Review: Jim Medway’s ‘Crab Lane Crew’ Is Just A Perfect Distillation Of Childhood Now
by Richard Bruton
In Jim Medway’s Crab Lane Crew you’ll find a perfect glimpse into the world of young children, where friendships are everything and just the day-to-day little things are all that matters. Beautifully drawn, it captures every nuance of what it actually means to be a child – something that any child that reads the book (and those adults smart enough to realise it) will immediately recognise and adore.
Books looking back on childhood often veer into nostalgia, but not Jim Medway‘s Crab Lane Crew, a perfect example of getting modern kids’ voices just right…
Crab Lane Crew ran in the DFC, a forerunner to the Phoenix Comic in terms of both editorial personnel and concept, back in 2008 and 2009, and now it’s available in a wonderful collection from Bog Eyed Books.
It was very different to everything else in that comic. It wasn’t the sort of madcap cartooning of laughs and silliness, nor was it the more serious adventuring comic strips. Instead, it was just a couple of pages every week of a group of kids hanging around, chatting, and doing very little. Oh, and they’re all drawn with cat faces. It’s just a thing Medway’s always done.
I’ve already shown you a preview of the book a while back, but here’s the opening page again… a perfect summary of everything that Crab Lane Crew is all about…
There you go, five kids, just being kids. That’s it, that’s all that it’s about. These are the kids from Crab Lane and these are their adventures – Scott, Mark, Ahmed, Chris, and the only girl of the group, Keeley.
It’s all hanging around, teasing each other, making daft gags. Except these are the last few days of Scott being around because his mom’s job has moved and they’re going to have to move away. And for a tight-knit little friendship group like this, that’s a disaster – particularly for Keeley, who might have just the tiniest crush on Scott.
So by the second page, just after getting to know them, we’re having to watch them go through the trauma of losing someone. It might seem a small thing to us – after all, they’ll visit and all that – but that’s what makes Medway’s work so darned great, the realism of getting to the heart of just what’s important to the gang. After this, they get a new member of the gang and continue doing all of the sorts of little things that fill real children’s lives with meaning and enjoyment, whether it’s having a yard sale, sharing their interests (Chris, for example, is a huge dino-fan), making a dirt bike ramp on the waste ground (even though only Ahmed has a bike), making ice-cream, going fishing, making bows and arrows, putting on a magic show, making plaster casts, or just hanging around and chatting with each other.
Now, because of the lack of anything really happening, no amazing adventures, no heists, no big storyline, some of the adult reviewers at the time (me included) tended to pass over Crab Lane Crew.
Luckily for me, at the time, I had an eight-year-old daughter to set me right. And she absolutely adored Crab Lane Crew for all the reasons the adults passed over it. Like I said, essentially it’s just a group of kids standing around and talking and doing a few things each week. When I got her to review the DFC for the old Forbidden Planet International Blog she had this to say: “it’s just nice to see them talk and have fun.” And after that, I saw it with fresh eyes and began appreciating it and loving it the way she did.
Like Molly said, Crab Lane Crew is not some hilariously funny thing, no great adventures are had. Instead, it concentrates on something children value above all else; friendship. Molly saw something in Crab Lane Crew that she saw in her own school and her own friendships.
She delighted in telling me that it was perfect, the characters doing nothing but hang out, doing kid things, talking about kid things, just as she did. She saw herself in Medway’s strip, and if that isn’t the perfect definition of what a children’s comic should be I don’t know what is.
Medway so perfectly taps into what adults too often see as the simple friendships that are actually anything but, but also captures all the nuances of all those simple little moments, the interactions, every little turn of phrase, every bit of body language. It’s simply a brilliantly observed comic, beautifully drawn, and something I think you’ll find it very easy to fall in love with.
Medway went on to make his first graphic novel, Playing Out, published by Blank Slate Books in 2013, which took exactly what had worked for these youngsters in Crab Lane Crew and then applied it to a group of young teens. Just like Crab Lane Crew, that was just the perfect evocation of everything it means to navigate those difficult years from a kid’s-eye-view, hanging about, nothing to do, trying to fill your weekends with anything fun.
Playing Out is out of print from Blank Slate now, but it’s available through all the usual places if you go look. Having published Crab Lane Crew, perhaps Bog Eyed Books might be doing the world a favour and re-publishing it sometime? I can only hope.
However, Crab Lane Crew, wonderfully, is available right now from Bog Eyed Books and you should all be running out to the shops (or heading online) to buy one for yourself and for every kid you know – it’s a wonderfully realised glimpse into the reality of what it means to be a kid.
Crab Lane Crew byJim Medway is published by Bog Eyed Books.