If you’ve got a modicum of sense and taste, and can spare less than a quid a month, you may well have seen these strips develop pretty much day by day on Oliver East’s revealing and rewarding Patreon posts. The artist’s welcome return to comics mixes spontaneous drawing with commentary that is variously biting, funny and insightful. It also highlights the evolution of his work into something as tight and resonant as a guitar string.
Even in its earliest iterations, East’s work had a distinct voice – a slightly off-balance but conversational tone that drew in the reader. However, he’s now taking a more structured and poetic approach, highlighted by the fact that he’s been showcasing his work at open-mic spoken-word nights (as described memorably in his Patreon posts and alluded to in the framing sequence for this collection).
He has developed a sharp sense of rhythm and meter that trips along over the background beats laid down by his mostly grid-based pages. These pieces are based on exhaustive on-the-spot drawing that East then works up using stencils and an air brush and remixes into comics. As he states in one of the stories, ‘Ready Pencils!’ (based on his drawing workshops for kids at a local museum), “By putting pen to paper you become a member of Team Always Drawing”.This method is loud and clear in the opening piece, ‘All the Cranes in Manchester’, which started off as a simple drawing challenge undertaken during a six-and-a-half hour ‘drift’. The finished piece sharply contrasts the plight of the city’s rough-sleepers with the dizzying cycle of building, development and re-development that is changing the urban environment and widening the chasm between the haves and the have-nots. (In a strange side-effect, I’ve also found it difficult – if not impossible – to stop reading this in the voice of Dr John Cooper Clarke.)
Other pieces hit a variety of tones. ‘Ready Pencils!’ is gentler and more figurative, capturing the unself-conscious body language of children engrossed in drawing. ‘Shellac’ is a more documentary piece, depicting that band’s gig in Manchester in December 2019. In square, tightly cropped panels, East evokes the sensory experience of a claustrophobic club gig. In a more domestic vein, ‘Solicitous Satellite’ ponders the life and outlook of his dog, Special Agent Dale Cooper.
‘Long-Distance Socialising’, which concludes the collection, is its longest piece and a throwback of sorts to his earlier work, recording a walk undertaken to explore a particular concept. In this case East lights out due north from the heart of Manchester to discover at what point people start ‘letting on’ (saying hello unprompted when you walk past them).
From its eight-panel grid in the busier and more claustrophobic city centre, the layout becomes more spacious and ragged as he passes through the suburbs and into the Lancastrian badlands. Before long the sound of East’s own (mental) wheels is forcing him to rethink his parameters and to ponder the purpose of his ‘needy odyssey’ in search of human contact.In combination with the insights offered on his (highly recommended) Patreon, this collection offers a snapshot of a comics creator who seems to be working in something of a flow state at the moment. The sharply defined style he has created for himself mixes humour and insight, while always foregrounding the pleasures of observation, mark-making and refracting the world onto the page.
Wax Ever Grander is available as a PDF, for £2+, at Oliver East’s Gumroad store. Paying £5 will secure you a printed copy later.
You can find out more about Oliver’s work on his website here. You can also follow him on Twitter here and on Instagram here.
Review by Tom Murphy