From issue #11 onwards, Comichaus‘ self-titled anthology abandons its previous format of serialised comic strips and plumps instead for complete, standalone stories. The style of the anthology remains characteristically robust – a collection of comics all by different creators, mostly cherry-picked from the UK indie scene and illustrated in black-and-white. By shifting its focus onto complete stories, this is undeniably the ‘neatest’ issue of Comichaus we’ve read so far, an anthology that’s previously hit many of the right notes in the past with its often unpredictable edge. With this reinvention, the strongest aspects of the anthology are on form, but so too are some shortcomings.
What isn’t lost in the thematic transition here is the tone in the strips. What continues to make Comichaus an enjoyably sadistic reading experience is that not every strip has a happy ending. Mandy the Monster Hunter: The Battle of Monster Rock and Homepathos are rare examples of something resembling upbeat endings for the anthology, but elsewhere, the likes of Cold, Feather, Splendid Grins, Mortality and Chalk prioritised downbeat conclusions. Comichaus has rarely been a ‘nice’ comic, and that attitude isn’t lost with this eleventh issue. It’s now easier to pinpoint the individual qualities of the strips at play here in their completed form, and while this eleventh issue of Comichaus maintains its past personality, the quality of these strips fluctuates between solid and disposable.
Opening strip Night Swimmer dives into ethereal folk horror, with Mark McCann‘s simple story galvanised by Adam Brown‘s graceful art and Rob Jones‘ on-point lettering. It’s a slick, uncomplicated opener, overshadowed by other strips further in the issue building higher on their ambitions, such as the second strip, World War II Cadavers. This Mad Robot Comics-produced strip is set within the small press’ ambitious Cadavers universe, and can be considered the prequel to the ongoing story currently found in the three issues and graphic novel that tell the Cadavers story. Ed Bentley‘s artwork has a crisp energy in black and white form that gives a jovial energy to the strip.
The 18-page There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly may just win the title of the most incomprehensible strip to appear in Comichaus. It’s a rambling, confused, jaggedly-paced affair that stands as the weakest strip in this issue, exhibiting the more decadent elements of this anthology in its morosely-told story. Time travel, zombies and the awakening of some Devilish spirit collide together into something that ultimately leaves you scratching your head, though Jake Rowlinson‘s art has a ragged personality to it. In the space of four pages, Gary Chudleigh and Ell Balson‘s Taste of Freedom accomplishes what the previous strip couldn’t. It’s a sharp, subdued affair, nothing flash or exaggerated, communicating its story of state controlled war games between humans and aliens with a slick ease.
George Fredericks and Anna Morozova‘s Blasphemy is the stand-out strip in Comichaus #11. With a story that’s menacing in its themes yet darkly amusing in its characters and some visually stimulating depictions of alien creatures venturing to an early Earth with nothing but disdain for their discoveries of tribal humans, it’s taught themes of intergalactic colonialism make it a strong entry in Comichaus‘ collection of one-off strips. Morozova’s art in particular bursts with suppleness, though the strip’s panel structure is less inventive that other efforts included here.
Comichaus #11 isn’t a consistently good reinvention, but it wins more than it wobbles. The diversity in art styles makes it visually appealing, yet perhaps stretching further into the pool of indie talent would be the direction the anthology needs to go in, rather than relying on familiar faces. A greater presence of non-male talent would compliment the fresh air being breathed into the anthology. Time will tell with future issues if this direction for Comichaus pays off.