As a history nerd I must admit that my first thought when I saw The Spark was, did they name it after Lenin’s pre-revolutionary Bolshevik newspaper Iskra? I mean, it would be educational but maybe not the best for an audience of primary school age. No, this Spark is a new title that describes itself as “an all-ages, sci-fi comic magazine”.
The Spark is a kids comic in the spirit of the excellent Phoenix. It is unashamedly a sci-fi book, but with a mix of drama and comedy. The book is tied together by robot butler Springworth (created by Andy Hanks) who has a Tharg-like role in proceedings. There are activities like word searches and mazes together with reader art (who doesn’t love reader art?) and letters.
First up is Shadows by Aaron Rackley and Dan Harris which sees a group of space explorers investigating a site where mysterious and terrible events have taken place. The team finds only a strange and harmless looking alien creature, which they take back to their ship. Having seen the film Alien I can’t help thinking that maybe that was a mistake. Dan Harris’ art uses shadows and blinking neon terminals effectively to build an atmosphere of menace – not always easy in the comics genre.
Crash Orbit by Rob Barnes is the tale of Crash and Nord – who run a kind of interstellar chip van – or ‘food truck’ as the hipsters would have us call them. They face all manner of obstacles, including customer service etiquette problems in their bid to bring lunch to hungry space workers. The tale is good fun with a Saturday morning cartoons meet 2000 A.D. vibe.
The John Baton Chronicles by Mike Dabrowski and Aaron Rackley see us in space again – for a darker tale this time. A militaristic alien race prepares to crush fleeing rebels. But something’s not right with Bruckle, one of their leaders, who is plagued with strange dreams. A very interesting concept, and I look forward to finding out more about what is happening.
The final strip in the lineup and taking up the coveted back page slot is Monster Spotters Club from Tony Esmond and Vince Hunt. This short strip reminded me of The Numskulls – always my favourite part of The Beezer. Vince Hunt’s art perfectly suits the silly burp jokes and I loved the garish and bold colours of the characters. When it comes to comedy, the dafter the better.
The Spark will be appreciated by younger kids especially if they are fans of the likes of Star Wars. The influence of Star Trek with the captain sitting in the chair giving orders is maybe unavoidable but I wonder if another genre might work well among the strips, maybe fantasy or superhero – both of which can also contain sci-fi elements – think of the likes of Nemesis the Warlock? Or even an old fashioned school tale – which Tillie Walden’s On A Sunbeam did so well.
I did appreciate the mix of drama and comedy – including some darker elements. Many of the best strips from previous eras of British comics had a sinister edge – especially ‘girls’ comics like Misty and even Mandy which were some of the best selling comics in British history. The increasing sales of The Beano and the success of graphic novels like Hilda show that there is still a future for good quality children’s comics in the UK.
There is plenty to enjoy in The Spark and I would recommend it for younger readers – but I can see a few adults stealing it away for themselves.
Check out The Spark at the Fair Spark Books website.