The creator of Scary Go Round and Bad Machinery, John Allison, has been creating comics and putting them online since 1998 when he started publishing another comic, called Bobbins, online. Bobbins featured many of the same characters as SGR (some of which then also feature in Bad Machinery as supporting characters) and is almost a back story of a sort for the later comics.
I’ve not included Bobbins in this review, mostly because I didn’t have time to re-read it in addition to SGR and Bad Machinery, but I really enjoyed reading it (scarily over a decade ago now). It was more of a comedic “slice of life” style comic than the “supernatural mysteries” based later comics.
There are also some additional print only comics that John has produced but I particularly wanted to mention another web-comic (it’s accessible via the SGR Side Projects link on the main page) he has done which I’m also not covering in the rest of this review - Expecting to Fly.
Expecting to Fly is an “origins” story covering the teenage years of some of the SGR characters, almost a re-imagining if you will. It’s much more serious in tone than either of the main comics (though still with plenty of humour worked in) and is more of a real world character driven drama/comedy . It is a relatively short “two issue” series (each issue is only about 24 pages long) but, and as much as I enjoy his other work, I think these are an outstanding bit of writing and my personal favourite of his work so far.
The characters and comic concept
A large part of the concept of both comics is the culture & location in which they are set - which is the fictional town of Tackleford in the very real West Yorkshire of England. The writer brings in quite a lot of northern English references, and, although the stories are generally not at all serious and entirely fictional, actually gives a very real and tangible sense of the personality and character of northern England. I lived in England for about ten years and, although I never lived in the north, it still made me quite nostalgic.
Each chapter (they get called “cases” in Bad Machinery) is generally a self-contained story. The main character(s) of each story rotates within a primary cast with certain characters being favoured over others.
Another large part of the concept of these comics is that they are based around the very normal day to day lives of the characters. These personal dramas of the characters, their relationships and interactions are as much a part of the comic as the solving mysteries and supernatural events. For me this works very nicely as it involves and engages you with characters.
The main characters are all generally well developed but I have found at times that the personalities of some of them are quite similar to the point where I sort of lose track of which is which. Part of the problem is that there is quite a large cast to deal with, and the work is at its strongest when it focuses in on just a couple of them.
Most of the stories begin with the everyday happenings of the characters lives, these sections hark back to the origins of the series as a slice-of-life comic and are often as interesting as the main story sections. There is also a fair bit of relationship based drama throughout the stories.
Both comics then generally follow a pattern of supernatural events/mysteries and investigations by plucky local(s) who usually drags their, often unwilling, mates along for the ride.
For the most part this is not a serious comic, characters take the appearance of the supernatural in there stride and liberties are taken in terms of plausible outcomes at times for the sake of the plot. In a couple of stories I was left slightly confused as to what precisely had happened but it didn’t stop me following the overall story.
The main difference between the two series is that the SGR antagonists are young adults and the cast of Bad Machinery are teenagers. However the last story in SGR is actually a direct precursor, and features all the main characters of, Bad Machinery.
One thing that really comes across in the dialogue and writing is the English sense of humour. Even when things getting really dire for the characters they rarely stop cracking jokes, usually at their own expense, or there are mates doing it for them.
There are also a lot of bits where the characters just hang out and talk a load of old bollocks or take the piss out of each other. It’s reminiscent at times of the English novelist Robert Rankin who writes absurd modern day fantasy novels in which his characters are often sat in pubs talking complete nonsense (or “talk the toot” as he has put it). Again it’s a cultural thing and your amusement value will vary.
What neither comic tends to have is a story line that follows on between stories, beyond that of the lives of the characters.
The art changes style quite a bit over the lifetime of SGR but has stayed stable in the run of Bad Machinery. Both series are colour, SGR used a simpler art format in its earlier days in which the characters were colour shapes with no outlines (I’m probably not describing that quite right but look at the art samples to see what I mean). From there it graduates to more of a hand drawn style.
Author, publishing and timeline
The creator of SGR and Bad Machinery is John Allison who resides in Manchester, England.
Both series are published in hard copy and can be purchased via the shop link on the main or here. Additional comics published in print only are also available on the same page.
Timeline is hard to estimate as there is no overall story. Really Bad Machinery will run until the author runs out of story ideas for the characters or just gets tired of them. There have been eight cases so far, I’d suspect there wouldn’t be much more than another eight before the series concludes.