Ferocious slapstick, scatological silliness and surreal visual gags with a mischievous appeal for its young target audience.
Welcome to Spumville, a small town where something rather curious has just occurred. Without warning the residents have all awoken one morning to find their heads have been replaced with random objects from their surroundings. Our titular hero schoolboy Steve, for example, has a fish for a head while his dad now has a toilet for a cranium, and his little sister is merged with the family cat. Across the area the same fate has befallen all the locals – Steve’s best chum Cowboy has, unsurprisingly from that nickname, an entire cow for a bonce, his other pal Alan has a loaf of bread for a face, and let us not even think too closely about poor, lovelorn Alice stuck with a fridge-freezer above the neckline.
As if these skewed skull indignities were not enough though, our cast must come to terms with not just with the consequences of their new conditions (how would you like it if your toilet head flushed every time you got stressed, or you had an udder for a chin that needed constant milking?) but also the attentions of governmental men in black and a strange alien race of brains in a jar known as the Glarrrghs. Life in Spumville will certainly never be the same again…
Fish Head Steve! collects the humour strips first published in the weekly British children’s comic The DFC a few years back, as part of the new softcover editions of The DFC Library (see our Broken Frontier overview of the other editions here). For those outside the U.K., Fish Head Steve! creator Jamie Smart has become a mainstay of the kids-centric comics scene on these shores over the last few years with his gloriously twisted thought processes being responsible for creations like Bunny Vs. Monkey in The Phoenix and the high octane re-imagining of Desperate Dan in The Dandy, amongst many others.
What Smart provides here is a mix of ferocious slapstick, scatological silliness and surreal visual gags with a mischievous appeal for its young target audience. It’s so offbeat, with such a bizarre wit though, that readers of all ages are going to find the absurd humour on show here a draw. The book’s premise may seem off-the-wall enough but it’s only the starting point for Smart’s vivid imagination that bases strips around as unlikely subjects as farmer-based Top Trumps card games, vomited alien brains and a snowball gun-toting Santa.
As ever, Smart’s art has a madcap energy to it, much like that of his The Phoenix stablemates The Etherington Brothers. There’s a frantic, chaotic feel to his layouts that instantly pulls the reader into the story with the tight, multiple-panelled pages accentuating that sense of busyness and frenzied madness. No wonder, perhaps, that an animated version of the comic has been pitched (see trailer below) because Fish Head Steve!‘s inspired character designs would most assuredly capture children’s rapt attentions on the small screen.
What always marks out Smart’s work is that he gears it to what his young audience actually want and not to entrenched beliefs as to what the British kids comics market should be; opinions based on industry traditions that now verge on anachronism. It’s hardly radical or iconoclastic thinking but it’s a philosophy inherent in both the books on offer from The DFC Library series and the comic strips presented in its spiritual successor The Phoenix. Long may it continue.
Jamie Smart (W/A) • David Fickling Books, £6.99, 5th August 2013