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Tohby Riddle

Allen & Unwin (2012)

ISBN: 978-1-74237-9722

Reviewed by Ross Murray

Unforgotten is Tohby Riddle’s latest book, following My Uncle’s Donkey (2010) and Nobody Owns the Moon (2008). However, his impressive catalogue of publications (including collaborations) goes back to 1989 and includes books for pre-schoolers, cartoon collections, graphic novels, non-fiction, and a novel, The Lucky Ones (2009).

Down from the heavens arrive angels, sweeping through cities all over the earth. They travel so fast their presence is hardly perceived. On train stations, in traffic tunnels, on the top of buildings, they flicker in and out of sight. These angels come “to watch over, and to warm, and to mend”. Read the rest of this entry »

Mandy Ord

Allen & Unwin (2011)

ISBN: 978-1-742-37216-7

Reviewed by Ross Murray

Mandy Ord is now a staple of the Australian comic art community with a career spanning over fifteen years beginning with her self-published venture, Wilnot.

Sensitive Creatures follows her full length Rooftops (2008, Finlay Lloyd) and is a collection of short graphic narratives that were originally self-published or found homes between 2002 and 2010 in publications including The Lifted Brow, falcon vs monkey, Tango, and Torpedo.

To the glancing eye Ord’s work may look unrefined but on closer inspection there’s close attention to detail and a surety in line, definition and layout. Ord conveys emotions through facial expressions, and body positioning with great care and definition. There’s never a time when you’re unsure what the characters are thinking or feeling.

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Robert Rankin


ISBN: 978-0-575-08853-5

Reviewed by Ross Murray

It’s 1895 and with the British Empire having defended and vanquished a Martian invasion ten years previous, Earth has become part of a planetary community including Venus and Jupiter. George Fox and his sideshow freak employer, Professor Coffin need a new attraction because their pickled Martian is about to fall to bits. So when rumours of the wildest attraction in the universe – The Japanese Devil Fish Girl – reach their ears they sell up everything and set off in search, a decision boosted by George having a fortune teller tell him the future of the planets rests upon his shoulders. But the Japanese Devil Fish Girl has significance for the inhabitants of Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Venus, and making her a sideshow attraction could well constitute the biggest blasphemy ever. It could even bring about Worlds War 2.

Having been much impressed and amused with Rankin’s last novel Retromancer I was looking forward to The Japanese Devil Fish Girl with some relish. Unfortunately my expectations may have been too high. The Japanese Devil Fish Girl falls short of Retromancer. For one thing the ‘protagonist’ George Fox, well, doesn’t do too much. In fact as a main character he’s a tad passive. Things just seem to happen to him and considering finding the actual Japanese Devil Fish Girl and the fate of the planets rest on his shoulders I would’ve thought he’s make a bit more of a fist of it. When his boss and sometimes evil-minded, Professor Coffin unwittingly sets in motion Worlds War 2 it all takes place “off-screen”. George isn’t even involved. He’s instead arranging to get married. The story also suffers from not having a really devilish bad guy. While Professor Coffin fills this role somewhat he’s not really evil, just a bit of a scoundrel.

There are a few amusing moments and the writing is trademark Rankin (anyone can see he has a formula and he’s sticking to it). However, missing is the quick- fire repartee and sticky situations presented in Retromancer. I’ve only read two of Rankin’s book so I can’t readily say which of the two is the more common, though I suspect Retromancer is the norm. For the most part The Japanese Devil Fish Girl is enjoyable and an easy, quick read, not at all taxing on the brain. For light entertainment it’s worthwhile though I suspect for even diehard Rankin fans this will be a disappointment.

Michael Dhillon (2009)

ISBN: 978-1-84923-510-5

Reviewed by Ross Murray

Michael Dhillon’s self-published The Cuckoo Parchment and the Dyke is a well-written, but flawed book.

Tristan Jarry is the most famous artist in the world but a recluse who has been rarely sighted in public. Angelique Burr, the estranged stepdaughter of the US President, is gifted the task of doing Tristan’s first interview in over a decade. However the offer of the interview is soon revealed to be Angelique’s elaborate kidnapping, staged by Tristan.

The narrative swaps between accounts of Tristan’s early years (his escape from a death camp; his early years studying art living under a brutal totalitarian regime) to Angelique’s kidnapping in the present.

While keeping one step ahead of authorities, Tristan and his accomplices stage performance art pieces around the world, it seems specifically for Angelique, until Tristan reveals the most elaborately planned piece of performance art ever devised. Inspired by the Dada non-art non-movement, Tristan intends to start a revolution to free the world’s imagination.

