SLCZF 2023! It would be remiss, to say the least, not to include a review of the work of the South London Comic and Zine Fair’s founder as part of our SLCZF event at Broken Frontier this month. Happily, Gareth Brookes has a new project out for us to slot into that coverage window in the shape of Times Tables. This double-comic set originally saw life as two concertina comics with an astonishing 14-metre length. Reproducing that original presentational mode would be impractical, not to mention economically unviable. Their publication in book set format, though, has its own advantages. It asks us to consider that original physicality with a keener understanding of process; the sidestep from primary experimentation actually creating a whole new level of cognitive interaction.
Times Tables is described as “the story of a young boy’s strange relationship with his identical twin grandmas”, a premise that sounds impossible until our narrator gently confesses that he never really knew which of these elderly twins was his actual grandparent and simply referred to them as “Gran 1” and “Gran 2”. Though both operate in their daily routines as if they are a unit, Gran 1 is the grumpier of the two while Gran 2 is the one with an optimistic approach to life. Everything is about to change, though, when the elderly pair have a falling-out with serious ramifications for all…
Brookes has always had an acute ability to find subdued and yet somehow at the same time pronounced humour in the quotidian. Differing opinions on the new tarmac on a local car park, for example, gain a comedic zest while the story’s measured build-up eventually takes us to a punchline of sorts that is so dry it is positively caustic. Times Tables encapsulates that observational dark humour that we have come to expect from Brookes; as if Alan Bennett had been possessed at his typewriter by a minor demon from one of the outer rings of Hell.
Vvisually Times Tables adopts a hazier, dream-like flow in its depiction of events. The smudged, indistinct images seemingly representing the elusiveness of memory, with the narration of previous pages bleeding through as if to remind us of the fallibility of our recollections. Brookes has made a point of alternating longer-form work with shorter-form practice that challenges and interrogates our perceptions of the form. Times Tables is another fine example of that and a must-buy at SLCZF this weekend for those interested in experimental and alt comics work.
Gareth Brookes (W/A) • Self-published, £12.00
Review by Andy Oliver
SLCZF is held at Stanley Arts on July 16th. More details here.