Overload #0 features seven short strips all written by Martin Conaghan, a Scottish writer whose work has appeared in 2000AD and who also created the award winning graphic novel Burke & Hare alongside artist Will Pickering. The majority of these strips have all been published elsewhere and date from 1995 to the present day and serves as an introduction to Conaghan’s writing.
‘Shadow’, illustrated by Marvel artist Mike Perkins, centres around an older man’s reminiscence over his childhood and those seldom shared events and experiences that come back to haunt us in the dead of night. The almost complete lack of spoken dialogue lets the narrative feel like a confession. Tight panels and heavy blacks capture that stifling claustrophobic atmosphere that we’ve all felt on one night or another. High calibre art combined with confident, well placed writing make this strip very easy for the reader to empathise with. There’s an ever so slight supernatural twist too that prevents this strip from delving into rose tinted territory.
Artist Dave Hill works with Conaghan on ‘Art’, a six page chiller which leads the reader on an unflattering critique of the more base elements within the upper classes. Hill renders startlingly bulbous faces with expressions so leery that alongside Conaghan’s dialogue caused me to assume predictability, the gory set piece I assumed would be the strips finale, all the while Conaghan and Hill are setting the reader up for an unexpected reveal more horrific in its simplicity than any hyperrealistic super explicit horror splash could achieve. This story was born from an idea by Eddie Millar, brother of Mark.
‘Camouflage’ is a strip based around Stan Ridgway’s 1986 song of the same name. I’m not familiar with Ridgway’s music and had not heard the song in question prior to reading Conaghan’s adaptation so I shall only comment on how the strip stands on its own. Keith Chan’s loose, expressive style in ‘Camouflage’ goes part way to exposing some of the chaos that must surely have been present, the story is set in Vietnam in 1965 however, the first page and a half come over as being quite limp and do not convey the emotions as possibly intended, perhaps relying too much on the lyrics to not only relate what is happening but the tone of the scene and the emotions of the characters. Both the narrative and art end up doing the same job in a fairly middling fashion. Things pick up markedly in the middle at the height of the battle before unfortunately falling off again. ‘Camouflage’ is on the whole disappointing, particularly when viewed against other strips in this anthology. Conaghan does state in the back of the book that he was let down by two separate artists before Chan came on part so this may go some way as an explanation.
Overload #0 boasts a second strip illustrated by Mike Perkins. ‘The Mortons’ is by far my favourite from the anthology and for several reasons. Conaghan’s writing shines clear when he writes from personal experience. The Mortons themselves are excellently illustrated characters both lyrically and artistically. The family snapshot has a brilliantly demonic edge to it and the story is relayed in absolutes in an anecdotal fashion. It’s a legitimately autobiographical story for the reader too, we all know these characters. There’s also just the right amount of the fantastic to ensure this remains a neighbourhood legend worth re-telling. ‘The Mortons’ does have the occasional cliched panel but many choose inventive perspectives which keeps both the story and the delivery exciting.
‘And He Did…’ is illustrated by Simon Wyatt and tells a modified version of the story of creation. It is incredibly word heavy, possibly even more so than the version found in the book of Genesis, or maybe it just feels that way. Wyatt depicts God as an elderly, bearded man in waistcoat and tails and has him leaping about much like the old boy in Mary Poppins who ‘loves to laugh’. There is a charming conversation between God and ‘the smallest of God’s creatures’, the mouse (in reality that’s obviously not the smallest of his creatures) but the overall feeling of this strip is that it is cliched and overreaching.
Nulsh, or Neil Hood to his mum, covers art duties for Conaghan’s next strip ‘Waiting For The End’ which reviews the dark business of suicide and bartering souls for freedom all against a gloomy backdrop of a steam punkish London in 1878. This story was based around a pitch Conaghan had submitted to DC for Hellblazer following Garth Ennis’ departure from the title. Like the previous strip it is extremely text heavy. There is a lot going on in this story and the panels feel cluttered with the main characters inner monologue. Nulsh’s art is distinctive and stylised in such a fashion that is conveys the defeated, hopeless feelings of the story well, however with that many words the art doesn’t have much room to further the plot.
‘Rougarou’ is one of the most recent on Conaghan’s strips and is an excellent piece of storytelling. Illustrated by Naniiebim, it was originally conceived as part of a contribution to the Bayou Arcana anthology although I do not know if it was included. ‘Rougarou’ is a Louisiana Bayou werewolf story which is smartly written, has bags of atmosphere, acute sharp and well realised characters, all of it expertly rendered by Naniiebim, an artist Conaghan discovered by change on the Deviant Art website. An excellent story and a real Overload highlight.
Overload #0 finishes with a single page nine panel strip called ‘Spleen’, drawn by Simon Mackie. Tis strip has a vague philosophical humour to it and the bold lines and double trains of thought are interesting. Conaghan writes at the back of Overload that himself and the artist have considered reviving the strip but changing the character to an anthropomorphic dog. This would hopefully go someway to removing the vagueness from the humour.
Discussing Overload as a sampler of Conaghan’s work over the past several years shows a real change and growth in his writing. By the time the later strips roll around he is able to say so much more panel to panel, without the heavy dialogue relied upon in earlier strips. Storytelling becomes more focused and the strips become a pleasure to read. Overload is a mixed bag but the highlights of ‘Rougarou’, ‘Art’, ‘The Mortons’ and ‘Shadow’ make this a worthwhile comic book.
Linsay - @Softlyspokenlas
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