Best Of British: Department Of The Peculiar…Goes Pop – A Smart Comedy Adventure, Brit Style
by Richard Bruton
When all else fails and you’re faced with the downright weird, dangerous and plain peculiar, it’s time to call in DOTP, a uniquely ridiculous British mix of superheroing and the X-Files…
Many years ago now, Rol Hirst and Rob Wells put out the first two issues of DotP, fun and quirky, great writing, great art. Superheroes with a very British twist, because our supers tend to be strange, unusual, and basically messed up. So, with Department of the Peculiar, Hirst and Wells have taken that idea and gone to town.
It features the aforementioned Department, with a mix of bizarre weirdo people with powers that really aren’t all that. Basically, the Brit government keeps the weirdo squad around for any of the more unusual cases that crop up, all headed by the somewhat pushy and frankly obnoxious Lisa Cole, DOTP Director.
As for the rest of them… shall we say motivation is an issue?
Our basic cast, aside from the acidic delight of Lisa Cole, reading left to right in the pic above, includes Karine, the team’s pre-cog, although right now all she can really see is the various ways her boyfriend will try to kill himself when she dumps him. Then there’s Ian, who doesn’t seem to do anything at all and would much rather be back in the team HQ, safe and sound. And then there’s Malcolm, the team’s American operative, previously known as the superhero Viral Mal, who wants nothing more than to escape his past and his ridiculous illness-inducing powers.
And finally, not pictured above, making a return to the Department after a little mental wobble, there’s the DOTP’s resident witch, Theo, who needs to magically spell herself the confidence to even get herself out the car to go to work.
A motley crew? Oh yes. But all of them work beautifully together thanks to Hirst’s neat line of characterisation.
As I say, this might not be the first DOTP comic, but there’s no risk of being lost in the plot, as this issue covers all the essentials before launching into this new adventure. And this time round, the Department are investigating a series of particularly peculiar music deaths. How peculiar? This…
It’s all being coordinated by Gavin Leech, manager of a truly terrible rock band called Areshole, who’s discovered that there’s a way to make them famous – it’s just going to take a little work and a few deaths to get them there. He is literally killing with a kiss, somehow transferring their talent to his crappy bunch of Arseholes.
The Department are called in and they’re absolutely on the case… or not… frankly, they’re all rather crap at this whole thing.
All in all, DOTP is a really fun thing. Hirst’s writing is really smart, with a fine seam of quirky, dark humour going all the way through. But like all the best sorts of comedy-dramas, the story is strong enough to hold the comedy. And artistically, Rob Wells’ stark but sharp b&w art, working pretty much throughout on a 2×3, 6-panel grid page, is everything it needs to be. There’s a stylised angularity to some of the linework that works, but more than anything, his facial expressions carry the whole thing so well. For the best example of what I’m talking about… this is a particularly lovely page that tells you all I want you to know…
(Oh, and if you haven’t already read Wells’ excruciatingly personal memoir of embarrassing illness, Back, Sack, Crack, And Brain, I can wholeheartedly recommend it and should be telling you all about it in the future.)
In the end, Department of the Peculiar… Goes Pop is both fun and funny, well-written, well-drawn, with a great cliffhanger of an ending that should have you wanting to read issue 2. And it’s yet another example of just how damn good, how stacked in depth and variety the British comics scene is at the moment.
Originally launched through a Kickstarter campaign, they blew through the initial target and achieved stretch goals of some gorgeous looking pin-ups by the likes of Sean Phillips, Chris Weston and Mark Stafford, as well as the painted back cover by Phil Elliott. The comic will now be 32 pages, with the addition of a bonus 4-page story called ‘Learning To Fly’ – a prose story written by Hirst with spot illustrations by Wells – that will be added to the comic under the banner ‘Rol Hirst’s Tales of the Peculiar’
Department of the Peculiar … Goes POP! Issue 1 (of 2) by Rol Hirst and Rob Wells. Follow on Twitter at @DotPeculiar, @RolHirst, @RobertDWells. Get the comic at Rob Wells‘ website.