Fondly sending up a certain decades-old bastion of fantasy magazine publishing (the clue is in the anagrammatical title) Robert Wells and Phil Elliott’s Malty Heave makes a welcome end-of-year return with a horror-themed issue that refuses to take itself even remotely seriously. Wells and Elliott are, of course, two creators with a fine pedigree in the UK self-publishing world, with a combined body of work that encapsulates decades rather than years. Elliott’s comics catalogue stretches back to the 1980s while Wells has been a staple of the small press scene for many years and is the creator behind the acclaimed autobiographical graphic medicine memoir Back, Sack & Crack (& Brain).
Our horror host for this double feature of creepy accounts is one Admiral Malty who plays the traditional narrator role with a relish that is even more irreverent than his EC or Warren Comics forebears. Wells opens the proceedings with ‘That Bloody Llama’, a story with signature elements that could easily have made up an 8-pager in Tales from the Crypt or a Creepy comics short but with far more frequent diversions into the extravagantly bizarre.
Central character Bernard’s experiments with reanimating the dead have coincided with him going through a number of wives, all of whom have been casually dispatched when of no further use. When he moves in with his latest flame Mary he also has to adapt to living with her menagerie of animals. But it’s one beast especially, a talking llama named Cyril, who particularly unsettles him. Wherever he goes Cyril is always there, whether joining the couple in the marital bed or suddenly emerging from the waters of the local lake. Such is Cyril’s constant taunting presence that Bernard is forced into considering drastic action. But Bernard’s dodgy past may just be about to catch up with him courtesy of this curious four-legged nemesis…
Wells’ crisp cartooning and eerie use of light and shade perfectly complement each other in juxtaposing both the gloriously ludicrous and claustrophobically haunting elements of his tale. It’s a perfectly pitched combination of knowing wry dialogue, precise comic timing and occasionally meta flourishes that lifts ‘That Bloody Llama’ above simply another classic horror comics pastiche.
Phil Elliott’s ‘The Game’ has a vein of social commentary running through it but without ever degenerating into preachy awkwardness. Here schoolboy Daniel has become disillusioned with his online participation in the ‘Creepie World’ game. But Daniel’s misadventures in a world of virtual reality classic monster counterparts may be about to take a twist thanks to an influence a lot closer to home…
Elliott jumps between artistic styles to emphasise Daniel’s parallel existences as we shift between the grotesquely shadowy environment of Creepie World and the crisper, more homely reality of domesticity. It’s a story that is perhaps slighter in plot but comfortingly universal in theme. Backing up the main features are horror pin-up pages featuring the work of Russell Mark Olson, Mark Stafford, Paul Harrison-Davies and Stephen Bissette. Yes you read that right, Stephen Bissette!
A number 2 on a small press offering can often be something of a sales kiss of death so it’s important to stress that this is an entirely self-contained offering that can be read in isolation. Well-crafted, escapist fare is what many of us yearn for from our comics reading right now and Malty Heave once again fits that bill to a tee. I look forward to seeing what the theme for a potential third issue is in 2021 because it would be unforgivable if the fun were to stop here.
You can buy Malty Heave online here.
Review by Andy Oliver