Friday, 26 December 2014

Nothing Fits by Mary Tamblyn and Alex McCrone

My initial introduction to Nothing Fits came in the form of a particularly unimpressive Kickstarter video. Despite a well edited introduction montage and great atmospheric music, Mary Tamblyn and Alex McCrone were more dead than deadpan and mumbled their way through a script asking me for my hard earned cash. 'Put some effort in' I thought and half-heartedly clicked through to their online strips for a perfunctory glance.

Five minutes later I was back and pledged my financial support.

The comic that I had read was instantly appealing not to mention engaging, funny and smart. Underlying the strip's many virtues was an impressively snotty attitude. There was something brashly confident about the drawing and writing.

The opening pages introduced the scenario, characters and circumstance with admirable economy. There was nothing on those pages that did not need to be there; words and pictures complimented one another perfectly. This is perhaps reflective of Mary Tamblyn's (writer of Nothing Fits) background as an artist, born with the confidence that a picture can tell a thousand words but it must also be the result of a close creative relationship between writer and artist. Each seeking to support, rather than eclipse, the other.

If Nothing Fits reminds me of anything it is books from my 70s childhood, specifically the work of Joan Aiken, Diana Wynne Jones and Margaret Mahy, (the Godmother, the Materfamilias, of New Zealand fiction). On hand was the same feeling of mad, offhand invention, of imaginations that could be opened on a whim to gush dreams and drama. Hover cars, mummies, mad science labs, wizards, Egyptian gods, castles, snotty girlfriends, giant snakes, ghosts, strange rat people, formal gardens, foreboding forests, clones, magic portals and gods are all crammed together under one cover - but nothing feels out of place or forced.

Nothing Fits also shares with those grand dowagers an underlying tone which hints at the tragedy and disappointment of life. This nuisance is present throughout the whole comic, right up to the final illustration of the finished book, which provides an unexpected emotional punch to the gut as you saunter through the exit-simultaneously upending your readers perspective on the story you just finished.

The Wynne Jones/Mahy 70s connotations are reinforced by the art. Alex McCrone's scratchy pen and ink style brings to mind Pat Marriott and Quentin Blake, (with perhaps a touch of Tove Jansson). Giants of childrens illustration. What's strange about that is that I hated those guys when I was a kid (not Jansson!) and I love Alex's art. The pictures and storytelling in Nothing Fits have an effortless feel, as if it all just flows out from pen to page. I doubt this is true. What's on the page is probably the result of blood, sweat and tears. The product of a lifetime spent drawing.

Whatever. Alex McCrone's drawing chops are impressive.

Nothing Fits is a great collaboration between two equal, complimentary creators. The easy synthesis is reflected in the components that make up the whole. Monochrome colours wash over the inks in lovely gouache hues. From what I can tell they are painted, high-wire style, directly onto the page. That's pretty audacious. Look Ma, no hands! Makes me nervous just thinking about it. Equally as impressive, in an unassuming way, is the lettering. The font, created from the artists handwriting (I think), lends the dialogue an energy, underlying the scripts sass. No small accomplishment.

Nothing Fits started life as a web-comic. While you could quite happily experience it just on the page I'd recommend checking out the site where it all began. Along with the comments section banter there are some lovely Easter-eggs to be found in the attached process blog. Sketches, notes, additional mini-strips, fan art and asides give extra life to the main comic. It's from these features, viewed together and at a distance of a couple of years, that you feel the fission a web-comic like Nothing Fits can generate. There is the sense of things fermenting, of a community coming to life around a smart, beautiful strip devised by two young students from the arse end of the world. It's a heartening glimpse of the way the world is now, and the things that you can achieve with some pretty basic resources and a big imagination.

Nothing Fits can be brought here and read here.

Kelly Sheehan
Faction Comics + Earth's End