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Thursday, 14 June 2012

Sugar Glider Stories

Sugar Glider Stories
Tales from the Sugar Glider Universe

Writers: Various
Art: Various
Creators: Daniel Clifford (writer) and Gary Bainbridge (art)
Publisher: Cottage Industry Comics and Unterwelt Comics

What's it about?
Sugar Glider is set in Newcastle, England, and follow the exploits of Susie Sullivan, a costumed crimefighter dressed a little like Catwoman, but with a vastly different personality and background.  Tales from the Sugar Glider Universe gives us self contained stories from this universe.

Susie only has a few walk on parts in this issue, instead the stories focus on her family, other costumed supergroups, disgruntled cafe employees and loved up young men.  The stories don't interlink, instead they provide charming slice of life anecdotes from the Sugar Glider characters' lives.  There are a few stories told in the present, but most is told in flashback: 5 months ago.. 4 months ago.. 2 days ago.  It finishes in the here and now, interviewing a detective at the scene of a nightclub fit, tempting us to find out more.

Normally we only review trades at New readers... but as this is a small press comic and unlikely to be traded it seems rather unfair not to mention it.  So instead it is a 40 page just over A5 in size, magazine style format.

What's good about it?
I have had this for ages and have been meaning to review it for months.  It's stayed in my head and it's been urging me to revisit it since I first read it.  So, it's good.  It's intriguing and it's memorable and it's got a uniqueness about it you don't often find in small press, independent comics.  I hadn't read any Sugar Glider issues before being sent this one, yet it made sense and made me want to read more.

As the stories only give us snippets of each character's life, we only have a few pages to get to know them.  Unusually, this comic draws me into their lives and leaves me wanting more (I normally dislike short stories).  I am desperate to read more about this universe, to find out what makes these people tick and to learn their backstories.  The writing is good, the art is OK (but I'll explain more about that later) and the pacing and set up is good.
(the codenames are all birds! I love this!)

As I said above, this is based in Newcastle, England, which makes me love it even more.  I am a sucker for British comics set in a British world, especially when they show their Britishness.  In this case, it's in the use of words like 'Mam', phrases like 'Nice spread eh?' and the life of a waitress.  I love seeing the world I live in reflected back at me in comics, especially when it's done well.

What's bad about it?
If you're expecting to read this and learn more about Susie - Sugar Glider - you won't.  There are a few stories with a woman named Susie in them, who I assume is the crimefighter of the title name, but without having read other Sugar Glider stuff I couldn't swear to this.  Having said that, I don't think this really matters as the stories make sense in isolation.  I think if you were familiar with other Sugar Glider books this would fill in some back story and make you appreciate the universe more.

The other thing that some folk may find offputting is the variety of art in here.  There are about 12 different artists at work here, and most of it isn't slickly done.  Some of it isn't refined, some of it is very very basic.  But, I have seen professional art in Marvel and DC books which is far worse and if you read on you'll find out why the sometimes poor pencils aren't a problem.

What's the art like?
It's variable - sometimes it's great, for example the cover, featured at the start of this post.  Then there's this page which is nicely constructed, detailed work:
But sometimes the pencil work is poorer.  Not always, but sometimes.  Usually this is a turn off for me, but not so with this one.  Take the first story, Breaking News.  Reporter Alex Clifton is at the scene of the nightclub fire.  The panels are laid out in a repetitive manner - 9 boxes to the page, with the reporter and speech bubbles in identical places within the panel.  There is minimal movement within each panel.  This is an effective way to get the stationary, staccato feel of a TV news report onto the comics page.

Father's Day is told in great wide open panels, allowing the reader to focus on the character's positions, movement and expressions.  Importantly, the panels give space for the speech bubbles, allowing them to feel like a natural part of the story and not just shoe horned in.

Lettering has become a bugbear of mine recently, as I've seen bad lettering ruin an otherwise good comic.  Within Tales from the Sugar Glider Universe, the lettering works.   The speech bubbles are the right size, they flow with the art, they complement each story and they don't distract.  It's wonderful to see this delivered so well.

This is, without a doubt, a top quality comic. 

Other information
You can buy Sugar Glider Stories here in hardcopy of digital formats.  You can read pages from the regular Sugar Glider stories here: http://sugarglidercomics.co.uk/ (updated every Monday, Wednesday and Friday).
Many thanks To Daniel Clifford for sending me the review copy and to Gary Bainbridge for providing me with electronic samples of the art work.

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