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The Return Of Meanwhile And The Return Of Strangehaven, Reviewed

Oh my goodness, it's back. Both of them.

In 1997, I was a member of the Comics Creators Guild in London. I was self publishing comics at the time, it seemed the thing to do. Another self publisher was a fellow called John Anderson, a Canadian, living in London. He began publishing an anthology that was far better than mine, called Meanwhile... It looked a bit like this.


It had the great and the good of the London comics scene – and beyond, thanks to John's Canadian connections.

Two decades later and it has returned, from John Anderson's Soaring Penguin Press, one of the new wave of graphic novel publishers emanating from the UK and beginning to make a global impact, along with Blank Slate, Nobrow and Self Made Hero. It still contains the great and the good. But the new Meanwhile… has something even more special.

It has the return of Strangehaven.

Strangehaven, by Gary Spencer Millidge, was the premier self published British comic book of its day, a cross between Twin Peaks, The Wicker Man, The Prisoner, The Archers and Big Numbers, telling a detailed tale of a village full of many interesting folk, many with very different secret lives and a supernatural inability for a newcomer to leave. Someone who read it probably ended up working on Lost.

Loved by many, the art style became more and more intense and the publishing schedule more and more erratic. The last issue, issue eighteen, came out in 2005. And ten years later , it too is back. And I have a copy in my hand.

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Because, handily, publisher John Andersen moved to a house about 200 yards away from me, in Kingston Vale. Handy that.

Strangehaven is not alone in Meanwhile, of course. There is also The Bad Bad Place, a continuing series by David Hine and Mark Stafford, their first collaboration since the astoundingly good The Man Who Laughs. There's also 10 Minutes by Yuko Rabbit, Melody Baker by Chris Geary, Heavy by Sally Jane Thompson and the winners of the British Library Comics Unmasked Competition.

So what do we think?

Strangehaven is very intense on bringing readers, old and new, up to speed. Even the most dedicated reader will have forgotten things, so we get a handy priestly recap that is sharp and cutting as well as expositional. The new series is in colour, though flashbacks remain in the series' previous black-and-white,

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And with the first pages, we are straight into the central theme of Strangehaven, that of power and sex. And it never lets go. By taking such a small community, and ramping up the use of secret societies and male patriarchy as a dominating, infecting force, with those who rebel being… dealt with, it paints ou own lives, our own governments in a similar fashion.

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But amongst all this it continues to champion the revel, the eccentric, he or she who stand out and who evade being disposed of or subsumed by the whole. It really doesn't matter who or what or why people are rebelling, just that they are. "Whaddaya got?"

It really is an exceptional comic, but it's not alone. Bad Bad Place is very much the town surrounding the Addams Family, if a certain place,  certain house, a certain group of people both fascinated and repelled a community – and for good reason. Right from the beginning we know this place is doomed.

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That artist Mark Stafford isn't lauded as one of the greatest working cartoonists today i a tragedy. His work here is stellar, the contrasts of the different worlds is striking and the portrayal of the Castavette Family remarkably disturbing and original. Which nicely fits the gnawing dread of the story, which also sparks unexpected humour from its depths.

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Yuko Rabbit's story about a girl who lives against gravity and the world that is affected by her malady is just waiting to be expanded on and her work is what-if-Simon-Fraser-did-manga. Which is a good thing. Chris Geary disguises a story about love and friendship in espionage action adventure to great effect, Sally Jane Thompson gives us a note about escaping the humdrum realities of the daily chore with another equally humdrum object, and the winners of the British Library Comics Unmasked Competition show off their one-pages, the standout for me is Peas In Our Time by Sean Bright which postulates a very entertaining electoral future and a singular truth about the electorate. We are all terrible.

Meanwhile is going to be hard to find. London shops should be fine, other UK shops you have a chance, and further afield, well there's a new distribution hub in Chicago which might help, but you are going to have to make this your mission.

It will be worth it. Here's a good place to start.

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Rich JohnstonAbout Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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