10 YEARS OF THE BF SIX TO WATCH! A couple of weeks back at a University of the Arts London event I was invited to speak at I was asked by students what I looked for when selecting artists for our ‘Six Creators to Watch’ initiative at Broken Frontier. My response was that first and foremost I was interested in artists who understood the language of comics and the unique ways in which it can be used to tell stories. This led to a follow-up query about whether I was searching solely for experimental comics then, which I had to explain was not the case. After all, work doesn’t have to be ostentatiously boundary-pushing or intensely form-interrogating to use the medium’s specific tools to their greatest advantage.
I recount this anecdote simply because Mike Armstrong’s practice to date sums up that philosophy of approach to me. Armstrong is an accomplished cartoonist with a fluid, accessible and quirkily appealing style. But what attracted me to his comics was not that he was painstakingly deconstructing the medium but, rather, that he has shown such a deep understanding in his work in the WIP Comics anthologies of the mechanics of the page and what comics can bring to visual storytelling that is absent on other platforms.
This is apparent throughout his minicomic Bigger, a comics short that touches on themes of friendship, loss and the cycle of time. Lost in the woods, a young boy encounters a magical creature and the connection they form in their subesequent adventures becomes so strong that it follows him into adult life, and an eventual revisitation of his childhood. Throughout Bigger Armstrong shows an exemplary command of his narrative toolkit; dramatic turn-of-the-page reveals, a canny understanding of comics’ relationship with the passage of time in the layout of two absolutely standout pages, and a skilful ability to manipulate the audience’s reactions through their between-the-panels reading comprehension.
It’s a beautiful piece of storytelling that reminds us of the bonds that tie and of the inner child in all of us, made all the more effective for its wordless presentation that asks us to feel the events as Armstrong presents them. Definitively all-ages with something to say to readers of multiple age groups, Bigger’s 8 pages are the perfect introduction to the style and approach of this 2024 Six to Watch-er.
Mike Armstrong (W/A) • Self-published, £2.00 (print)/£1.00 (digital)
Review by Andy Oliver