Named after an extinct giant sloth, the Megatherium Club were a group of largely amateur scientists who operated in Washington in the late 1850s to the early 1860s, enticed there by the growing collection of the Smithsonian Institute. Their daytime pursuits were defined by the quest for knowledge while their evenings were spent indulging in whatever hellraising antics their limited budgets could afford.
That much is historical record and it forms creator Owen D. Pomery’s starting point for this lovingly rendered spoof account of the group’s escapades summed up in that cover tagline “History in the faking”. If you are a regular ‘Small Pressganged’ reader then you may remember I have reviewed Pomery’s Between the Billboards series here in the past (and interviewed him here as part of our ‘Small Press Spotlight on…’ series of interviews). The Megatherium Club, though, marks something of a radical shift in tone from the darker, more pensive tone of Billboards. Outside of the preview of the series that was published in Avery Hill’s Reads anthology this is an Owen D. Pomery you won’t have encountered before; one who revels in a barefaced proclivity for the preposterous, the outrageously theatrical and the bitingly droll.
In this first volume, entitled ‘The Great Ape’, we are introduced to the eccentric wastrels who make up the club, all of whom are facing eviction from the environs of the Smithsonian unless they can prove their worth by capturing a yeti from the local woods. This sounds like a jolly good wheeze until the errant scientists sober up and some among their number realise said creature is unlikely to actually exist. Splitting into two factions, half of the club’s number set out on a field mission to discover this unlikely cryptozoological specimen while the other half seek to fabricate the evidence in a most unconvincing manner. Cue resulting mixed-up man-ape based madness in the best traditions of British farce…
The first thing I want to highlight about Pomery’s writing here is his use of language. The dialogue of The Megatherium Club is a delight throughout. A period narrative voice relaying events in a formal diction representative of the era is contrasted to great effect with contemporary cultural speech patterns from the characters (“Lock n’ fucking load”) and glorious double entendres so obvious that they would probably have been rejected from even a Carry On… film script (“I’m going to mount that yeti in my living room!” “Well, whatever you get up to in your own home is up to you I guess.”) He also gives us a cast of oddballs with deliciously defined character flaws, many of which I hope to see developing into running jokes as the series progresses.
Perhaps the only thing that The Megatherium Club shares with Between the Billboards is Pomery’s distinctive vertically shaded artwork. There’s something about it in Megatherium that really accentuates the period feel, and while the artwork is in black and white it evokes a world of sepia-tinted photographs, all rigidly posed and strictly mannered. This only serves to make the sudden and incongruous yeti-based slapstick shenanigans all the more funny when they burst out of a panel at the reader.
If this all sounds a little too mocking of actual historical figures I have to emphasise that there is no need to fret unduly on that front. Pomery has described the book as something of an homage to a long-gone age of gentlemen scientific explorers, and while the ribbing is unrelenting you can’t help but be aware that the author has a great deal of fondness for his subjects throughout. With a level of absurdity that is almost painstaking in its presentation The Megatherium Club is a comic that combines rapidly paced set pieces, wily wordplay and some wonderfully gratuitous gags. It represents not just a coup for Pomery as a creator but also a further reminder of the growing stature of Avery Hill as publishers of some of the brightest new talents on the British small press scene.
The Megatherium Club is published by Avery Hill Publishing and is available to order form their online store here priced £3.50. For more on the work of Owen D. Pomery check out his website here. The photograph above right is from the launch of The Megatherium Club at London’s Natural History Museum and shows Owen D. Pomery by the Megatherium exhibit. Photo courtesy of Keara Stewart.