Monday, July 25, 2016



Let’s be honest, we probably have too many of them.

If you are anything like me, your shelves are teetering, disorganised things, stocked with a “That’ll do!” attitude that prioritises what fits where over any real organisational effort. Librarians and professional cataloguers would blush at the sight of my shelves, I’m ashamed to say.

It seems I have two options – either get rid of some stuff (not going to happen) or take it all with me back to Japan, where with an aptitude forspace-conservation typical of the national mindset, all manner of practical comics space savers have been created. Here’s but a sample:

All are undoubtedly useful (that cupboard that opens up to reveal shelves galore is kinda genius), but there is a problem, however. I look at these things and go, “Oooh! How clever! And look how many comics they hold!” Mrs. Ashley, however, simply dismisses them outright on the basis that they are terribly, hopelessly ugly pieces of home furniture. It’s a point that’s difficult to argue...

And so, piles of comics continue to wobble and teeter, threatening to fall with the mere blow of a dog toy tossed errantlyin their direction. If you have your collection practically but handsomely displayed or have engineered some sort of Japanese miracle shelf, do get in touch. My comics and I would thank you.

Anyway. Another week, another transgressive and frightening take on the children's picture book, perfect for freaking yourself out on a cold winter's evening. I'll feature something fun next week, I promise, but doing these two books back-to-back was too much to resist.

By Matt Coyle
Published By Dover

"You're a worrier. Your mother's a worrier, you're a worrier and you'll always be a worrier."

Originally published in 2007, Australian artist Matt Coyle's particularly unsettling Worry Doll has found a new home over at Dover, an outfit that is rather quickly making a case for being one of the most important comics publishers in the world.

Like Brecht Evens' Panther, discussed in this space just last week, Worry Doll is a landscape-formatted, decidedly grown-up take on the picture book. However, where Evens' story focussed primarily on the notion of (possibly) imaginary friends and takes that to its innocence-shattering end, Coyle uses (creepy) children's dolls as his primary characters, digging around in our own feel-good memories of childhood play in an altogether different but even more disturbing manner. Where Evens kept to a kind-of-sort-of traditional comics storytelling mode, with speech balloons and panel flow, Coyle adheres to mimicking the primary format of his chosen medium, with text on the left-facing page, images on the right, and his stunning illustrations are often split into separate "panels" to further disrupt any notion of linear, clear time and narrative and further disorient the reader. Where Evens saturated his pages with lush and vibrant colour, Coyle strips it all back, allowing his almost impossibly detailed black and white pages to both take on an almost-reality and yet also look like vintage crime scene photographs with each increasingly nightmarish moment captured and frozen for readers to pore over. Finally, like Panther, Worry Doll is difficult to discuss without spoiling. Let's see what I can do...

The plot is this: a group of dolls discover their owners horrifically murdered and make a break for it through the still-open front door to their large, sprawling home. Off they go, out into the world, an oddly still realm of run down motels, abandoned playgrounds and leafy bush roads, with Coyle's anxiety-ridden accompanying prose likely to spike similar feelings in sensitive, imaginative readers. This is the real world. This can't be the real world. It's too surreal to be real; it's too realistic to be unreal. "Reality" is fractured and disrupted. Here is the source of reader discomfort. Mine anyway...

I think worrying about things gives you a pretty good memory.

How's that then? he asks.

it's like nothing goes unnoticed.

Indeed, nothing goes unnoticed in Coyle's meticulous, near-obsessively detailed artwork that marries the finest gothic of best of Bernie Wrightson with the intricate photo-realism of Arthur Ranson, yet with a verisimilitude neither has ever matched. Shaun Tan, in a beautifully-written foreword, notes the "clinically precise black marks, hand-rendered...with...common artline pen." Tan also informs us that there is no digital trickery to Coyle's work - not only that, but there is not even a drop of corrective wite-out. It's remarkable work, made even more so considering this.

As Worry Doll's mystery unspools and its images grow ever more terrifying, the refrain of ENJOY IT! ENJOY IT! ENJOY IT! that Coyle peppers through the narrator's recounting of events becomes a kind of anti-mantra. Like Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead, I was the Worry Doll by the end of the book. Mrs Ashley, after the briefest of perusals, looked at her husband with same expression she wore after seeing a decapitated mouse during a walk with our dog, and said, "Where did you get this from? Why are you such a creep?" She refuses to look at it again. Such is the immediate and potent disquiet aroused by Coyle's work. If I have any critical quibble at all, it's that landscape books are difficult to read in softcover editions as they flop about so much and a hardcover version would have been appreciated.

I wouldn't blame you at all if this sounds like the last thing you would ever want to read. However, if you are a reader who seeks a disruption of the everyday world and a slap in their face from their art, it seriously might be hard to top Worry Doll. Coyle opens the book with a quote from that modernist doyen of disquiet, Franz Kafka, a writer whose focus on the impossibility of escape from any number of nightmares is a more than fitting inclusion: 

"A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us." 

Prepare to have your frozen sea smashed in. ENJOY IT! ENJOY IT! ENJOY IT!

By James Harvey

From the nightmarish to the dreamy this week as we stare into "Little Nemo on 23rd Street," the amazing James Harvey's effort for the award-winning tribute to Winsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland, Nemo: Dream Another Dream.

Harvey, with uncanny acumen for working the physical limitations of his page space (as McCay had also), creates an immersive, sumptuous, and gorgeous Nemo strip, moving the eyes of his readers all over the page in unorthodox but perfectly clear ways. Best viewed with the entire page visible to fully appreciate the layout, "Little Nemo on 23rd Street" is beautiful stuff and the perfect visual sedative to bring those Worry Doll-fried nerves back from the edge. 


I'm assuming everyone who cares has caught this by now as although barely three days old by the time you read this that's like six months in Internet time. But just in case you somehow missed's the Wonder Woman trailer shown in San Diego over the weekend. Apart from some fairly cliché use of slow-mo action, I think this looks to be utterly stuffed with promise, a veritable Turducken of a superhero. Well played DC, well played. It feels good to finally say that, I have to admit.

See you next week. Love your comics.

Cameron Ashley spends a lot of time writing comics and other things you'll likely never read. He's the chief editor and co-publisher of Crime Factory ( You can reach him @cjamesashley on Twitter.

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