A Look Back at John Allison’s Bobbins
Column Editor: Jerry Spiller (Art Institute of Charleston) <[email protected]>
Manchester’s John Allison may still be young, but he is an elder statesman in Webcomics. He first put pen to his comic Bobbins1 in 1998. After having his samples rejected by United Features and King Features Syndicate,2 he put those first pages of Bobbins up on his own site and kept trudging along.
That early incarnation of what would become Allison’s “Tackleverse,” a series of comics spanning over 16 years and several generations of characters in the fictional Yorkshire town of Tackleford, looks very different from Allison’s comics today. While always keeping a loose and instantly accessible style, the look of Allison’s comics has evolved quite a bit over the years, as has the direction of his writing.
Bobbins focused on a cast of young professionals writing for a Tackleford magazine. Those characters, music writer and inventor Tim Jones, his record store buddy Ryan Beckwith, wild-eyed ingenue Shelley Winters, and Bourgeois Boheme editor’s daughter Amy Chilton, became the center of a growing cast. Plots revolved around office and romance drama often spurred along by Tim’s inventions, which gave a dose of sci-fi flavor to an otherwise earthly setting reminiscent of television sitcoms.
As the stories started to feature more and more sci-fi and supernatural elements, Allison spun the strip off into Scary Go Round in 2002.3 Eventually he switched from vector illustrations with soft colors drawn in Adobe Illustrator back to scanned pencil illustrations colored digitally. For my money, this is really when Allison started to hit his stride, in the middle chapters of Scary Go Round. Amy and Shelley came to share a flat with a freeloading fishman named Desmond, who liked to lounge around in his underpants, or less. Shelley and her sister Erin went to Hell at one point, somehow resulting in the latter Winters becoming a demon queen and being removed from the town’s memory. New characters continued to rotate through, and much of the original Bobbins cast fell out of sight.
In 2009 Allison made another big change, moving the clock forward with Bad Machinery. This third era focused on a new generation in two competing groups of adolescents (boys vs. girls, of course) growing up and solving mysteries that grew out of all the inexplicable otherworldly goings on in Tackleford. The setting of Griswalds school gave readers the British grammar school vibe with a bit of Northern roughness, more Hetty Wainthropp Investigates than Harry Potter. Familiar characters popped up in new age-appropriate guises. Newly married, Amy Beckwith-Chilton started running an antique shop in town, while husband Ryan graduated from the record store to the role of a young instructor at Griswalds.
For the last several years Allison has been producing four pages or more each week. In fact scarygoround.com is often updated seven days a week, depending on his schedule with other projects. Side stories often revisit old characters from the Bobbins and Scary Go Round incarnations on Fridays or in weeks between larger Bad Machinery stories. Secondary characters take the spotlight under his Giant Days moniker, as well.
Not being tied to print opens up many possibilities for a creative entrepreneur like Allison. But it can also make for confounding continuity. Allison himself admits that the lines between Bobbins, Scary Go Round, and Bad Machinery are hard to find. “After 16 years and counting of the same continuity, the greatest difficulty I have is making my work approachable to new readers while retaining the old ones,” he notes on his blog. “But I don’t have the luxuries that the creators of an issue of [Marvel’s] Alpha Flight from 1988 had. I don’t have an editor to straighten things out. I have a fallible human memory of nearly 5,000 pages of comics, with no master document detailing the relationships between various characters.”6 Library and information professionals: is anyone good with TEI and up for encoding 5,000 pages of Allison’s work in Comic Book Markup Language?7
These strips’ digital birth does not mean there are no John Allison works in print. He has long offered prints of individual strips, books, eBooks, and merchandise through Topatoco8 and his own site.9 Since the third Bad Machinery story he has been working with Oregon’s Oni Press10 to collect that title for print. Oni’s wider reach, especially in the States, difficult for Allison to reach with convention and bookstore appearances, has given the author new readership. He told Comic Book Resources, “I know the work’s found a lot of readers through libraries. That’s an audience I never would have access to. [Oni] works hard to get things out into all kinds of channels that I had no concept of.”11 Giant Days is also available in print from Boom Studios’ creator-owned imprint BOOM! Box.12
Still, Allison has clearly been itching to write and draw stories beyond Tackleford. He wrapped Bad Machinery in 2014, feeling its young detectives had grown up enough and had perhaps suffered more than their share of ghostly MacGuffins. The last storyline on scarygoround.com gives readers a finale for many of the original Bobbins crew, including a reunion for the long separated Winters sisters.
Lately Allison has been tweeting about a robotic policeman named Robert Cop and offering up sketches on Tumblr of an upcoming project called Yawning Sky. “At the start of April,” he writes on his blog, “it will be time for something new.”13
- John Allison, Bobbins. Accessed Mar 8, 2015, http://www.scarygoround.com/bobbins/index-archive.php.
- Wizard Entertainment, “A Ride on the ‘Scary Go Round.’” Accessed Mar 8, 2015 via Internet Archive, http://web.archive.org/web/20070106224806/http://www.wizarduniverse.com/magazine/wizard/002913299.cfm.
- John Allison, “Scary Go Round Archive,” Scary Go Round. Accessed Mar 8, 2015, http://www.scarygoround.com/sgr/.
- John Allison, “Scary Go Around Archive :: September 2, 2008,” Scary Go Round. Accessed Mar 8, 2015, http://www.scarygoround.com/sgr/ar.php?date=20080902.
- John Allison, “Scary Go Round Comics by John Allison, September 21, 2009,” Scary Go Round. Accessed Mar 8, 2015, http://scarygoround.com/index.php?date=20090921.
- John Allison, “On Continuity,” A Hundred Dance Moves per Minute, Mar 5, 2015, accessed Mar 8, 2015, http://sgrblog.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/on-continuity.html.
- Jerry Spiller. “Comic Book Markup Language” in Decoder Ring, Against the Grain, vol. 26#5.
- TopatoCo, “TopatoCo: Scary Go Round.” TopatoCo. Accessed Mar 8, 2015, http://www.topatoco.com/merchant.mvc?Screen=CTGY&Store_Code=TO&Category_Code=SGR.
- John Allison, “John Allison’s Luxury Emporium,” Scary Go Round. Accessed Mar 8, 2015, http://shop.scarygoround.com/.
- OniPress. Accessed Mar 8, 2015, http://onipress.com.
- Steve Sunu, “‘Bad Machinery’s’ John Allison Talks 15 Years of Webcomics, Looks to the Future,” Comic Book Resources, December 2, 104, accessed Mar 8, 2015, http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=57458.
- “Boom Studios Announces New Imprint: Boom! Box, An Experimental Line of Titles Created Just for the Love of It,” Boom Studios, November 22, 2013, accessed Mar 8, 2015, http://blog.boom-studios.com/2013/11/boom-studios-announces-new-imprint-boom-box-an-experimental-line-of-titles-created-just-for-the-love-of-it/.
- John Allison, “On Continuity.”