Cold Cut Distribution's Feature Spotlight #17 - September 1996


Smith Brown Jones

Publisher:	Kiwi Studios
Story & Art:	Jon "Bean" Hastings	
Cvr Price:	$2.95
Frequency:	Bi-monthly

Storyline:

What would really happen if an alien came to Earth, anyway? Would he be a friendly little green guy, like E.T.? Maybe he'd be a benevolent alien like the one in The Day The Earth Stood Still. Maybe he'd be a Predator. Or maybe, just maybe, he'd look more-or-less human, pick a "bland" name like Smith B. Jones, and get a job. As a reporter. For a supermarket tabloid. Covering the UFO beat.

That's the off-beat premise behind Smith Brown Jones, one of the subtlest laidback humor books to come along in years. Not a vicious, Milk-&-Cheese-style slapstick but a warm and funny sitcom. In the first issue, released in July, Jones dreams, wakes up, goes to work, debunks a visitor and shoots some photos for a promising cover, then heads back to bed. It's a sort of "typical day" storyline, and it looks like we'll have more "typical days" full of bizarre antics ahead.

Writing Review:

Jon writes a subtle form of humor that manages to combine the office satire of Dilbert with the droll anchor-in-a-storm feeling of old Mary Tyler Moore shows. And I didn't mention Dilbert just because of Scott Adams' guest cartoon on the back, really I didn't. Considering the book is about an alien living undetected on Earth, it's surprising that the humor derives more from office and company situations than "an alien viewing human behavior". But it does - and it works. My only complaint is that the staging starts off a bit confusing in this first issue (since we start inside one of Smith's dreams) and that we don't get an introduction to the origin of the characters. But it's forgivable since it's a smooth read with a neat parallel narration structure and those great "old sci-fi movie" references are wonderful. But listen up, Jon - we'd better find out what Smith Brown Jones is doing on Earth next issue... ya hear?

Art Review:

Clearly the result of years of practice, Jon's art lends itself to cartoony humor. Looking like he should be doing a daily strip, instead he's here doing a bi-monthly book with an attention to detail and background fiddly-bits that reminds me of early Phil Foglio. With varied and appropriate panel layout, Jon's got a good beginning here.

Audience:

Aliens and humor - seems like readers of Buck Godot would love SBJ, for starters. Readers of Ragmop would enjoy this as well, though it's not nearly as manic or downright insane. But the office life, the wry takes, all generate a sort of Murphy Brown feel which should appeal to readers of Dilbert and Sally Forth. And Jon already has the first four issues of SBJ in the can, so you can be guaranteed of a true bimonthly schedule well into next year and beyond.

If you like Smith Brown Jones, take a look at:


Strangehaven

Publisher:	Abiogenesis Press
Story & Art:	Gary Spencer Millidge
Cover Price:	$2.95 
Frequency:	Bi-monthly

Storyline:

While on summer break, elementary school teacher Alex Hunter is driving in the English countryside when an apparition of a woman heads his car into a tree. He wakes up injured, in a bed in the quirky town of Strangehaven. Once his car and his body are repaired he attempts to leave, but ends up lost and back where he started. Figuring it may be fate, he stays in the town and begins seeing a young girl named Janey. Meanwhile, a man who says he was a witch doctor for an Amazonian tribe is showing Janey's brother some tricks of the trade, a man who claims to be an alien on Earth is dealing with the postmistress' advances, and the local "secret society" men's club is initiating a new member in a dark and mysterious fashion. And just who is keeping a corpse floating in a fishtank?
 [ panels from Strangehaven ]

Writing Review:

Strong dialogue and wonderful characters populate this quirky, dark mystery/romance/drama. Comparisons are often made between Strangehaven and television shows like "Twin Peaks" and "The Prisoner", and the choices are apt. The village is populated with odd people doing odd things, yet never so odd as to break the suspension of disbelief. These are odd people you can believe in - the guy who complains about everything, the woman in love with the married man, the schoolteacher worried about a budding relationship.

Meanwhile, the plotting is toying with us, seeing how far we're willing to go. Gary is spinning many situations into tension, but after four issues has only rarely wound them back down even a notch or two. There are at least five different major plotlines going on here, and none seem particularly close to resolution, even after four issues and a bit of a delay in production. Unless he begins to wind up some of the plots, or at least move them on to another stage, we'll end up with a fizzle reminiscent of Twin Peaks. As Rachel Pollack found in taking over Doom Patrol, weirdness for the sake of weirdness does not work - weirdness which ties together into a cohesive whole does. So, can Gary pull off a Grant Morrison? Only time will tell, but so far it looks promising - and more importantly, it's fun along the way.

Art Review:

Heavily rendered (that is, using a very "realistic" style), the art in Strangehaven seems to capture small town characters effectively, though it stumbles on some expressions (always a difficult feat in a rendered book) and comes off a bit static on occasion. This is not particularly surprising, since this is not an "action" book, but the sameness can be bland. On the upside, Gary has a great feel for pacing, and I've rarely seen a more refined use of the non sequitur. His tossing in panels foreshadowing upcoming events or even parallel events is brilliant and works wonders.

Sales Overview:

One easy match for Strangehaven is the Invisibles from Vertigo - with the British setting and the subtle quirkiness, it should be a natural sell. Also, viewers of "Twin Peaks", "The Prisoner", and "Nowhere Man" and readers of Doom Patrol, Strangers in Paradise, Jar of Fools, and Bacchus should give Strangehaven a go.

If you like Strangehaven, take a look at:


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