Written & art by: Chris Spalton @ChrisSpalton
The Eelman Chronicles, a comic book compiled about Chris Spalton’s Dads adventures as the last remaining Eel catcher in Eastern (possibly all of) England. From the infamous Tony Martin burglary & consequential shootings to brushes with Royalty, three ferrets all called “Ferret” and a collection of Eelman’s canine companions down through the years. Currently 4 episodes of The Eelman Chronicles are available.
I’ve been reviewing comics both small press and mainstream for years now.
I started this blog as a hobby never really expecting anyone to read it. I’m pretty sure they still don’t despite what my site stats tell me.It doesn’t matter, it’s a labour of love for me. Sometimes though the most pronounced word in that phrase is “labour” not love. Sometimes it feels like work. I see a lot of comics on a weekly basis and some of them are worse that you would ever believe. Even when they aren’t horrendous,it’s the same old same old. The same tired tropes. I can usually tell the plot of a book within the first few panels.
Sometimes though something comes along to make me fall in love with the medium of comics all over again.
Enter “The Eelman Chronicles.”
I’m from Northern Ireland, we have eels here I think? We sure as hell don’t eat them that I know of. Geographically Northern Ireland doesn’t have any Fens – a concept so Alien to me I had to google images so I could picture them. So I know less than nothing about the industry of catching eels in the Fens of Norfolk, as dear reader do you I imagine. This doesn’t matter. When you read Superman you don’t need to be a reporter or if you read an Aliens comic you don’t need to be a Colonial Marine.
These are comics about the human condition.
I can’t remember a comic that portrayed love and the day to day minutiae of family life so well or so perfectly. This book has heart that you can’t manufacture no matter how long you spend crafting a clever script about relationships. John Spalton as a comic character is so fleshed out I can hear a voice in the speech panels in my head. I want to meet him. I want to go for a pint with him. Extraordinary characterisation. It made me want to spend time with my own dad.
Chris Spalton has a real talent for story telling. That’s something you either have or you don’t. These strips have it in spades. I talk a lot about building universes in books. I feel like I’ve been to the Fens after reading these. In the shortest of shortform comics the amount of feeling and atmosphere of a place that Chris Spalton has managed to portray is nothing short of incredible. The Fens are a character in this book as much as anyone else. The Norfolk tourist board should be handing these comics out to people.
The Eelman chronicles are genuinely laugh out loud funny and heart breakingly sad on the same page and Spalton traverses the highs and lows of these emotions like a skilled mountain guide leading us safely across a dangerous path.
In this 4k world of high definition and photorealisitic covers from the likes of Alex Ross and Adam Hughes we have come to expect a certain level of art from comics. The Eelman Chronicles don’t have that. It doesn’t need it. Chris Spalton’s art is as beautiful as his storytelling. I took a break from this review to grab a coffee and while I was making it I had a nagging thought about what the art in these strips reminded me of, but I couldn’t place it.
It’s Maus by Art Spiegelman.
Not in theme or content but I got the exact same level of emotional resonance and impact that I got in Spiegelman’s work. Don’t let the roughness of the visuals put you off. If this was drawn by Jim Lee, John Romita Jr. or any contemporary comic superstar these tales would be less for it.
Usually on a book that I see with hand written text my first port of call would be to suggest that they employ the services of a professional letterer. Not here. The hand written text perfectly matches the feel of the strips and I loved every crossed out and replaced word. Like wise the hand drawn rough edged panel boxes just add to the charm.
The Eelman Chronicles are the single most original and jaw dropping comics I’ve ever read. They are the purest most concentrated example of what Comics should be I’ve ever seen. I’d love to storm into the offices or Marvel and DC throw these down and scream in the editor’s faces that this is how it should be done.
John Spalton is not the hero we deserved but the hero we needed.
All four current episodes of The Eelman Chronicles are available for a pay what you want price ( even nothing ) on Gumroad HERE