Strip for Me’s A Pocket Chiller line promises “new nightmares and strange visions from a world next to yours”. Its line-up of UK indie and alt talent to date has certainly lived up to that boast, giving us some hugely varied approaches to horror in terms of both subject matter and presentation. For those coming to the title for the first time we have covered a few issues here at Broken Frontier but the essential set-up for the series is that each issue is a short, self-contained chilling tale that gives creators free rein to adapt their signature styles to unsettling subject matter.
The eighth issue of A Pocket Chiller is the range debut of rising comics star Olivia Sullivan, one of that accomplished list of creators to have been part of our annual Broken Frontier ‘Six to Watch’ number. Sullivan’s story has the deceptively innocuous title of Mutton Chops. Those familiar with her practice will be aware that in recent years she has stepped back from a linear approach in order to explore far more experimental and abstract storytelling. Mutton Chops is closer to a traditional comics narrative than we have seen from Sullivan of late but it’s still replete with elements of her now trademark manipulation of the form and imbued with her unique voice.
Described as an “arable nightmare” Mutton Chops is set on a working farm where we are initially introduced to the everyday realities of modern agriculture. But this is a location that also lies home to the secrets of eras past; of pagan custom and rituals whose echoes reverberate down the centuries to the present day, and of an unlikely but unavoidable ovine terror.
Sheep aren’t the obvious animal to adopt when it comes to folkloric-style horror but this being an Olivia Sullivan comic that simply makes it all the more disconcerting. As with much of Sullivan’s work this is sequential art that asks us to reconsider how we define “sequential”. There’s a distinct feeling of the psychogeographical here but the use of symbolism, routines, cutaways to related objects, and overlaid panels all become part of a greater picture which we absorb as much as follow.
Sullivan’s storytelling much suits the horror genre because it’s already inherently disquieting in composition; the shifts in view and perspective, the emphasis on motif over exposition, and the particular interpretive interaction with the page that she asks from her readership. Even the occasional narration here, while conveying a description of events, is still oblique enough to hint at hidden truths just out of our reach. Another excellent entry in the best ongoing series you’re probably not reading at the moment.
Olivia Sullivan (W/A) • Strip for Me, £1.59/$1.99
Review by Andy Oliver