Bad Machinery is an all-ages webcomic about a group of British schoolchildren who solve mysteries and generally act like normal kids.
When I say that, I mean it as the highest compliment. Too many children’s books, both graphic novels and prose, exist in some sort of never-never land where all families are happy and all the children are well-behaved, except for one or two who are explicitly evil. The kids in Bad Machinery aren’t like that. They don’t do anything truly horrific, but they do disobey their parents, talk in slang, and best of all, poke their noses where they really shouldn’t. Each story arc is a supernatural mystery of some sort, and the supernatural creatures are real, but usually pretty benign in the end.
The central characters are six young teens. Shauna comes from a solid, working-class family and is endowed with smarts and common sense. Charlotte is the bold one of the group, very independent-minded and full of fun. Mildred comes from a family of spirited liberals and is a bit more sophisticated than the others, although she also enjoys a good time—in this story she teams up with her father to build a skateboard ramp that transforms into a playhouse when her mother shows up. Of the boys, Jack is quiet, Linton is the rules-minded son of the local police chief, and Sonny is wealthy and a bit clueless.
The Case of the Simple Soul is the third story arc, and it’s complete in a single volume. It’s summer, and the kids are bored. Shauna and Jack have paired up, leaving the others a bit off kilter. An Irish kid, Colm, comes into the mix, and I love him—he’s a bit older than the others, and a bit more perceptive. A string of barn fires in the area is the impetus for the remaining four to do a little freelance investigating. The girls discover a large troll living under a bridge and, hilariously, decide to match him up with one of their teachers, guided by romance tips from a women’s magazine. Colm also finds the troll and thinks he’s the culprit but ends up getting blamed for the fires himself. In order to exonerate him, Linton and Sonny team up with the local newspaper reporter, and the story ends up getting away from them. Allison keeps the twists coming, throwing in a pitchfork-wielding mob, gonzo firefighters, and a new French assistant teacher to keep things interesting.
Since this is a webcomic, the story is told a page at a time, usually with a punch line at the end of each page. Some pages don’t really advance the story but are simply the kids hanging out, chatting and trying to figure things out, but Allison has a real ear for dialogue that makes these pages some of the best in the book.
While the story is available on the web, Oni Press’s print edition of The Case of the Simple Soul is well worth having. An oversized, landscape-format paperback with French flaps (there’s also a hardcover edition), it’s a beautiful book, and Allison has thrown in some additional pages and other extras to sweeten the pot, including a glossary of the kids’ argot and Charlotte and Mildred’s compendium of possible husbands, complete with pros and cons.
[Editor’s note: Each Sunday, Robot 6 contributors discuss the best in comics from the last seven days — from news and announcements to a great comic that came out to something cool creators or fans have done.]
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