Tackleford is a really, really weird place. No, I’ve never been overseas, and I’m not entirely sure if Tackleford is a real place or not (what, google it? Man, forget LEARNING) but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Tackleford is where the weirdness happens. And anyone who has read the collected works of John Allison will know exactly what I’m talking about. For seven years, Allison wrote and drew Scary Go Round, which featured a group of 20-somethings trying to deal with everything from insane cults, demons and satanists to robot invasions and zombie resurrections. Allison ended that story in late 2009, when SGR main character Shelly Winters left Tackleford, presumably for good, to become something of a writer chick in the big city.
He then started telling a new tale picking up three years after SGR came to a close. Allison’s new comic, Bad Machinery, follows the adventures of a group of girls and a group of boys at somewhat cross purposes as they try to survive their time at Grammar school. And solve mysteries. Mysteries are key.
The main characters of Bad Machinery appeared in SGR as very minor bit characters, but this is now their time to shine. In one corner, there is Mildred, Shauna and Charlotte (often called Lottie, for this is very English). In the other, we have Jack, Linton and Sonny. These grade schoolers are wittier and funnier than you will ever be. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Allison has a long history of hilarious dialogue (SGR had one of my favorite webcomic quotes of all time… “There was an outbreak of sadness.” I’d look for it now, but hell, seven years equals a lot of comics in the archives.)
As the story goes, during the death throes of Scary Go Round, there was one final story, kind of a transition into Bad Machinery. To make a long story short, Shauna and Charlotte got into a bit of a jam, which in turn developed into a full on mystery. Before they could crack the case, however, they were scooped by Jack, Linton and Sonny, who had fallen onto the case after overhearing the girls complaining about it. SGR protagonist Shelly Winters did a bit of rivalry forming, and it was established that next time a mystery reared its ugly head, the guys and girls would literally be going head to head to see who could solve it first.
The other main tie from SGR to Bad Machinery is the ever popular Ryan Beckwith. He’s apparently a teacher now (wonder how that came about) and busts onto the scene with a beard and a tweed suit. His wife, Amy, also a SGR favorite, shows up every now and then too. You don’t have to read Scary Go Round for background on these two, but honestly watching Ryan transition from the son of the King of the Hobos into a teacher is pretty hilarious.
Scary Go Round kicks off with a simple mystery. Tackleford’s local sports team is besieged with misfortune. Curses are suspected. There’s also something about an old lady named Mrs. Biscuits (she gave Shauna biscuits once) and possibly death and carnage. Linton is a pretty big fan, so of course he wants to see this solved. Jack and Sonny, well… they’re just bored.
I really enjoy the writing and the art in Allison’s work. The dialogue is always spot on, the mysteries are confusing and bizarre, and things have a way of ending up weirder than what you think they’re going to be. The one thing I have trouble with is, with six main characters the story jumps perspective a lot. Sometimes you’d rather stick with one character just as we’ll get sent off to see what someone else is up to. Other times, we’re deprived of the aftermath of some of the carnage, what because someone else is also reacting to it somewhere.
But, Bad Machinery is also nice, clean fun, and you’ll find yourself checking the site to see what the kids are up to every day without even realizing it. The comic currently updates five times a week, and is on its fourth mystery, so now is as good of a time as any to hop into the story. The kids are now in their second year of grammar school! Shenanigans ahead!
For those interested, Allison also has a second comic that is updated between story lines in Bad Machinery (read: infrequently). This second comic is titled Giant Days, and continues the adventures of former goth-turned-bombshell Esther. At the end of SGR, Esther went off to college, parting ways with the rest of her friends and her boyfriend The Boy. I mean Useless. Eustace. *cough* Eustace, yeah. This comic has only had two story lines put in so far, but I’m ever hopeful we’ll see what becomes of Esther as she continues down the messy slope of education.