I would argue that Lord Hurk and, in turn Fancy Butcher Press the small press imprint he runs with Kevin Ward, have been criminally overlooked on the UK small press scene over the last decade. I have to take my share of the responsibility for that because Hurk’s wildly inventive imagination and underground-style approach should have had far more coverage here at Broken Frontier over the years than they have. Fortunately we can redress the balance a little today with a look through the pages of Fancy Butcher’s long-awaited Affordable Amazement #2, an anthology featuring complete one-off stories from a host of European indie creators.
Of late I have bemoaned the comparative lack of UK small press anthologies a few times at Broken Frontier and on social media given that when I first started covering the self-publishing scene at BF a decade or so ago we were spoilt for choice on that front. After all, they play such a vital role in providing a platform for new talent to reach a wider audience or in introducing readers to established names whose material they may not be familiar with. Affordable Amazement is a case in point, with a cracking line-up that includes a number of artists whose output over the years dictates that they should have had far, far higher profiles on the small press scene.
The themed starting point for the anthology is a neat one which hearkens back to the fuller title of its first volume, Affordable Amazement Catalogue, a few years back. On the inside covers are a number of small ads parodying the kind of useless ephemera you would see for sale in 1970s US comics (oh how we all yearned for X-rays specs, Sea Monkeys and giant glow-in-the-dark Frankensteins in those halcyon days). These items of course have been filtered through the unique mindscape of Hurk himself and include such marvels as the cyclone hat, an inflatable coffin, a quart of assorted salted euphemisms and state-certified euthanasia breeches. Each contributor has chosen one of these 24 objects to base their story around. The results, as you may imagine, are outlandishly eclectic in their realisation.
The first longer-length story ‘Your Evil Self’ by Paul Ashley Brown works around an ad promising the opportunity to ‘Build Your Own Evil Self’. Brown’s suitably melodramatic visuals tease us with their call-backs to another era of horror/mystery/sci-fi comic anthologies but there are hidden layers to the dark humour here as a renegade citizen in a dystopian world attempts to use an army of his evil selves to overthrow the status quo. Free will and questions of identity sit at the heart of a compact twist-in-the-tale thriller which benefits from Brown’s claustrophobic panels and atmospheric use of colour.
In Hurk’s own offering Detective Jocko Grawlyx is on the trail of the criminal who has purloined his missing ‘Lucky Bastard Charm’ which confers on its owner unlikely good fortune. Hurk’s angular characters and atypical panel layouts are always visually appealing and the sheer ludicrousness of his colourful casts and situations are oddly endearing. Fans of his Bazoik collection from a few years ago will enjoy this. Indeed much of the work herein emphasises weirdness and gloriously silly concepts over plot, making this agreeably escapist fare. Kevin Ward’s tale of an exiled monk undergoing a transformative epiphany in ‘Egg Cabin’, for example, with its occasional manuscript motifs, or the slapstick scheming of the protagonist in Tanya Milkkitten’s ‘Hi-Impact Hummus Flagon’ who finds his chickpea-based invention purloined by the military as chemical weapon.
It takes brave souls to pick the ‘Prince Charles Butt-Plug’ as the source of inspiration for a story but Paul O’Connell and Hurk provide an irreverent runaround featuring collaged art, pop cultural icons, the Royal Family and Kim Jong-Un in a Sinclair C5. It pushes the boundaries of taste to stretching point but is undeniably funny in its uncompromising abandon. The most poignant offering is undoubtedly the late Tobias Tak’s ‘Zizmo Finds a Hat’ wherein the titular character becomes a prisoner of the aforementioned cyclonic hat’s inventor and must be rescued by his friends Hemingway and Weird Duck. It’s an utterly bizarre flight of fancy, so typical of Tak’s fertile, whimsical imagination and sumptuously illustrated with panels that burst with detail and life. A reminder of what a huge loss to comics Tak is. Emilie Gleason, Cegado and Chanic also put their own spins on some of those strangely conceived products.
A late entry into this year’s small press output, Affordable Amazement #2 may occasionally overstep the mark for some in terms of taste but its alt and underground-style sensibilities are a reminder of a time when rejecting conformity and embracing the outrageous were a staple part of the self-publishing scene. It’s so pleasing to see Fancy Butcher Press back and that Tobias Tak story is worth the cover price alone.
Review by Andy Oliver