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Wednesday, 7 September 2016

"GOOD LORD !!! READY FOR POP? "NOT 'ALF !"

It took four lunchtimes and a breckie and a bag of extra cream dairy fudge to make the deal  but I pulled it off.  I also got a review from Mr Paul Ashley Brown.

photo: Gosh! (London)

Ready For Pop? by Hurk
Black & White Graphic Novel, 128 pages
Knockabout Comics £9.99 
128 pages 25.5 x 18.5 cm | ISBN 9780861662500

Hurk has been a regular stalwart of the UK Independent Comics and Zines "Scene" ( I hate the use of that word, but in this case, Daddio, it may be somewhat apt) for a number of years now, responsible with Surreal genius Kevin Ward for The Static Revolver, Editor of the derangedly diverse Affordable Amazement Catalogue (a second issue of which is due soon), being a regular contributor to Richard Cowdry's Comix Reader, & his own self-published collection of Comic Crime Shorts, Bazoik!!  He's now produced his first foray into the unbearably overhyped nonceheap that is "The Graphic Novel", courtesy of Old School Indie Diehards Knockabout Books, so immediately to my mind, he's blatantly sold out, to tiresome arty pretentiousness, & a need to give Guardian readers a boner about reading comics.("Shhh-don't use that word in the house, Hildegard...I've told you before Darling, they're Graphic Novels !!! Honestly Darling ! Sometimes you can be so bloody plebian !")


Thankfully, young Hurk may be forgiven for his glaring error of Judgement (and blatant greed, let's not beat about the bush here people,the Moneygrabbing Swine !) Ready For Pop is devoid of the usual "Tortured Serious Artist & Misunderstood Sensitive Genius" bullshit you can sometimes come across in the current UK comics landscape (like that twat who does Noel Browne, Existential Miserygob, or whatever it's called). This is a wonderfully ridiculous romp through a surreal comic landscape of Swinging Sixties British lampoonery, that anyone raised on a diet of ITC Detective Dramas & Euston Films "Cor-Blimey You Slaag, Grab the Shooters" Duffery will affectionately recognise.

So the (utterly silly) plot is thus:  It's the Mid-Sixties & Swinging London Kids ! Britains Top Pop Sensation Vic Vox has been kidnapped by unknown assailants who have reduced him to a foot tall in size after spraying him with a shrink drug. It's up to Chief Inspector Ladyshoe of the Yard & his team to uncover the guilty party, in a race against the clock, as Vic is due to perform on TV's biggest one-off live pop show "Ready For Pop" in a matter of days ! Can Ladyshoe uncover the Villains & get Vic back to size before his career is ruined ?

The plot alone is enough to make you realise this isn't a book to take seriously. In fact, it's immediate joy is just how deliciously idiotic the whole thing is right from the start. The opening chapter consists of our reduced hero chucked in a blender, saved by a talking bird who takes him to a talking spider, who he then performs a 45 minute rendition of his act to, before being wrapped in a cuccoon of web and deposited by the bird into her nest for it's young to eat. Thankfully some birdwatchers intervene and save Vic, but only in order to profit from their good deed. Unbelieveably ,it gets even more daft after that, if that's at all possible.

Hurk's genius apart from creating ludicrously lunatic storylines, is in the unique graphic quality of the artwork with which he visually embellishes these tall tales of tomfoolery. He has a great sense of considering the Comic-Strip page as an overall design at first,often using a neat Graphic shorthand of visual signs and signals, text and diagrammatic flourishes to move you visually through the story, like a pop-art heiroglyph.It's a wonderfully inventive way of allowing you to read your way through and around the page. He reminds me in a way of Mark Beyer, who also had a great propensity to consider the overrall look of the page using his characters as decorative borders around the panels, or just patterned strips.The usual grid structure of the comic page is also reassembled by Hurk in a more irregular and angular fashion, so the usual rectangular panel is suddenly a series of Rhomboids, or triangular, or sharp diagonals, which help shift the rhythm and movement of the images, and of the story. It allows for certain visual emphasis often on Hurk's other great strength, perhaps his best quality, the drawing of his characters.

 Hurk's a Cartoonist who delinates the content of his Panels with the skills of a deft draftsman of the Comic Grotesque. His characters follow a tradition inherent in British Art of a pleasure in transmogrification of the face and it's hideous detail, for comic purpose and caricaturist effect; a line that runs from Gillray, Hogarth and Rowlandson, through to the likes of Martin Rowson and Steve Bell. Indeed, that sensibility & lineage has recurred in the comic book pages of Leo Baxendale and Ken Reid, and to an extent Hunt Emerson (a Knockabout alumni). For me, Hurk may have the ability to follow in their hideous club-footed steps. Almost every character in this book is made a thing of beautiful ugliness by Hurk's pen, each one a wonderful visual comic turn facially. Within these pages, characters are described through their rubbery lips, piggy noses, shifty eyes, dodgy irregular teeth and double chins (with three day pointillist stubble). Villains look like Villians, Cops look like Cops, and rival band The Small Pocks look suspiciously like The Rolling Stones.The supporting cast of models, TV Producers, Sidekick cops, Shifty agents, Crap Comics and Dodgy Geezers provide equally strong visual backup throughout. It's as much a nod to the wonderfully ugly and ordinary character actors of 60's British television.

Here's another pleasure of this book, the way Hurk infuses the story with wonderful cultural references throughout, and lovely nods and winks to the era he's supposedly depicting, from Vic Vox's moptop head of hair,washed-up comedian Tubs Cochran's unerring similarity to Tony Hancock, Small Time Gangster Franky Valet's chain of Billiard/Table Skittles Halls (above which sits an Ad for "Bovoxoryl "), Jukeboxes in Dodgy Boozers,Cigarette Picture cards in packets of "Lucky Boot" fags,Creepy Masonic Lodges, swinging 60's niteclubs, Hip Popart TV studios, and the glamorous lure of "The Palladium's" spotlight.

The whole book makes for a really enjoyable read, suffused with an absurdist,surreal wit in keeping with Singing Sixties icons like the Avengers, Monty Python,and Gurney Slade, mixed with the grubby grim humour & slapstick punchups of ITC detectives, and a nod to the poptastic moptops of yesteryear. Here's hoping this is the start of a canon of cartooning comic-strip capery from Lord Hurk. May I suggest maybe the next book is an amalgam of Seventies British TV Sci-Fi chicanery entitled The Tomorrow Seven ?????  I'm billing you for a Credit and Royalty already Your Lordship !!!!

Paul "King Of the Quiff" Brown

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