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Strangehaven vol 1: Arcadia

Strangehaven vol 1: Arcadia back

Gary Spencer Millidge


Page 45 Review by Stephen

The creators' choice: it's the comicbook creator's comic, read and relished by all and sundry from Alan Moore and Bryan Talbot to Warren Ellis and J.H. Williams III. And they know a good comic when they see one.

Imagine this: you're out for a drive through the British countryside, passing through tranquil villages, meandering along beautiful, sun-drenched valleys, and following the serpentine roads as they climb over hillsides then duck again under the leafy canopies. Gorgeous. And you stop, perhaps for a bite of lunch, in a particular village which, for the sake of argument, we'll call Strangehaven. Very relaxed: thatched roofs, a bit of mock Tudor, its own rustic church, a surgery, a couple of shops and a pub. Everyone going about their daily business. But do you really know what's going on? What's behind all those friendly smiles? Who's having an affair? Do some of them meet at night in a secret society? Did you hear about the murder? And the stranger who had the car crash - what's he still doing here months later?

The first major strength of what Millidge has crafted here - and there are many, many strengths - is the complete normality of the community and their leisurely interactions (as Dave Gibbons writes in the introduction to volume three: "This is a very unhurried comic") even though, beneath the surface, downright weird shit's going down.I mean, seriously disturbing.

The second strength is the accessibility. Visually, it's so easy on the eye with a precise line softened by gentle grey washes, but more importantly it's easy to read. I'm all for experimentation on this versatile art form, in the way Ware and Sim have constantly pushed what they do with panel structure etc., but most of The Real Mainstream simply don't know how to read comics, and there are very few artists who put their mind to this. Bryan Talbot on THE TALE OF ONE BAD RAT brought out a book of perfect accessibility, and Millidge does the same.

It's a very British book - you really couldn't find something more in tune with The Real Mainstream's sensibilities over here - so if you haven't yet given it a shot, well, that's what these reviews are for, right? Although in all honestly I should perhaps warn you that if you do start reading this, you will - just like Alex Hunter, the guy who crashed his car - never, ever be able to leave Strangehaven again.

"A darkly glittering example of the soap opera noir," writes Alan Moore, "Gary Spencer Millidge's STRANGEHAVEN is an occasionally-opening portal into the beautifully realised otherworld, a plane all the more intriguing and sinister for its resemblance to our own mundane territories. Perfectly controlled and naturalistic storytelling creates a wraparound illusion of the everyday in which surreal and threatening incidents are studded like unnerving little jewels. Gary Spencer Millidge is a consummate craftsman, a watchmaker patiently constructing his own unique universe. For a passport to a planet of unsettling delights that writhe beneath the surface of the ordinary, I strongly recommend that you attempt to be there when the portal next opens."

Trust Uncle Alan: he knows stuff.
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