Robert Brown’s instantly recognisable recapturing of his childhood has been a firm favourite of mine in ‘Small Pressganged’ since the very early days of this column. Brown’s work speaks so eloquently to his audience for two reasons. Firstly in the way he succeeds in ensuring we always see the world through his younger incarnation’s eyes as, without realising, we revert to childhood ourselves, and the conventions of the adult world suddenly become alien and arbitrary.
Secondly, it’s because Brown has never been afraid to portray his former self as awkward and occasionally hapless. Rather than being off-putting this depiction is strangely endearing as he becomes a kind of loner everyperson, reminding us of the often terrifying hierarchies of the playground and how casually social disaster could befall us as kids with just one unfortunate response or thoughtless reaction.
The two most recent issues of Killjoy that I’m looking at today are very different in structure to each other. Killjoy #4 is a collection of shorts of varying length that jump around Brown’s childhood. They’re full of moments that the audience will instantly connect with as they apply them to experiences from their own lives. That’s a Brown staple now and Killjoy #4 doesn’t disappoint.
The most memorable of these vignettes involves an indignant Robert leaving his panic-stricken parents a note announcing his departure from home while hiding from them in his own house. There’s also a brilliantly paced piece of football field slapstick as he becomes an inadvertent sporting hero, equally well-timed parental Pancake Day blunders and a beautifully captured portrait of the idiosyncrasies of grandparents.
That latter carries over into the pages of Killjoy #5 which debuted at last year’s Thought Bubble festival and is the first issue of the series to begin a two-part cross-issue story. The second instalment in Killjoy #6 will be appearing this Spring so eager readers do not have long to wait.
Here we witness Robert taking a summer seaside holiday with his grandparents in the late ‘90s and becoming a part of a British tradition of bed and breakfast hotels, saucy postcards and walks on the promenade that even then had long since been consigned to another era of history. It’s a long-form narrative but still curiously episodic – a series of witty observations on the stoic routines of his grandparents and of a young boy’s interactions with a new environment.
Childhood artefacts bleed into the on-page reality of the story with a diary entry from the time reminding us of the actuality of events. It’s easy to forget that this is autobio at times as Brown’s commentary never intrudes and is used sparingly. The odd rituals of the Bournemouth holiday-goer are gently teased especially in a sequence where the trio make the fateful decision to make a break from the usual pre-planned itinerary of years past with disastrous consequences. Those old enough to remember seaside bookstores as treasure troves of comics magic will also enjoy wallowing in the nostalgia herein.
Brown’s cartooning is as wonderfully expressive and accessible as ever – visual characterisation is acute and his use of perspective always underlines the youthful perceptions of his protagonist’s view of his surroundings. There’s only one element here missing from a holiday story but that is remedied by issue’s end, ensuring the reader has a definite hook for the second instalment.
Killjoy is one of those long-running UK small press titles that has never quite achieved the following or word of mouth it absolutely deserves. Perhaps that’s down to the sometimes long wait between issues but you really could not find a better jumping-on point than issue #5. This is the perfect place to discover Brown’s tender anecdotal comics for yourselves. I guarantee you’ll be eagerly picking up all the back issues shortly thereafter.
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