performer Jack Spatz, and schoolboy DJ “Haunted By Robots” accompanied by the malicious, mechanical spirit who is his constant unseen companion.
When Hitsville UK first hit our small press consciousness in its early days it was more about the spectacle than the narrative. There were so many characters and concepts, such wild imagination and invention in their realisation, and such sheer sprawling hypnotic weirdness on offer that plot and story structure seemed far less important than simply enjoying the mesmerising oddness of it all.
As we’ve moved towards the denouement of the series, however, it’s been apparent that Cox and Riordan have had an endgame in sight; that it’s all been building up to revelations surrounding the machinations of the nefarious Stan Van Horne and his ultimate plans for the Hitsville UK characters. It’s a suitably over-the-top finale to a series that has always been delightfully extravagant in its eerie eccentricities, and a final chapter that can be enjoyed as both a splendidly strange romp or on an altogether more music industry-based allegorical level.
Ultimately, though, Hitsville UK was always going to feel less about the book’s final destination and more about the characters we met on the way. Some years ago comics writer David Hine summed the book up with the cover-featured quote “Hitsville is a hoot” and, with the benefit of years of hindsight, that seems not just fitting but also rather prescient. Because this series went on to be one that always revelled in its own idiosyncrasies and never compromised its own very individual approach to comics social commentary (there’s plenty there bubbling just beneath – and sometimes very much above – the surface).
Riordan’s visual storytelling has, unsurprisingly, evolved and grown since I first reviewed the book back in 2012 but two things have stood out from the very beginning. His character designs, so vitally important in a book with such a huge cast, and his ability to balance those frantic, high tempo sequences that have been such a huge part of Hitsville with quieter, more introspective moments for its players which have defined them as much as the ostentatious set pieces. Coming to the end of this arc we’re reminded as well how much colour has been such an important tool in Hitsville UK, especially in those hallucinogenic, reality-warping scenes, and how adept Riordan is at embedding lettering effects into his panel-to-panel storytelling in a crucial, mood-building role.
When you reach the end of a long-running saga like this it’s important to avoid giving too much away for any potential new readers who may be tempted to jump in on the full story at Thought Bubble. Suffice to say to anyone with a long-term investment in the characters Hitsville UK #7 gives us a conclusion that is entirely and satisfyingly appropriate.
Farewell then Hitsville UK. It really is the end of a small press era…
You can find out more about Hitsville UK from the site here and follow the comic on Twitter here, John Riordan here and Dan Cox here. Buy Hitsville UK from John Riordan’s online store here. Pick up Hitsville UK from Table 79 in the Originals Marquee at Thought Bubble.
For regular updates on all things small press follow Andy Oliver on Twitter here.