Friday, October 31, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #302: Bad Machinery, Vol. 3 by John Allison

The air of effortlessness can only be achieved with a lot of hard work and careful planning: the breeziest, lightest entertainments always require a massive effort behind the scenes to hold them up and the frothiest souffles only happen after painstaking care. It's the Ginger Rogers Effect: if you don't even notice the effort, it's only because there's twice as much effort as you'd expect to do the thing and keep you from noticing it.

John Allison's Bad Machinery comics are at that level: seemingly light, funny adventure stories, mixing teen supernatural-detecting and teen ordinary-life, with fizzy, distinctive dialogue and a madly inventive imagination and one of the best casts imaginable. (Charlotte Grote alone is a masterpiece.) Along with everything else, they manage to thread the tricky needle of continuity and standalone: the series moves forward in time and events do accumulate, but each storyline is distinct and completely wonderful on its own.

There have been seven of those stories so far, since Bad Machinery started up in 2009, all of which are still up on Allison's website to read for free with just a little clicking. And they're also starting to appear in book form this year, for those of us who prefer paper that we can stick up on a shelf. Coming early next year -- yes, I couldn't stop myself from reading it now; that's how good Allison is -- is Bad Machinery, Vol. 3: The Case of the Simple Soul, collecting that third adventure originally published in 2010-11. (You can also see my reviews of the first and second cases, from earlier this year.)

The setting is easy to describe: a minor British city, up in Yorkshire, where odd things happen but no one specifically mentions that. Our main characters are all kids, around twelve when this story begins -- it's the end of the school year that began in the first story -- Charlotte, Mildred, and Shauna are in a mostly friendly competition with Linton, Sonny, and Jack to solve mysteries. Well, that was what they were doing: Linton and Sonny, Charlotte and Mildred are somewhat at loose ends because Jack and Shauna are dating, and spending all of their time together rather than with their friends solving mysteries.

But there is a mystery to be solved, which may be about a series of mysterious arson attacks on empty barns. Or it may be about a troll-like figure Charlotte and Mildred discover living under a bridge. Or the flashy Colm, who suddenly is the third friend to Sonny and Linton without their quite understanding how. Or Tackleford's unusual fire brigade, who hate fire more than anything. Or about "Little Claire," who seems to be hanging around a lot herself. Or maybe all of those things and more.

Allison writes great quirky dialogue and fantastically fun sideways plots, and his drawing is equally distinctive and amusing to go along with it. He's a great cartoonist with wonderful material to work from, and Bad Machinery is a real joy on every single page. (Really: I will continue to plug his stories until you break down and go read them. Might as well start now.)

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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