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Robert Rankin

Gollancz (2009)

ISBN: 978-0-575-08497-1

Reviewed by by Ross Murray

Retromancer is my first dip into the literature of Robert Rankin but it’s definitely not his! Rankin has been a prolific author since his first publication The Antpope (1981). As the self-proclaimed leading exponent of “far-fetched fiction”, Retromancer is Rankin’s thirtieth novel.

Set in 1967, the story is narrated by the teenage Rizla (aka Jimmy Pooley) who appears in all the books of Rankin’s Brentford Trilogy (of which there are nine including Retromancer).

Not all is as it seems for Rizla since returning from his escapades as chronicled in The Brightonomicon. While he’s been away, things in Britain have taken a decidedly German turn for the worse. German bratwurst sausages are being served for breakfast and there’s only German beer on tap in all the local pubs. Rizla however is determined to pursue his life of all things English, which leads to his arrest as a spy and subsequent imminent torture. Luckily he’s saved in the nick of time by Hugo Rune.

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Edited by Brenton Tomlinson

Blade Red Press (2010)

ISBN: 978-0-9805782-3-2

Reviewed by Ross Murray

I’m constantly amazed that despite the limited, if any, promise of monetary returns gained by publishing independent books there are still bold, proud individuals out there who feel it’s their destiny to take the plunge. We should be thankful of these individuals, such as those behind Blade Red Press otherwise little gems like Dark Pages would never see the light of day. Read the rest of this entry »

Jonathan Walker (writer) and Dan Hallett (illustrator)

Allen & Unwin (2010)

ISBN: 978-1-74237-013-2

Reviewed by Ross Murray

The first thing you notice about Five Wounds is that the book itself is a lovingly designed and executed object, almost a piece of art in itself reminding of a time before mass market paperbacks. The book immediately sets itself apart as something special with its deep red cover and gold embossed illustration of a hand with symbols marked upon it. There’s even has an in-built bookmark like you’d find in an old-style Bible. The ‘Illuminated Novel’ of the title refers to the fact that like manuscripts produced in the Middle Ages and Renaissance eras, the text of Five Wounds is supplemented by decorations in the form of marginalia and illustrations. There’s also a set of glossy plates in the middle of the book providing accompanying illustrations to selected passages of the story.

Five Wounds tells the story of the intertwining lives of Gabriella, Crow, Cuckoo, Magpie, and Cur. These are strange and enigmatic characters. Gabriella is an earth-bound angel with clipped wings receiving garbled dream-messages from God; Cur was stolen as a baby by the Black Dog to be raised as an assassin; Cuckoo has a waxen face which he intends to use to improve his place in society; Magpie is a photographer after the perfect subject; and Crow is a leper trying to find the essence of death and therefore a cure for himself in dead things … and people. Crow’s plans to take over the government will throw the city onto chaos; Cuckoo’s desire to live the life of another has life threatening ramifications, as do Cur’s ambitions to leave the assassin’s life behind. Gabriella’s prophetic dreams infuse each character’s life while she seeks to decipher a coded message which appeared before her father’s death. As the story progresses it looks as if the characters are being manipulated, but by whom? And to what end?

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Clay Blakehills

After the World, Vol 1

Black House Comics (2009)

ISBN 9-780980-600650

Reviewed by Ross Murray, March 2010

Killable Hours is the first volume in Black House Comics’ After the World series of stories set in a zombified Australia.

Promoting itself as “All New Australian Pulp”, the After the World series draws on the American pulp magazines (1890s-1950s) and their predecessors the Penny Dreadfuls and Penny Bloods of the 1850s and 1860s which gave spawn to a many mythic characters such as Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Spring Heel’d Jack. These magazines contained stories peppered with violence, murder, crime, and supernatural visions meant to shock and disgust. They were cheap and expendable, much like the hordes of lawyers in Killable Hours.

As a law intern completing the final year of his degree, Terry has decided that law just isn’t his bag, baby. Luckily for him he won’t have to complete it because, as is happening a lot lately, the zombie apocalypse occurs without any explanation as to how it happened and why. Apocalypses just happen these days and, well, there you go… On the other hand, Terry is somewhat unlucky as a bunch of lawyers in the firm soon go from “bloodsuckers” to flesheaters after more than just his pound of flesh. Terry manages to survive the first onslaught and with fellow survivors Janelle and Neville, eventually have to fight their way out of the firm’s inner city high-rise building.

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