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Sunday, September 29, 2019

The SheerGlam Conspiracy by Steve MacManus

The sudden death of Peregrine Goodenough in 1973, elevates his son, Godric, to the chairmanship of Goodenough Publications, whose line of comics has been bringing action, adventure and humour to the shelves of newsagents for forty years.

As the novel opens, a young Irish girl named Sinead becomes a junior at the company, hoping to find work there as an artist. First she falls into the hands of sour Bob Buerk and his equally awful assistant (and lover), Janice Ballpinch, having been assigned to help in the office responsible for office furniture. She is rescued from their ghastly clutches by Gloria SheerGlam, who has her assigned as art assistant on Patsy, but with a roving brief to get experience on other papers published by Goodenough.

Thus Sinead becomes the readers' guide as she passes through the various offices to learn the ropes, sorting through readers letters, going through the slush pile of uncommissioned scripts and 'bodging' artwork on Goodenoughs colourfully titled comics Frightful, Whaddagoal! and Destroyer for boys, the youthful Jamboree, and Patsy for girls 

Meanwhile, Patsy sub Thisbe Thwaite-Jones lusts after muscular Ted; editor Marion Mildmay is secretly the author of the hugely popular Patsy strip 'Saints v Sinners'; and Glora SheerGlam is involved in something very dodgy into which she wants to lure new assistant, Sinead—the daughters of Brünhilde, a cult mixing elements of Norse mythology, Wagner and the Bund Deutscher Mädel (League of German Girls).

Lurking unseen in the background, hidden away in room 401, a pair of Scotsmen are putting together a dummy for a new comic (known only as GNP13) that Goodenough hopes will blow away the opposition, Tartan Comics.

Anyone with a passing knowledge of comics will recognise the two powerhouse publishers of British comics, IPC (Fleetway Publications) and DC Thomson, behind these thinly veiled rivals. Whether you can recognise individuals fictionalised in the pages of his novel I guess will depend on whether you, too, worked at IPC as MacManus did, originally as a sub-editor on Valiant and subsequently as Tharg of 2000AD between 1979 and 1987.

The occasional name crops up that insiders will recognise—Eric Western is a portmanteau of Eric Bradbury and Mike Western, for instance—but whether there are direct equivalents to the likes of Geoff Kemp, Stewart Wales and David Hunt, contemporary editors when MacManus joined, or grandees like Jack Le Grand and Sid Bicknell, it's difficult to say. I'm sure elements of all went into the clay from which MacManus created each character. You don't need to be a comics fan to enjoy the book, but that certainly adds to the pleasure, and I can speak from experience that you can roam the environs of Farringdon Street, home of Goodenough Publishing, and find yourself in the Hoop and Grapes or Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, just around the corner in Fleet Street, as some of the characters do in the novel.

As for the book itself, it's a 40,000-word fun ride. There's plenty of humour, a bit of sex, and lots of lust, jealousy and quirkiness amongst the staff. It's written in a pleasing, undemanding style that, oddly, reminds me of some of the books I was reading in the 1970s that set out to entertain without becoming bloated and bogged down in plot. Perfect books for a train journey. As Sinead visits each comic, you get a taste of each titles' contents, with a string of perfectly-pitched homages of the kind of strips that were running at that time, some hilarious tributes, others excoriating parodies. You can also read the scripts that make up the newly created dummy, Blaze, as a kind of DVD extra at the back of the novel. All I'll say is: I want to read that comic!

Steve promises that the series will continue in The SheerGlam Succession. Good.

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