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Bad Machinery Volume 3: The Case of the Simple Soul Paperback – December 23, 2014
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From School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up—In this third installment of the series, Allison brings the wit and charm of his British webcomics to fans in the U.S. Readers follow the group of young teens and their attempt to unravel mysteries in their town of Tackleford. The book trails various story lines, such as the boys trying to solve arson incidents and the girls endeavouring to "clean up" a troll they found under a bridge. Although the mystery-solving aspect isn't solid, what stands out in this work is the authentic dialogue, characters' constant questioning, and the protagonists' experiences as "new" teenagers. Allison addresses how they are coping with physical and emotional changes, balancing friendships, and romantic relationships in a humorous way. However, the relegation of conversations about love and romance conversations to the girls' narrative and the mystery-solving adventures to the boys' section makes this work in some instances feel too gendered. The comic-strip look and layout are solid and along with the vivid illustrations and bold colors enhance the appeal of the series. VERDICT A good, humorous addition to school and public libraries' graphic novel collections.—Sujei Lugo, Boston Public Library, MA
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Top Customer Reviews
There are a lot of good reasons for "Bad Machinery's" popularity. While the book encompasses just one mystery, the collection really reflects three different lines. First, of course, is the mystery that arcs through the whole book. Next, though, the series is seasoned by "one off" jokes and bits that only take a strip or two or three to set up a laugh. Finally, there are issues, characters and relationships that were first developed in the earlier strips and continue to develop in this series, (and that will undoubtedly continue to appear and develop in later books as well). This adds a lot of depth and interest to the whole undertaking, and reminds me very strongly of "Doonesbury", which followed a very similar pattern.
Also in the style of "Doonesbury", Allison has a real command of "minimalist" or succinct humor. You only get a few panels per strip, and only so many words. You have to set up a situation, work it, and then deliver a payoff with just a few drawings and a few well chosen words. That is just brutally difficult to do, (think of how many bad imitators of artist/humorist Gary Larson's "Far Side" are out there), and Allison pulls it off brilliantly. Allison does this all extremely well, and some of the deadpan lines and throwaways are just dead funny.
Plus, each of the six teens, and almost all of the secondary characters, are individually realized and engaging. Within a few pages this is not a comic book, but as compelling as any YA novel. In this one we have a budding girlfriend/boyfriend dynamic that is addressed both from the point of view of the two young crushes and from the vantage point of their not-yet-attached mates. (Puppy love and romance have descended on Tackleford, along with a mystery troll.) The tone can change from winsome to sharp in the space of a single panel, although the general approach is affable and good-hearted. Added to that is the fact that the dialogue is fast, sharp, witty, and yet generous. It is not snarky or mean spirited, and is ultimately good-natured, if a bit edgy. As a result you end up liking these people and sympathizing with their various predicaments and foibles. (Again, echoes of "Doonesbury".)
So, a light authorial touch, insight, humor, and engaging characters. It's hard to mix clever, witty, and amiable with knowing commentary about teen life, but this book accomplishes that with style. A very nice find and well worth a try.
Please note that I received a free advance ecopy of this book in exchange for a candid review. Apart from that I have no connection at all to the author or the publisher of this book.
You know, I purchased this book in the UK, but I like reviewing things on the US site - so! it looks like I have not bought this! But that is not the case.
Like all of John's work, you can find this online, for free. However, I actually like the printed books - they have a real size and heft to them, and the pictures sparkle in the new size. They also look pretty cool on a book shelf, now that comics are finally (finally!) cool and all, anyway.
So look, this review is really for you, the person who reads John's work online but is unsure if the book is worth buying - it is. It looks great on a book shelf, it feels nice to read, and the size - look at the shape of that book! Look at the shape of the strips John draws - a perfect match! No unsightly rectangle around it. Now I know what you are thinking - no, no I really do. Also "why do i care about the shape of the book you fool? I am not an apple-using twit!" BUT YOU ARE
I mean, if you like comics? then let's face it, you like the aesthetic - and it seems you don't even realise it! The comic sings when it is free of the shackles of a boring rectangle-sized screen. That is how the art was drawn, and how it should be seen. Maybe you do not believe me? Well, buy this one book and find out. C'mon! Live a little! EXPERIENCE LIFE HU-MON!
If you don't regularly read John's work, well, pop to his site - scarygoround dot com - and have a read. If you like it, well then you fall into the category I just hectored above, and you should buy this book. If you don't like it, you would be making a Poor Decision to buy this book. However, it does still look great on the book shelf...
Why I finished it: I was hard pressed to find the actual mystery in this installment of the series. The mysterious barn fires start out as a prevalent plot point, but it sort of fades into the background behind the other plotlines. Granted, the case does get solved in the end, but it doesn't seem like our sleuths really have much interest in solving the case that they seem to have happened upon. Mildred, Charlotte, Linton, and Sonny all spend a significant amount of time trying to fill the void left in their groups by Shauna and Jack, who are now dating (and they are totally my OTP of this series). So in that aspect, Simple Soul is more about transitions than it is about finding an arsonist. Allison has found a different rhythm for his characters this time around, showcasing their struggles with the end of the year at a new school, changing friendships, new romances, and the general angst that comes from being an almost teenager. Yet, the comedic timing and the offbeat humor continue to shine through which is what makes the comic so likable. The volume also includes another edition of Charlotte's explanations of British Idioms and a collection of hand-drawn husbands by Charlotte and Mildred. Overall, it's a great, fun read that continues to see our characters growing up and learning more about life - which, it turns out may or may not be hazardous to your health.
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