There has always been something incongruously appealing about the gloomy existentialism to be found in the comic strips of Alex Potts. The long-time UK small press figure is probably best known for his books with Avery Hill Publishing (A Quiet Disaster, It’s Cold in the River at Night) but he has been self-publishing and contributing to anthologies like the late, great The Comix Reader and Dirty Rotten Comics for many years. Potts’ work often takes on a semi-autobio form, flirting with nihilism without ever fully committing itself to it.
After something of a break in printed output (though not in online material) Potts returned at the end of last year with two small press projects, one of which was today’s subject Standing Outside the Station, Sweating. A compilation of short 1-2 page strips and one long-form story it sees him reflecting on such important issues of the day as the state of men’s trousers, whether anyone has ever died from yawning, bad haircuts, the difference between hiking and walking, the price of a pint, and that old chestnut… where do writers get their ideas from?
Potts has this engaging ability in these shorts to elevate the vacuously ridiculous to the profoundly philosophical. Something that guarantees the reader’s attention is immediately caught. It’s a core element of his work that, to some degree, permeates every aspect of it, from the focussed oddities of his briefer strips to the off-centre weirdness of his graphic novella output. It has a strange familiarity simply because he’s capturing those same throwaway thoughts we all have as we go about our daily routines.
The longer-form story herein is a travelogue created on summer holiday jaunts to Essex and Devon visiting coastal attractions, ancient churches, and local pubs. There’s something of a scrapbook appeal to these pages but Potts avoids this turning into diverting but forgettable diary comics by injecting that trademark idiosyncratic observational wit into the story; an unlikely encounter with a jogger, a human turkey, and an intriguing correlation between pizza and Pac-Man.
Comedic timing, as ever, is pinpoint accurate here with Potts using a fluorescent colour scheme to strong effect in the 1-2 pagers to emphasise the sense of the weirdness rooted in the ordinary that they embody, and a sepia style colouring in the long-form story that suits its retrospective journal-style presentation. It’s been too long since we last had a collection of Potts-ian ruminations on the world. Standing Outside the Station, Sweating is a reminder of just what a gift his off-kilter perspective is to autobio work.
Alex Potts (W/A) • Self-published, £5.00
Review by Andy Oliver