A SAFARI FESTIVAL TIE-IN!
In terms of whimsical UK small press fantasy, Matthew Swan’s Parsley Girl loosely sits somewhere between Colin Bell and Neil Slorance’s Dungeon Fun and Adam Vian’s Long Lost Lempi. I first came across Swan’s work via his and John Brown’s themed ZAM zines that are largely comprised of single illustration pieces on each issue’s topic (examples below) – wildly imaginative takes on Dinosaurs, Knights, Strange Powers and more. It’s material that belies the idea that zines are ephemeral and disposable because each edition of ZAM is something to savour, something to return to again and again to pore over the gorgeously rendered work therein.
With Parsley Girl, Swan has created two longer-form comics narratives that feature the eponymous heroine’s misadventures in a fantasy world of dark magic, mythical creatures and mystical locales – all imbued with some wittily anachronistic flourishes.
The first comic Parsley Girl: Witches sees our protagonist tricked into aiding a besieged nunnery and ending up as the potential snack-time feast for a coven of evil sorceresses, and in a back-up tale she sets out on a mission to capture a hideous gnome (for frankly rather dubious reasons!). In Parsley Girl: Minotaur P.G. attempts to save an isolated snowbound mountain kingdom from a rather incongruously placed and destructive minotaur.
I think it’s fair to say that Parsley Girl is less about narrative and more concerned with the visual spectacle; inventively designed monstrous antagonists and hypnotically enticing landscapes rather than deep characterisation or cleverly structured plots. But while those slightly stilted storylines – and over reliance (perhaps deliberately?) on the deus ex machina – mean it’s never going to be the most demanding comic you’re likely to pick up, it remains a truly absorbing romp of a read.
That’s because it’s impossible not to become totally immersed in the panel-to-panel flow of Swan’s pages, which by Parsley Girl: Minotaur have become incredibly assured in composition (there’s a strong example below left), adopting playful, ever changing page construction to foster a sense of fluid motion, drama and comedic pacing. The visual gags are often ingenious, and that juxtaposition of the fantastical and the contemporary (Parsley Girl becoming a pizza topping in Witches above right for example or the somewhat meta, video game references in Minotaur) accentuates the humour of the comic through its sheer, relentless absurdity.
Beautifully and meticulously coloured, bringing the environment Swan has created here to vibrant, striking life, Parsley Girl is an old-fashioned, escapist, comfort read from an always inspired cartooning mind.
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Matthew Swan will be tabling at Safari Festival on August 22nd.