Ah this is a tough post to write, this time last week I wrote the most heart-felt post ever for Bob Byrne's of Clamnuts Mister Amperduke and then tried to embed his great trailer for the book and it deleted the whole post at about 4am! so it took a while to get back to it.
Anyway, we'll begin again as us Amperduke-like guys have to...
going home and doing the stand up was meeting Bob again and him giving me a copy of his long awaited graphic novel, Mister Amperduke. As he had said, don't flick through it, you spoil it, and he wasn't wrong I read it about 5-6 six times within the first few days of having it. Part of the back blurb 'Mr. Amperduke offers a new mode of visual storytelling' might seem pretentious but it's true, you read it once, quickly, to get the story but you immediately want to read it again to get the nuances. It is truly a novel in that you understand each main character's points of view and see their development. There's a great story in Tequila No.1 where I really got Bob's comics on a more emotional level, he has a tale of being stranded after a nightclub not being able to get home, it's called 'Say a Prayer for Me' and there's a bit where he makes a makeshift bed in a roll of insulated pipe in a bin and sleeps for a bit before a cabby picks him up and doesn't charge and just says 'say a prayer for me instead' the first time I read it and saw an image of him asleep in a bin with a teddy, I thought 'how did he get that teddy', but when I read it again I realised that the teddy was made from some of the insulation from inside the bin, it's that sort attention to detail that really rewards the reader in Amperduke.
As regular readers of this blog will attest, I have been singing yon Bob's praises since I've met him. There's a certain relationship that you immediately have with a fellow Irish comic book geek, you have the same shorthand, you've been to the same shops, you only need to say something like 'you remember yer wan who worked in Forbidden Planet', and memories of teenage lust and loneliness that are evoked (honestly if that redheaired girl with glasses who worked in Forbidden Planet only know how she was fuelling the lust fantasies of the whole country's comic book geeks, but I digress) .
But there's genuine feeling here, I first finally met yon Bob at the Birmingham International Comics Show and to be honest the highlight for me wasn't getting to see Mike Mignola or some shit but sitting outside the place having a fag with Bob where he layed down some personal shit that I couldn't imagine but a while later, and the shit that's happened to me, I totally understand and the connection between personal and creative work becomes more clear to me when I get older. It might sound wanky or whatever but but I think about my dad every time I go on stage, thinking, feck, he'd like this joke, he'd get it, no one else he or I know might get it, but he'd get the humour. Such a sense of loss is all over Amperduke, his back story what the rest of the world doesn't understand but he does and us, as readers do,
A certain amount of trepidation did fill me bones when I got my copy, maybe it wouldn't be that good? Even if it wasn't good, I'm sure I would have written some sort of review, but seriously, Mr. Amperduke will blow you away, I was amazingly surprised at how good it was. I was just proud to know someone who created someone like this. Hence the reason for trying to write a long and proper academiwank review of the whole thing.
I suppose the best place to start is from Bob's heart-felt introduction:
The most rewarding part of making this book was how I only realised what this story meant to me when I was over three-quarters finished drawing it. Yep, it's about Lego men battling a monster, but the themes that just smacked me in the face wasn't the wrongs of Man playing God or Technology versus Mother Nature but how easy it is to overlook another's private misery. We are largely incapable of recognising or relating to another's apin, the hidden agony when somebody's world end; that the world has ended millions of times, it's ending right now as people all around you lose a loved one or see their dreams die, yet the larger world continues untouched or impaired'
Richard Scarry type world of busy little creatures going about their business and the dark humanity that lurks underneath. In a nutshell, I suppose, Amperduke is set in a parallel dimension where, instead of train sets, kindly grandfather's create intricate worlds of living lego men, called snodules. As the first incarnation of Amperduke explained, although they look like lego men there is a wretched wee living creature living inside each of these lego men. Due to an unfortunate slight and misunderstanding Amperduke's grandson 'Scampi' throws a crazy unstoppable bug called a 'Nechradon' into this amazing world and it causes relentless horrific carnage that Amperduke cannot stop. In this world Scampi pits crazy insects against each other in a sort of horrific real life Pokemon brawl.
I suppose some of the roots of Amperduke are in thing's like Mbleh!'s Clamland, the Richard Scarry business the neglected child in the person of poor wee Herby, and it's probably not mistake that Herby and his horrible uncle appear in a window of a shop in the first Amperduke story, other Bryne motifs are there in Amperduke like a poor wee snodule wearing a Devo hat.
Shit, better do this properly academiwank style first up themes: Death is a big one here, I suppose, as it is a theme in normal life, just the meaningless deaths of the snodules and how horrific the relentless rampage of the Nechradon is. For the reader the death of any wee snoodle means something, as it should, but for the world at large within Amperduke's world it's just a stupid hobby and this stuff is meaningless. I think this book will speak to any geek, how to the world at large it's just a crappy juvenile hobby but to you, when you're into it feels like life or death. Maybe it's just me but loneliness is also a huge theme. The tragedy that get's caused here from smalls slights and miscommunications in everyday life that we think nothing of but might affect people so much, Mr. Amperduke's story in this respect is amazingly well told, the balance between our obsessions and family and other relationships and how they might jarr against each other. There is so much more themes-wise: Individual frailty, like wee snodules before they get their shiny happy exteriors fused on; the loss of the feeling of design and a kindly old bloke looking down on us and sorting everything out; how sucha simple gesture from him like some 'tic tics' or a smile changes the snoodle's whole day; how misunderstandings can be sorted out over time.
Style wise, and I'll really be seen to be blowing smoke up yon Bob's ass (as our American contemporaries say) but Amperduke does have elements of Maus (the tragic feeling that anthropomorphism can provide) and Watchmen, the use of small regulated panels that erupt in moments of climatic action. There I've said it, it's that good. It's comperable to Watchmen and Maus, you can fight me in the car park later if you disagree...
in conclusion, after you read Mr. Amperduke, never will phrase 'Sniff Sniff' feel you with such terror again
love and snoodles
and congrats again Bob
yeah, check out these coupla geniuses*
*or genii if you've been watching QI or some shit