I met a girl recently who, after suffering through a good dozen or so minutes of me gesticulating and effusing all over the place, furrowed her brow slightly and mused '...comics? You mean, they still make them?'. I had to restrain myself from showering her with over-compensatory enthusiasm - judging by the situation, I assumed she wasn't the type to appreciate residual zeal-juice dripping off the ceiling onto her shoes. So I closed up the conversation hastily and a bit defensively, before we embarked on a wholly more suitable ensuing topic (East German Cinema, or something like that).
Let's just say that Solipsistic Pop would have been incredibly handy in that conversation. It is the kind of anthology that should be issued to those that respond to comics talk with a vacant 'Quoi?' expression. It starts with a declaration ('It is time for a new paradigm. A new wave of comics') and ends with a rousing battle cry of 'DO EVERYTHING', and is infused with a sense of enthusiasm and pride that can't help but be infectious.
Edited by How to Date a Girl in Ten Days creator Tom Humberstone, Solipsistic Pop brings together new works from some of the best creators around at the moment - some part of the small press 'scene', some from elsewhere. Most importantly, from an immediate point of view, the book looks, feels, smells wonderful. One of the unfortunate roadblocks for small press creators when courting non-fanatics is the (often necessarily, often consciously) cheap production values of their work. Solipsistic Pop has a great weight and presence to it; Philippa Johnson's intricate, understated cover illustrations and the interior's lush, colour pages certainly make an impression.
But what's colour and lushness without content? What's inside is sweet confection for the eyes. As if M&Ms were made into coloured candy eyedrops. There's a real smattering of talent in Solipsistic Pop, including a few names I've mentioned before. Julia Scheele leads the pack with 'My Year as a Christian', an autobiographical piece that tells of a period of her life lived in Honduras, and her attendance at an evangelical Christian school in Tegucigalpa. Most of Scheele's work (at times in collaboration with Matthew Sheret) that I have seen before has been made up of short subjects, or longer pieces that are more evocative than narrative-driven. Here, her distinctive art and bold approach to page layout are married to a touching little story of growing up, and the role of often painful and awkward experience in forming someone's personality.
Just as impressive is a two-page piece by Howard Hardiman, called 'Bondage'. I've said this before, but it is a joy to see Hardiman's work progress and develop, from Badger and Polaroids From Other Lives onwards. 'Bondage' is more like Polaroids than Badger, with external, poetic narration linked with quite observational, snapshot-style artwork. It is a musing on pain and loss, well-evoked and drawn with grace.
Across the board, Solipsistic Pop is an artists' book, and it is quite staggering in this capacity. Moving from Scheele and Hardiman, there is a great diversity, including the welcoming colour-crayon style of 'Spiderwings' by Rachael Reichert, the pink-blue-green minimalism of Robbie Wilkinson's 'Meanwhile...', and reaching a particularly heady explosion of mad expressionism in the nightmarish 'I Never Knew Her', from Andrew Blundell and writer Mike Rimmer.
Of course, Solipsistic Pop isn't the first (or only) anthology with this underground focus (with a recent, similar example being B.A.S.T.A.R.D.S.) but it stands out thanks to some great design ideas. There is a sly nod to the project's small press roots with twominicomics glued in the inside covers, with both (Anna Saunders' Through the Square Window, and Sarah Gordon's Noses) being sterling examples of how to use the form well.
This is a nice addition, but Solipsistic Pop's real coup comes when you hit the centre spread, and find a pull-out section. Folding out to what approaches magazine-size, this supplement features a handful of pieces that really earn the right to a larger page size. Chief among these is the gob-smacking work from Stephen Collins, a veteran newspaper illustration contributor, with his comics 'Sunday Columnist Adventure Stories' and 'Vague Scientist' best displaying his tight design work and gleefully twisted sense of humour. Likewise, the pull-out features Humberstone's own 'The Adventures of... Chicken With Its Head Cut Off' (a contribution to the How Fucking Romantic project), and Mark Oliver's 'Jailbyrd Jim and the Kurse of the Kapital Kode', which bares its Underground Comix influences with pride.
Worthy of a special mention, however, is 'Ninja Bunny and the Broken World', from Philip Spence; usually working in a square, minicomic medium, Spence's work here dazzles, as the story is writ large, in a style that evokes the vertical, colourful ukiyo-e paintings of Hiroshige's Upright Tokaido series.
Gosh, it's all painfully impressive. It's not without its minor hiccups, however, with some little editing mistakes and errors (that only nitpickers and copywriters would notice, to be fair). But this is mighty product, and the fact that it is the first in a potential series of volumes is tantalising. As it is, it is a triumph and a call to arms that is worthy of support. It bears the gift of comics: the joy of words and artwork collided together to make wonders, dreams and nightmares.
Read more about Solipsistic Pop at their website. The book is available online, or from London's Orbital Comics - where there is also an exhibition of (stunning) original artwork, displayed until the end of the month - as well as at the upcoming Lost Treasures of the Black Heart event in Camden, curated by Josie Long. You can listen to an interview with Humberstone, Scheele, Sheret, and Collins at Panel Borders here.