Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #107: Strangehaven: Brotherhood by Gary Spencer Millidge

There are a lot of quirky comics out there -- and the point of quirkiness is that isn't not for everyone. Any particular quirk will only appear to a particular subset of readers. And even someone who, like me, thinks he's fond of quirk in general can find a particular instance just doesn't work.

I wanted to like Strangehaven: Brotherhood. I love the story behind it: how creator Gary Spencer Millidge did all the work himself, writing and drawing, and how it was deeply English and full of his influences and ideas. I appreciate the fact that it's exactly the comic he wanted to make, influenced most obviously by The Prisoner and Twin Peaks but to a lesser degree by a host of very specifically British works. I admire the fact that he worked on it for so long, telling just the story he wants to tell.

And the set-up is intriguing, too: Alex, a middle-aged Londoner with a broken marriage behind him, goes on a vacation in the West Country, has an ambiguously ghostly encounter, and ends up stuck in the small town of Strangehaven, full of colorful characters and odd secrets.

(Although, parenthetically, I would personally loathe every second of that -- being stuck somewhere I don't want to be, loads of chatty people who won't shut up, barely any mod cons, and the most exciting thing to do is walk around a bunch of grass and hills.)

Brotherhood is the second Strangehaven collection, but Millidge has a thoughtful introduction from Alex's point of view that brings the reader up to speed, and, even more importantly, explains who the characters are with pictures. (Another reason I wanted to like this: Millidge is doing it all right.)

But...you knew there was a "but," right?

I didn't much like Alex, and, as I said just above, my personal reaction to "stuck in a somewhat supernatural way in a small town of quirky people" would be to burn the whole fucking thing down with cleansing fire until the bastard town let me out. So I was not so much in sympathy with his point of view as I might have been.

This is a talky comic, and I found it a chore to read a lot of the time -- only a scene where Basil Fawlty talks, from the TV screen, directly to a character really sang for me. (That was laugh-out-loud funny, I'll admit. I expect more things here are equally funny to actual British people.) Millidge also has a very heavily photo-referenced art style, particularly for people, and that struck me as fussy.

I guess "fussy" is the one word that hits me about Strangehaven. It felt like one of those claustrophobic rooms where an old person has been collecting bric-a-brac for fifty years, and then the old bag decides to tell you about every last piece of it.

There are certainly American readers who will love -- or already have loved -- Strangehaven. You yourself may even be one of them. But it didn't work very well for me, which means I'm not nearly as much of an Anglophile as I think I am.

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