There’s something almost retro about Samuel Hickson’s Liquid Realm, a darkly comedic anthology collection of comics shorts created in lockdown during 2020 and one that has a definite underground sensibility. Hickson’s subject matter is disparate but linked by a rich vein of misanthropic humour that runs throughout; not so much stream-of-consciousness in delivery but certainly encompassing little bubbling pools of it, each brimming with a near nihilistic frothiness.
The titular story (below) leads the issue with a knowingly portentous fantasy tale that reverberates with lofty dialogue in its tale of Mordrig the Brave and his battles to vanquish the evil of Veborg the Orc King. Reality twists and turns in this tale of heroic quests and fantastic realms, warping into something far more pedestrian and yet all the more disturbing for its familiarity. The central conceit is hardly an original one but its execution is neat in delivery.
Second strip ‘Grotesk Wilderness’ (below) is the most interesting offering. It’s a kind of surreal slapstick entry that is less about narrative and more an experiment in a playful shifting of form and substance as its central character’s physical manifestation is transformed and manipulated by his bizarre surroundings and those he encounters. Similarly ‘My Band’ introduces us to Skiff Skello’s reality-altering beat combo whose musical output has perception-changing qualities. Here Hickson’s lettering choices, juxtaposition of events and symbolism, and shifts into otherness have suitably disconcerting properties.
‘Our Mates from Space!’ is the closest to a traditional comics genre narrative but still tinged with Hickson’s likeably cynical edge. Here a visitation from the stars proves to be a deeply disappointing affair when the stellar tourists prove to be as dreary and dull as we are. It’s another example of Hickson doing what he seems to do best in this collection – to find the maudlin in the extraordinary, the humdrum in the extreme.
Scattered throughout are some shorter strips but these largely feel more like half-formed ideas collected in the interests of lockdown completeness. Indeed, a number of the offerings here do tail off without reaching narrative denouements but given the underground comix feel of the enterprise that is not necessarily to their detriment. Regardless, Hickson has a chameleon-like ability to adapt his visual style to the needs of each section and Liquid Realm will no doubt appeal to those who enjoy their small press work to have an off-centre and alternative quality to them.
Samuel Hickson (W/A) • Self-published, £4.50
Review by Andy Oliver