Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Review: Long Gone Don by The Etherington Brothers

Ten-year-old DON SKELTON never imagined a school day could get any worse than drowning face down in a bowl of oxtail soup. BUT HE WAS WRONG! Transported to the spooky underworld of BROILERDOOM, Don is soon forced to fight for his life-after-death against a host of villainous monstrosities. Prepare to enter the hilarious and dangerous world of LONG GONE DON, where one boy's END is just he BEGINNING of the adventure...

Like many others who have a passion for encouraging young people to read for enjoyment the news of the launch of The Phoenix comic back in 2012 filled me with excitement. Doubly so because I am also a huge lover of comics and graphic novels. Trebly so because among the artists and writers lined up for The Phoenix were the totally completely utterly brilliant Etherington Brothers. I love the work of these guys! Seriously, I would change my breakfast cereal if another came along with a serialised (cerealised... hahaha) Etherington Brothers comic inside it (and I am so set in my ways that I've not touched a cereal other than Frosties since I was in my teens). Are you listening Kellogg's? Forget asking your consumers to collect codes in order to get a personalised spoon - start giving away comics in your cereal boxes and do something for literacy whilst you are at it!

Since the launch of The Phoenix my love for the Etherington Brothers' Long Gone Don has come second only to the superb The Pirates of Pangaea (it takes a hell of a lot to beat a pirates and dinosaur mash-up), and now Don is here in his first collected volume. I have been a fan of the work of Robin (writer) and Lorenzo (artist) ever since I was sent a copy of Monkey Nuts back in 2010 (another must-buy for comic-loving kids), and I fell instantly in love with the addictive mix of Robin's off-the-wall-bonkers story-telling combined with Lorenzo's insanely detailed, vibrantly coloured artwork, and I am so happy to be able to add the first volume of Long Gone Don to my collection.

If you have not yet discovered Long Gone Don through The Phoenix then you are in for one hell of a treat. The eponymous 'hero' of the story, schoolboy Don Skelton, dies on the very first page of the book. A strangely dark start to a comic for kids, you may think, but his death is funny (very, very funny and a tad unfortunate) rather than gruesome, and it is the kick start for the craziness that follows. Having drowned in his bowl of Oxtail soup, Don 'awakes' to find himself in the after-life, but it is an after-life that could only be born from the unique imaginations of the brothers Etherington. And he also finds that his hair has gone white, and it's not entirely clear which bother him more - death or white hair.

This review is going to be severely lacking in details regarding Broilerdoom, the underworld type place that Don finds himself in post-drowning, as one of the real joys of reading this (and any other Etherington brothers) book is in the detail that Lorenzo puts into interpreting his brother's story. I can just picture the two 'boys', giggling with tears of mirth pouring from their eyes, as they come up with zany idea after zany idea - I would love to see a video of their collaborative process (brothers - if you're reading this and are interested in filming one for Middle Grade Strikes Back, please get in touch). Suffice to say, that Don makes enemies almost as quickly as he makes friends following his arrival in Broilerdoom, and he soon finds himself a wanted boy, with the rather horrible and totally despotic General Spode rather keen to inflict all kinds of nastiness on Don for a supposedly treasonous act.

Back in 2010, not long after I had read Monkey Nuts, I had the good fortune to meet Robin and Lorenzo after an event they did as part of the Crystal Palace Book Festival. We briefly chatted about our shared love for the Asterix books of Goscinny and Uderzo, and the brothers' passion for these books has never been more evident than in Long Gone Don, which visually is an obvious homage to the classic and world famous illustration work of Albert Uderzo. The (many) fight scenes in particular took me back to the incalculable number of hours I spent as a child (ok, yes, and as a teen, and yes, as an adult too) reading and re-reading the Asterix books, and the parallels do not end with the artwork - the humour in Long Gone Don is also at times just as tongue-in-cheek, with puns aplenty, although given the post-death subject matter there is also a subtle darkness to it in places.

Like their previous books Long Gone Don is the kind of comic that merits many reads - the first for the story, and the second, immediately after finishing it, to go back through and spot any missed details in the images. I've now read it four times, and even on that fourth visit I was still spotting things I had missed before. What's more, there is a big fat 'Book 1' printed on the front cover which hopefully means, sales figures permitting, that those wonderful people at David Fickling books will continue to publish these just-as-wonderful collected editions. 

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