Comics and community. It’s something we’ve spoken about a lot in this column in 2015 whether it be in terms of graphic memoirist Wallis Eates’s outreach work taking the medium to a new potential audience, or projects like Keara Stewart’s anthology A Bit of Undigested Potato that brought creators from across the publishing spectrum together with a celebratory zeal.
Over the last few years we’ve heard a lot about a new Golden Age of self-publishing in the UK. If there’s one element of the scene in that time, though, that has excited me as much as the quality of work on offer it’s been the growing and tangible sense of co-operative spirit and support that has been at the heart of what has become a burgeoning community movement. Whether it be collectives of creators working together, events like Gosh! Comics’ Process Group or Laydeez Do Comics that offer encouragement and inspiration, or the efforts of sites like BF and many others in actively championing deserving work, there’s a level of positivity in UK small press comics that rarely gets a fraction of the coverage it deserves.
Richy K. Chandler is very much one of those collaborative driving forces that the current comics self-publishing world would be all the poorer without. I won’t spend too much time here elaborating on his accomplishments because there’s an entire foreword in Tempo Lush Tales of the Tanoox from the aforementioned Laydeez Do Comics’ founders Sarah Lightman and Nicola Streeten on just that. But I will say that this latest incarnation of Tempo Lush Tales is proof indeed of his ability to unite, connect and facilitate; one that takes the mission statement of the original Tempo Lush Tales and builds on its philosophy with admirable intent.
While that first volume of TLT was about Chandler writing multi-genre stories that would suit the particular artistic talents of a broad base of creators, this second edition has a more defined thematic core. The task he set for his contributors this time was to fashion their stories around the central premise of positive change; whether that be tales that work on a personal, societal or even global level. The one linking factor throughout these shorts is the mysterious symbol of the Tanoox (depicted on the front cover above), the appearance of which is linked to beneficial transformations.
The Tanoox has existed throughout history and across alternate realities and, as a connective narrative device, it provides a neat and clever way to allow the multiple names involved in this project to approach the book’s subject matter from a variety of angles. Sometimes its presence is a direct catalyst in a plot, in others its relationship to the story is more tangential than direct, and there’s a degree of fun to be had on occasion in spotting its less obvious role in some tales. But it allows a wide range of material and styles to exist within these covers without it ever feeling disparate or disjointed.
Some of the entries are smaller human stories. David O’Connell’s ‘Flat E’ (see top banner image), for example, which tackles the dwindling bee population through a gentle drama revolving around the blossoming friendship of two residents in a block of flats. Or Keara Stewart’s simple but beautifully eloquent ‘1948’ (above left) that underlines the importance of the formation of the National Health Service with straightforward but powerful imagery. Similarly, Francesca Dare’s ‘Undertow’ may be draped in fantasy trappings but it’s a potent piece of visual metaphor dealing with depressive illness and represents some of her most confident work to date. Just check out the panels below to see an excellent example of that.
Sometimes the Tanoox effects change on a much larger scale. James Hickman is a creator I’m less familiar with but his silhouette-style four-pager ‘Colossi’ (below) tracing the rise and fall of civilisations was one of the highlights of the book for me, and an adept panel-to-panel use of comics’ particular relationship with the concept of time. Similar in scope is Lisa Woynarski and Mike Medaglia’s thoughtful ecological parable ‘The Death of the Familiar’ wherein the storytelling possibilities of the Tanoox’s influence are exploited to their most far-reaching extent.
The great beauty of this book is that it allows for such diverse styles and subject matter. The delicate and expressive art of Chie Kutsuwada’s touching ghost story ‘Reunion’, for example, or the bouncy energy of Richy K. Chandler’s weird world of furball creatures in ‘Revolution’. It’s Tiny Pencil showrunner Amber Hsu (below) who steals the show for me, though, with ‘There Was Once…’. The reality she creates here is simultaneously alien and familiar in appearance, and her rhythmic use of language contributes significantly to the appeal of this entrancing allegory. We don’t see nearly enough comics work from Amber and I hope this is indicative of more to come in the near future.
Everyone involved in Tempo Lush Tales of the Tanoox gets a spotlight bio and a chance to speak briefly about their own ideas for positive change. The group effort that the book embodies is perhaps best illustrated in ‘Bugleberry Tree’, the jam story where a dozen creators take a page each to illustrate the lyrics of a Chandler-penned song. It includes graphic novelists like Rachael Smith and Jessica Martin (below) alongside some established names on the small press scene including John Miers and Sally-Anne Hickman, and also with creators on the beginning of their comics journey such as Kim Clements whose work both myself and the Forbidden Planet International Blog’s Richard Bruton have been urging you to check out of late (read Richard’s recent comments on Clements here).
What Chandler has achieved here is a comics collection whose very existence promotes and advances the ideals it stands for. This isn’t merely a comic about positive change as storytelling material; it’s one that encourages us to think about making a difference ourselves. It’s also a book that provides a showcase for some of the most exciting voices on the small press scene at the moment and mirrors this column’s own belief in championing worthy practitioners. Feelgood comics at their practical and constructive best, Tempo Lush Tales of the Tanoox is a commendable and vital anthology offering.
For more on Tempo Lush visit the site here and follow Richy K. Chandler on Twitter here. You can buy copies of Tempo Lush Tales of the Tanoox online here priced £7.00 and at the Bristol Comic and Zine Fair this Saturday October 3rd.
For regular updates on all things small press follow Andy Oliver on Twitter here.