There’s only a fortnight’s gas left in the tank of 2016. It’s been a good year for local comics, with Australian creators doing strong work in both long and short form narratives (rather than single out any titles or creators here, I’ll direct you to our archive of reviews for 2016). This final review of 2016, fittingly, covers two particularly good works from both formats: the first issue of Gwynn Earl’s Yours in Murder, Mr. Monster and the first three issues of Ross Murray’s comics anthology Cosmic Dust.
The plot of Yours in Murder, Mr. Monster is inspired by true events, and offers up some nifty historical conjecture. In 1976–77, David Berkowitz claimed the lives of six New Yorkers at the command of his neighbour’s dog, as immortalised in this bonkers scene from Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam. Elsewhere in New York, Herman Slater was the proprietor of Magickal Childe, a bookshop for practitioners of witchcraft and paganism. The premise of Yours in Murder is that Berkowitz’s crimes and the existence of Slater’s Necronomicon-stocking establishment are linked, and the first issue of the series takes tentative steps towards dramatizing that link.
Earl’s story is told in two parts. The first is set in Magickal Childe, and hinges largely around an enthusiastic customer’s impassioned argument to Slater that the Kennedy assassination was a multi-faceted conspiracy whilst the shop-owner goes about his daily grind, selling wares, interacting with other clients, and preparing for rituals. It’s a curious narrative choice, but as a mad fan of Oliver Stone’s JFK I had few complaints, and the still-topical talk of Kennedy’s assassination not only adds historical texture but hints at the fractured, eroding state of the nation; in short, the sort of environment conducive to drawing lost and damaged souls to witchcraft and murder. In the issue’s second half, Earl jettisons the chatter for a series of dialogue-free pages depicting a knife-wielding maniac seen earlier in Slater’s store – resembling Berkowitz, but also resembling a twisted version of Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman – preying upon and attacking two women walking alone at night. It’s a hard, jarring turn, accentuated by the very different art styles of both halves of the book: the front end is all rubbery faces and cluttered frames sketched in thick black inks, while the art in the back end of the issue appears to utilize grey watercolours and pencils with only strategically deployed ink, giving it a rusty, woozy aesthetic. Overall, I really like what Earl’s going for in Yours in Murder, Mr. Monster: think Clerks meets Zodiac with a touch of Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell in a seedy 1970s Brooklyn milieu.
Meanwhile, the first three issues of Cosmic Dust tickled me pink. Each issue is structured around four vignettes. The first and third in each issue are called ‘Pets Talk Records’, in which two pets – ranging from dogs to birds to rabbits – listen to an album and discuss the album, its history, its creators, and its cultural resonance. One pet leads the conversation, exhibiting deep knowledge and hyperbolic enchantment (arguably with their own knowledge as much as the album itself), while the other pet has more animalistic concerns to contend with. The second story in each issue, ‘Strange Tales from Summer Bay’, transpires in and pokes fun at the strange Neverland of Home and Away, with Alf, Irene, Leah and co questioning their loopy soap existences. The final vignette in each issue, ‘Rufus Marigold’, follows the bland adventures of an ineffectual and self-flagellating simian working in some manner of office job.
I can’t reveal too much about these deceptively simple tales without spoiling the gags, but it’ll suffice to say there’s some really funny stuff to be found in Cosmic Dust, with Murray juxtaposing the mundane with the ridiculous to great comic effect. I especially enjoyed the ‘Pets Talk Records’ vignettes and, as a reviewer of popular culture myself, found the commentary both hilarious and uncomfortably familiar. Art-wise, Murray’s illustrations never draw unnecessary attention to themselves, instead serving the story and the gags unobtrusively. But there are plenty of nice artistic touches: I particularly liked the anthropomorphic awe of the animal music commentators and the absence of any colour or shade in the Summer Bay vignettes, befitting the blandness of its source material. Also, kudos on the delightfully psychedelic cover art.
On the whole, Yours in Murder, Mr. Monster and Cosmic Dust are a great cap to 2017. To all creators reading this: thanks for doing what you do, keep up the good work, and keep ‘em coming…