One of the neglected gems of the UK small press scene over the last several months has to be the A Pocket Chiller series from Douglas Noble’s Strip for Me imprint. Not simply because it has allowed master of horror Noble (alongside on occasion frequent collaborator Sean Azzopardi) to bring us digital minicomics terror in the vein of past triumphs like Class of 1922 or Sightings of Wallace Sendek but also because the series has allowed contributions from other noted names on the British indie comics circuit.
The seventh entry in the series, The Sands of Fear, comes from Chris Reynolds, the creator behind key UK alternative comics work The New World: Comics from Mauretania (the collection of which our Tom Murphy reviewed not so long ago at BF). It’s Reynolds’s second contribution to a line of one-shots that consciously replicates the look and feel long gone classic British publisher Thorpe & Porter’s 1970s digest-style horror comics Pocket Chiller Library.
The Sands of Fear (like the earlier Reynolds offering The Scent of Terror!) is very different in one key aspect to the range, and underline’s Noble’s willingness to give creators experimental free rein with this imprint. Echoing the romance comic strips that were a major part of the girls magazine market in the UK in the 1970s and ‘80s, or the early months of the revived Eagle, The Sands of Fear is a photo-story comic with Reynolds scripting a tale brought to life in sequential photographs by Chris Maris and Boyd Skinner.
Set in that favourite English locale of the dying seaside town, The Sands of Fear is the story of entrepreneur Mary O’Malley (always referred to in whatever context by her full name) who has taken ownership of the tourist attraction miniature railway that runs through the local woods down to the coastline. But her presence is resented by the local criminal gang looking to take over the town for their own operations. With the aid of her trusty miniature railway driver, and a detective schooled in “the latest advanced detection techniques”, can Mary O’Malley keep the crooks at bay? And just what is the ominous secret behind her acquisition of the railway in the first place?
If that all sounds like some kind of genre send-up it’s because it is. The Sands of Fear is firmly tongue-in-cheek in delivery, as evidenced by an early scene when Mary O’Malley opens her caravan door to be greeted by a falling coffin with her name plaque on it, placed there as a warning from the criminal crew. Reynolds’s story gets ever more unlikely and bizarre as it progresses with characters talking in the kind of stilted dialogue that their predecessors in such photo-strip offerings adopted in the past. In short it’s a gloriously silly piece of camp nonsense made all the funnier for the fact that it’s all played so straight (right down to the actors posing for each panel who could quite easily have lapsed into over-the-top, gurning ostentation).
Given that this is a short 16-page comic for a smaller (but much acclaimed) imprint the amount of effort and organisation involved in The Sands of Fear is remarkable. It won’t translate to every audience but if you’re looking for something a little different from your digital comics purchasing habits then this is well worth checking out. As indeed is the entire A Pocket Chiller line.
Chris Reynolds (W) Chris Maris and Boyd Skinner (Photography) • Strip for Me, £1.59/$1.99
(Actors: Charles Jacobs, John Parke, Stanton Renwal, Arthur Tomson, Mary L. Reynolds, Mark Pawlikowski)
Review by Andy Oliver