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Bad Machinery Volume 1: The Case of the Team Spirit Paperback – April 2, 2013
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From School Library Journal
Gr 7-10–Originally published as a serialized webcomic, The Case of the Team Spirit introduces a group of British tweens involved in a mystery. A series of strange events leads some people to believe that the local Tackleford City Football Club is cursed. Meanwhile, plans for a new stadium are being blocked by tough old Mrs. Biscuits. Six students become unlikely detectives, unraveling the case while navigating life as first-year grammar school students. Each comic is built to stand alone while connecting to the larger story, sometimes stalling momentum. The quirky dialogue includes significant doses of snark. The vivid, full-color illustrations are lovely. The line work is smooth, well defined, and efficient, successfully conveying the emotions of the characters. The large trim size and simple panel layouts add to the visual appeal. Back matter includes a glossary of lesser-known UK terms and phrases used in the book, brief bios of each character, and a mock newspaper history of the Tackleford Football Club. Unique in both story and tone, this title is perfect for graphic-novel fans looking for something a bit different.–Travis Jonker, Wayland Union Schools, MIα(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Six classmates find themselves at odds over the football stadium in their town of Tackleford, England. The girls are worried about an old lady who is about to lose her home to the stadium upgrade, whereas the boys are more worried about the curse plaguing the owner. But those issues are hard to handle when the kids are also trying to navigate their way through their first year at grammar school. This volume kicks off Allison’s popular webcomic, which is itself a spin-off from his older webcomic Scary Go Round. Likely owing to its serial origins and its prequel nature, the story can be choppy, switches abruptly between slice-of-life and story arc, and sometimes seems to leave things out. But fans of the online strip and its predecessor, as well as teens and adults who like a bit of smart snark and sass, will appreciate Allison’s unique humor and offbeat story as well as the Kate Beaton–like (though full-color) art. Grades 7-10. --Snow Wildsmith
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My only quip is with the way the book is made. Now don't get me wrong I love comics that keep their format when being put into a printed format, I love the dedication, and it always makes for a better reading experience BECAUSE IT'S IN THE FORMAT THAT THE STORY WAS ORIGINALLY MADE IN, THIS HELPS IT FLOW MORE NATURALLY [Hint hint comic book publishers]. But the issue with this book, for me, is that it's in paperback, so when a book is 8 inches tall but 12 inches long AND paperback it's gunna be a bit bendy, it's gunna flop around a bit, it's gunna be difficult to hold still and read [ya gotta prop that sucker down on a flat surface]. I'm not saying we change to a smaller format, I'm just saying, if the book is gunna be floppy as a paperback please print hardcover, it makes it sturdy and easier to read when a book is longer than it is tall [just skip paperbacks all together, make it all hardcover, protect those pages!!].
EDIT: I know a hardcover is available, but it is not available through amazon. I stand by my statement that books in this format need more support than paperbacks provide.
It's Charlotte, by the way.
Bad Machinery is the current webcomic by John Allison, succeeding his earlier comic Scary Go Round, which in turn succeeded his first webcomic, Bobbins. That one started in 1998, so Allison has 15 years of experience at it now. Those strips still have online web archives, so you can see for yourself how his skills at drawing, coloring, plotting, and characterization have evolved from "diamond-in-the-rough" beginnings to his current refined state. Some characters have persisted through all three strips, so you can see how they progressed as well.
In contrast to the earlier strips that mostly featured adult characters, Bad Machinery (whose title, the author stated once in a social media posting, comes from a song lyric) centers on a group of kid sleuths at a British grammar school, whose cases end up involving supernatural elements. The result is an interesting combination of fantasy/science fiction/macabre with the mystery genre, as well as tween school drama, which provides engaging reading for all ages. The strips have all been set in the fictional English town of Tackleford, which seems to be a "weirdness magnet".
This book is the first volume of Bad Machinery, covering the first storyline (or "case", as they're designated). The first few pages introduce the characters (some of whom had appeared as little kids in Scary Go Round, but as this comic opens, they're ready to start their first year in grammar school, corresponding to the level Americans call middle school or junior high). Three girls and three boys are sometimes rivals and sometimes cooperate in solving the mystery of the moment; this time, it is a series of mishaps plaguing the local football (soccer to Americans) club. Allison tells a clever story while also fleshing out characters that the readers will care about and want to follow in further adventures, and also (to suit the original publication as daily strips online) carries a succession of gags and punchlines that work in a single page taken by itself but fit into the overall storyline.
Kids who constantly find themselves in the middle of big, dark, dangerous things, but somehow still manage to preserve a spirit of youthful innocence and playfulness, are hard to pull off without coming off as phony, but this strip manages it. The case in this book is just the first of a number of them which have been presented on the web (the latest, currently in progress, is a really mind-blowing epic of time travel and alternate reality) and will presumably come out in book form in due course.
If you did read the story already on the web, there are still reasons to buy the book; not only to support the artist/author, but to get some bonus material: several extra pages were added for the book version, including some entertaining newspaper clippings about the history of the sports team involved in the story.
Now, about the Kindle version: I was somewhat disappointed by the way it was implemented. Unlike most other Kindle material, this was designed in a very inflexible manner, not permitting sideways rotation (which would have been a useful thing to do since the page format is lengthwise, and the "portrait" format of an upright Kindle screen causes the pages to be scrunched in the middle with lots of blank space above and below; a sideways screen would use more of the screen area to show the art bigger). The only "zoom" feature supported is a panel-by-panel enlargement to a size somewhat larger than the raw page, but not by that much, still requiring a bit of squinting to read the text, and not permitting a very good examination of artwork detail. No further zooming is supported. This could have been done much better, and has been for other books. Even PDF-format books/comics imported into the Kindle from non-Amazon sources (including some by John Allison) give the user more freedom to rotate and zoom, as do the webcomic versions when viewed for free in the Kindle's browser.
The paper version of this book has been praised by other reviewers for its large page format permitting the artwork to be properly appreciated, but the Kindle version falls short.