30 September 2017

Pocketing the Bad Machinery Series

I heartily enjoy John Allison’s Bad Machinery graphic novels, following a team of teen detectives in the fictional mid-sized city of Tackleford, England.

Allison created these stories first as webcomics, and they retain that form’s rhythm. Each page has a payoff of its own. The narrative can jerk ahead in time from one to the next. That serves the sprawling stories well since they’re as much about upper-school personalities and the British class system as that term’s mystery.

Allison drew his pages to the dimensions of a computer screen, about half again as wide as they are tall. As a result, the first print editions were more than a foot wide, floppy and hard to shelve. I loved the stories, but I didn’t have space for them all.

Oni Press has started to reissue the Bad Machinery books in “Pocket Editions,” a shade less than nine inches wide. That makes them the same size as the seventh and latest volume, The Case of the Forked Road, which Allison created in a more traditional vertical format for print.

I was worried, however, that my aging eyes wouldn’t be able to read the balloons on the smaller pages. But I took a chance on the first two volumes, The Case of the Team Spirit and The Case of the Good Boy, and my eyes worked fine. While I still don’t see as many commas of direct address as I’d like, Allison’s verbal wit comes through just as well as his visuals.

(In addition to the seven Bad Machinery novels, one of the Tackleford teens, Charlotte, crosses over into another of Allison’s series in Murder, She Writes, set in the cutthroat world of children’s publishing. It’s a fine introduction to Allison’s work.)

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