REVIEW: Stray Lines Anthology

Stray Lines

Writers/Artists: Gus Hughes, Philip Barrett, Andrew Judge, Chris Judge, Paddy Lynch, Barry Hughes

Published by: Cardboard Press

Price: €8 physical edition; €2 PDF (both available here)

Reviewed by: Colin O’Mahoney

Anthologies are often tricky beasts to review; comprising different work by different creators, it is difficult to judge them as a whole. Stray Lines is no exception, being five stories in five very different styles. There is no easy way to classify it, no one line to define it all. And for Stray Lines, that is very much part of the charm.

Somewhat unusually for an anthology, there is no theme across the work, no genre or mould with which to pigeonhole the contributions. The work is all from Irish creators that fall into the ‘underground’ category, which is to say firmly in the margins of the general public’s perceptions of what comics are and what kind of stories they tell.  The tales move from historical to surreal, from Donegal to the Amazon Rainforest.

Gus Hughes’ ‘Animals Attacking their own Reflections’ is a striking, visually arresting piece that is both bizarre and provocative. Despite its stark presentation, it works on a number of levels and is one of the more thought provoking works in the book, providing a great introduction.

Philip Barrett’s ‘Endless Lap’ is a gorgeous piece of work, and my personal favourite of the collection. This is pitch-perfect story-telling. A brilliant read that shines between the lines, knowing just how much to give the reader to allow them to take the most from the story. Endless Lap is an understated, romantic narrative that leaves tired convention at the door in favour of an almost hauntingly quiet, but effective story.

Andrew & Chris Judge’s ‘The Illustrator’ is a nicely told history story; a completely different, and somewhat obtuse angle on a well-worn piece of world history. A small, personal story against one of the world’s most terrible backdrops. It’s an interesting juxtaposition that works well, but I did feel it lacked a dimension. But then, that is the beauty of such a collection, there is something for everyone, and I have no doubt that this will come up as favourite for many who read the anthology.

Paddy Lynch’s ‘Friendly, Local’ is the type of work for which he is best known. It’s a ‘slice of life’ piece, which once more highlights his exceptional ear for dialogue. Together with spot-on characterisations and mannerisms of some all-too-familiar regulars of Irish life, Lynch forms an illuminating city scene. It’s social, but stripped of any didactic commentary, leaving the reader with a brilliantly realised vignette they can recognise on their own terms. Affecting work, as ever, from Ireland’s premier underground cartoonist.

The anthology ends with ‘The Glass Trampoline’ by Barry Hughes. This surreal tale combines a wonderful sense of the bizarre with standout design and strange humour. It is an altogether odd, yet somehow charming piece to finish on.

While I wasn’t personally enamoured with every story in the book, the standard of work is impeccable, and such that my preferences were more a matter of personal taste as a reader, not a reviewer. As a reviewer, I cannot recommend this book more highly.

If you are familiar with, or a fan of underground comix, Stray Lines is for you. If you are not, €8 couldn’t buy you a better introduction. It certainly ranks as one of my favourite releases of the year. Having read it in PDF, I will be picking up a hard copy, and hoping my eight Euro goes towards making a second volume.