Sitting somewhere between a much darker and abstruse version of Viz and an underground comix homage, Paul Jon Milne’s Tight Larks: A Collection of Crucial Comics is an anthology compilation of recurring characters and one-off strips. Milne’s illustrative style shifts throughout to accommodate and reflect the tone and subject matter of the individual entries but what remains a constant is the bleak wit that he imbues each and every offering with in these pages.
Punctuating the comic are the continuing adventures of two bizarre comedy creations. Stone Turd is a skateboarding slacker ex-cop who is guided in his mission to take down a local drug gang by a netherworldly Lovecraftian supernatural entity called Patrice. Plot and narrative are largely and deliberately an irrelevance here as retro parody and over-rendered, almost organic artwork take precedence. The other “serial” surrounds the exploits of Canix Okulon: Watchdog (above) – a super-heroic dog-botherer looking for the ideal canine sidekick. Pompous ‘60s super-hero dialogue is placed side-by-side with everyday dog-napping in an oddly effective juxtaposition of ideas.
Milne’s work has what I can only describe as a niche irreverence. The problem for a casual reader is that Tight Larks is not an immediately accessible read. It takes time for the audience to appreciate the rhythm and tone of Milne’s somewhat esoteric sense of humour. Once you have settled into the tempo of the strips, however, the slow build of the running gags in the two continuing features does begin to have a cumulative effect. Whether every potential punter will take the time to become familiar with the intricacies of Milne’s mindscape is debateable though. There’s a definite investment required to acquire a taste for his particular brand of comedic delivery but the committed reader will find it a worthwhile one.
The one-off strips are largely more entry-level with the highlights being twofold. ‘The Infernal Face of Fergus Faust’ has an IPC/DC Thomson traditional UK weekly humour comics vibe. Poor Fergus made a deal with the devil to remove his blackheads but had them replaced with demons in a satanic double cross. Every time he squeezes a zit he unleashes a new demonic familiar. As with a number of the concepts in Tight Larks I was very much reminded of the work of small presser Craig Collins (Roachwell, Metrodome) here. ‘War Meat 2016’, meanwhile, has a brilliant piece of DC Thomson satire embedded within its violent panels that will put a huge knowing smirk on the face of older Brit comics aficionados.
As a showcase for Milne’s varied approaches to the form Tight Larks is a diverse portfolio of work from the photo montage strip ‘Some Like it… Shot!?!’ – featuring secret agent Liza Minnelli on the trail of super-assassin Marilyn Monroe – through to the undersea drama of single panel gag piece ‘Noirwhal the Moodiest Monodon’ featuring a perpetually cynical emo narwhal. But from an audience standpoint that does make it feel a touch disconnected and fragmentary as a complete reading experience, with some strips being perhaps a little too obscure.
That said, the gleeful mockery of the work on offer here and Milne’s unrepentant “take no prisoners” mindset is hugely appealing in places. Whether or not a more accessible style of delivery would compromise the bite of his comics is a discussion for another time but this is certainly a creator I am keen to investigate further on the strength of Tight Larks’s contents.
To buy copies of Tight Larks visit Paul Jon Milne’s online store here.
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