In an earlier review, I talked about how, once you get talking to people in your local small press comics scene, the same indie titles seem to keep popping up in discussion. But perhaps none have been more highly praised than The Abnormals by Grant Springford. Several people have strongly recommended this self-published comic to me, and fellow writer and reviewer Luke Halsall went as far as to say to me that he thinks this oversized oneshot special (that will presumably serve to launch a series) is the single best comic of 2011 thus far, from any publisher. Strong words, but does it live up to the hype?
I wouldn’t quite rank it up there with the year’s best (I’ve read too much jawdropping stuff like Scalped, the output of Scott Snyder and, erm, Axe Cop: Bad Guy Earth to fairly say that), but The Abnormals is a great comic, and in terms of the multitude of independent creator-owned stuff I’ve been reading over the past several months, this stands at the head of the pack.
The whole comic is the creation of cartoonist Grant Springford, who writes, draws, colors, letters and even publishes this action-packed opening chapter. Very quickly, we are introduced to a world brimming with invention, and a mythology laced with menace. There is a whole society of horrific monsters and ghouls living in the subterrenean depths of the world, and the London underground inevitably serves as a handy access point between their world and ours. And so, policing this dangerous labyrinth are The Abnormals, a ragtag team of oddballs with unusual powers and even stranger appearances that come across like a combination of Doom Patrol and what Torchwood wishes it could pull off.
Fortunately, Springford does not share the failing of many great idea men by giving in to the urge to bring the narrative to a halt while showing us how clever he is. Our diverse range of characters are introduced in a way where they all have nuance and personality, but it’s done economically in the midst of a high-octane action scene, allowing us to see their powers in action rather than having them simply described to us. By the end of the first issue, I felt like I already had the grasp of the ensemble and picked out my favorites (take a bow, giant, technopath, rubber robot from the future Bouncer, and The Link, an enigmatic, dapper psychic from the astral plane), but I didn’t feel like I’d been shorted on stuff happening, being treated to a complete action sequence, along with its build-up and immediate aftermath. Some great storytelling and structure from Sringford the writer.
But it’s a relief that Springford the artist doesn’t slack off while Springford the writer does the heavy lifting. It seems a recurring trend in a lot of my recent reviews where I praise the writing, but criticise the artwork. Often I’ve found that some of the ideas on display in indie comics are more than a match for some of the stuff being put out in the mainstream, but the visual element of the book lets the side down by leaving it “looking indie”. I was initially anxious that this would be the case here, with some dodgy facial compositions in the opening pages.
But I needn’t have worried. Once we get into the meat of the narrative, that aforementioned inventiveness impressively manifests itself in the art. Springford takes relish in bringing strange and creepy creatures like the rag ghosts and the golgohta moth (as well as The Abnormals themselves) to life, making for pages filled with trippy imagery. The dayglo-bright disco coloring helps with the acid-trip effect. Looking critically, a comic set primarily in an underground network of tunnels should maybe take more advantage of more gloomy, atmospheric shadows, but I can’t be too critical. The vibrancy and energy of the bright colors serves as a reminder of what can be sorely lacking in many black-and-white titles.
The lettering is also competently done, particularly with characters like The Bouncer and demonic imp Nasty, who have their own distinct fonts. When multiple team members are having inter-lacing conversations and arguments, having certain fonts stand out is good shorthand for ensuring people can easily follow what’s going on.
Overall, I’d say this comic is a homerun for Grant Springford. One of the best creator-owned comics I’ve read in a while, featuring characters I already care about, and hopefully the beginning of a memorable larger story. I can’t wait for the next chapter!
To find out more about The Abnormals, and to buy this comic, visit the official site at www.theabnormals.co.uk.