Sunday, 3 July 2011

Review: Cold Sweat Day Dreams by Jonathan Ridley

This is a nicely produced and very unique self-published book. A4 size, perfect bound, 64 pages, quality printing. If you're not familiar with Jonathan's work, then you're in for a treat. To my mind, the talented Mr Ridley is producing some of the most original and interesting work in UK underground comics.

Like all good Underground Comix artists, Ridley does what he wants. This collection skips around genres and styles like a half-man, half-kangaroo mutant playing hopscotch.

The art has a lot of influences but remains it's own boss; there's doses of outsider art, satirical cartoons and caricature, and underground comix sensibilities, and some nice painting here and there.

The first three stories revolve around the themes of seaside tourist towns, although don't expect cheery family fun and postcard humour, this is a much darker trip.
In "Summertime" a family go and visit such a town in search of fun. Instead they pass by and interact with various seedy and disturbed characters; the just-released-from prison skinhead psychopath who acquires a job dressing up as a giant ice cream. The haggered, dried-up racist old crone who wheels herself around casting scorn and spitting vitriol wherever she goes. The burberry hatted chav gangs; skulking around the arcades up to no good. And I won't go into the horrors of the arm wrestler... The story ends with a great surreal twist, which finishes off this wordless and funny dark comedy very nicely.

"All Punched Out" is a twisted tale of Dave, an alcoholic Punch & Judy puppeteer whose wife has been having a string of sordid encounters with men, of which he is painfully aware. After acting out his marital problems with his puppets to a family audience whilst shitfaced, Dave loses his job and returns to his caravan early to discover his wife in bed with his best friend, a particularly sleazy clown. This scene has a particularly funny moment, where Dave gets slapped around the face with a prosthetic cock.

Needless to say, this does not bode well for Dave, and he quickly spirals down into a pit of alcohol abuse and psychosis, where his projections onto his puppets go one step further with terrible results... If you're a fan of League Of Gentleman or Psychoville, then you'll really enjoy this black comedy horror show.

My favourite strip of the book is "The Knotts Family", a startling real-life tale of John's experiences of being sent off to boarding school at the age of 8, and being placed in the 'care' of The Knotts clan; a bunch of cruel and sadistic bullies, who run the school as a fearful fascistic regime. They inflict brutal mental and physical abuse on the children, particulary the weaker and more sensitive ones. Jonathan brings this story home really well in a personal yet matter of fact way; he does not look for sympathy, nor rage with anger anymore, rather the comic seems like a cathartic process and also a rude awakening to the viewer of how institutional child abuse can go on for years totally undetected by adults. What is also impressive is that Jonathan did this as a 24 hour comic, and manages to pack so much raw storytelling into it's pages.

Other strips include the third of the seaside strips; a more serious approach to showing the lost and damaged souls he observes, an untitled story set in a post-apocalyptic world which includes a giant predatory mutant bird, and a macabre tale which is reminiscent of Victorian horror-meisters, classic Hammer and in places has the gargoylish qualities of  Rory Hayes' horror work... All in all, a great collection!

You can view Cold Sweat Dreams in it's entirity and also checkout sample pages of Jonathan's upcoming graphic novel "Knotts" (at much longer & more in depth exploration of his boarding school years) here

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