THOUGHT BUBBLE 2019!
Dan White is a master storyteller on two main fronts. Let’s start with the first of those qualities and White’s marked ability to so empathetically portray the world from a child’s perspective, allowing us to see their environment through their eyes, and to take us back to our own younger years in the process with a lingering and affecting resonance.
In that regard, long-term Broken Frontier readers will be aware of my frustration that his critically acclaimed, multi-layered and poignant Cindy and Biscuit series, following a young girl and her dog’s encounters with the supernatural, has never been picked up by a publisher (and if you’re one of that number who has indicated to me that you’ll be following our Thought Bubble coverage this year then you really need to be checking that book out!).
It’s something that’s very evident in the first story in his new edition of Sticky Ribs, the horror showcase that debuted last year at Thought Bubble to a deservedly glowing review here at BF. ‘Last Summer’ has a Where the Wild Things Are vibe to it but with the darkest, almost stygian, twists to it. Following the (mis)adventures of a young boy who is living alone in the woods it depicts his summer adventures, having apparently escaped the overbearing strictures of adult supervision.
But as his romp through the countryside continues there’s a growing sense of unease and tension as the truth behind his situation is slowly revealed. This is prime White material with the juxtaposition of innocent, childlike diary entries and horrifying reality perfectly counterpointing each other and, through their contrast, making events all the more chilling. It’s Maurice Sendak by way of Cormac McCarthy, with wide-eyed innocence going hand in hand visually with a surrounding inescapable devastation.
As for that second key fixture of White’s work – its almost casually macabre quality – that is very much a key component of the second entry here, the illustrated story ‘Christmas at Bunty’s’. Just check out the build-up to that final sentence on page 1 (below left) for an excellent example of White’s ability to pull the rug out from under the reader with his revelatory pacing. This story jumps across the days of a schoolgirl’s festive visit to her chum Bunty’s home with the jolly bonhomie of an Enid Blyton story – all wizard wheezes and middle class propriety – fused with Lovecraftian horror. Again, White’s expressive and fluid cartooning giving the story a harder edge for its darker elements being channelled through such an accessible visual style, with the on-page absence of the characters themselves exacerbating the dread by isolating us from the story’s protagonists.
The issue is rounded out with a short essay on the impact of classic TV event Ghostwatch, ensuring that the format of last year’s debut number is repeated. Again, if you’re looking for self-contained and affordable small press work at Thought Bubble this year then Sticky Ribs is well worth your time. One of these years I will write up a festival piece on Dan White’s work that doesn’t bemoan his lack of wider recognition. It’s not this year but let’s try and make 2020 the year when we can celebrate his comics being picked up and brought to the expanded audience they simply need to be reaching.
Dan White will be exhibiting at Thought Bubble 2019 at the Mindless Ones and SILENCE! Podcast Table 16 in the ComiXology Originals Hall.
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Review by Andy Oliver