While my coverage to date of the A Pocket Chiller series from Strip for Me has been perhaps a touch sporadic – cherry picking issues from a publishing output so prolific it’s hard to keep up with – it’s a range of one-shot horror comics that has quickly become one of my favourite micropublished projects this year. Mixing the work of Strip for Me guiding light Douglas Noble with a number of artists empathetic to his unsettlingly atmospheric approach to sequential art narrative, its digital delivery ensures it’s also available to a potentially far wider audience outside of the traditional UK small press circuit.
The ninth issue of A Pocket Chiller, titled Speckle & Ash, comprises two stories from the alluringly oddball mind of Fraser Geesin, the gent behind one of my all-time favourite autobio comics The Cleaner: Man of Destiny, and such anthologies as Journey to the Surface of the Earth and the world’s first collection of Ikea-themed comics (I kid you not) in the collaborative effort Komisk. Geesin’s dark comedy is a perfect fit for this line with the borderline nihilism of the first story in this two-hander perfectly complementing the bizarrely optimistic fatalism of the second.
Both stories have seen print before in self-published anthologies but for most readers the material will be new. ‘Speckle’ introduces us to the titular character, a grown woman who for reasons unexplained behaves exactly like a cat. Geesin lures us into a false sense of security with a tale that initially seems played for laughs. We watch Speckle’s daily routine as she licks herself clean, uses her dirt tray, and comes into conflict with the other neighbourhood cats. His use of tightly panelled pages transforms human perspectives of the world to feline ones and creates a sense of environment that transforms the confined into the expansive. We are left to fill in the back story for Speckle’s animalistic affectations for ourselves but events take a very different turn when her owner returns to the house and casual cat-like petulance comes to the fore…
I initially reviewed the second story when I covered the first issue of Journey to the Surface of the Earth a few years back at BF so I shall repeat my thoughts from then. ‘Ash’ is a strange account of an urn full of human ashes picked up by a woman at a flea market in the mistaken belief that it was an empty vase. The story moves from blackly comedic farce (what do you do with an urn full of someone else’s ashes?) to a more existential saga about fate and free will. Geesin manages to ascribe a certain everyday pedestrian quality to even the unlikeliest twists and turns of destiny here as the urn appears to exert control over the woman’s life, supposedly guiding her through a series of portentous accidents and coincidences. Geesin’s understated but bleak humour gives it an added philosophical edge.
The A Pocket Chiller comics have the seemingly contradictory status of being both easily digestible and stomach-churning, and that’s certainly the case with Speckle & Ash. Exactly why this series has become one of the most consistently rewarding horror comics currently being published.
Fraser Geesin (W/A) • Strip for Me, £1.59/$1.99
Review by Andy Oliver