The first time I discovered Strangehaven I’d never read a mature comic that managed to combine realism of the familiar world with a group of characters, and a landscape, that contained the odd, eccentric and mysterious. I was instantly drawn to the art and storytelling and it’s a series I’ve re-read many times as a result of those things.
To quote from the first issue:
Have you ever been looking for something and stumbled upon something even better, something wonderful, purely by accident?
Well, have you?
Alex Hunter has.
Welcome to Strangehaven.
Strangehaven would seem to be the idyllic dream that many long for – drinks in the charming local pub, a relaxed pace of living, friendly and welcoming people, and the general weave of life in a scenic area that has its own changing character and traditions.
In the everyday there is also the extraordinary. A group of cultists with quasi-Masonic rituals called The Knights of the Golden Light claim to control the village behind the scenes.
An exiled Amazonian shaman, Megaron, tells compelling stories of life growing up in the Brazilian rainforest. Flower seller Ethel talks to her cats, dogs, rat, parrot and rabbits and they talk back to her with plenty of local observation and gossip. Doreen who is usually a landscape painter, and also psychically inclined, unconsciously paints a premonition of death.
The strength of the story doesn’t lie solely in the weird or supernatural mysteries though. What goes on behind the friendly waves and greetings in the street, the casual chats in the pub and gossip in the tea shop? What will happen to the characters you’ve come to know?
An example is the classic soap opera thread of Alex Hunter’s emotional confusion and bad timing which disrupts a burgeoning romantic relationship with local girl Janey Jones. Despite their closeness something always manages to go wrong for them.
They are far from being alone in having a troubled relationship.
The story went through organic changes over ten years, as did the artwork. Murder, conspiracy and manipulation are more apparent in later issues but humour and delight as well as pathos are another part of daily life.
In one particularly emotional story that touches me whenever I read it an RAF pilot suddenly arrives in Strangehaven, alive and un-aged, decades after going missing in action during the Second World War. The event is uncanny but what the story has to say about love, longing and rejoining family is timeless.
It’s the interplay of characters, storytelling, myth and symbolism that makes re-reading a rewarding experience and why Strangehaven can still hold its own eighteen years on. Though I know the characters well; I find detail in the art or the dialogue which I didn’t see or realise before.
Edit: Strangehaven has now returned! As of October 2014; Strangehaven is being published in the bi-monthly comic anthology ‘Meanwhile…’ by Soaring Penguin Press. The series is projected to run for two years, wrapping up the final part of the story in an arc called Destiny. Copies can be bought from comic shop retailers and also directly from Soaring Penguin, who also offer 4 month subscriptions.
Three collected editions of Strangehaven are currently available: Arcadia, Brotherhood and Conspiracies and all of them can be found at the Abiogenesis Press website.
Keep tuned for an upcoming interview with the man himself about Strangehaven and other aspects of a creative life.
Finally, my thanks and gratitude to Gary Spencer Millidge for providing all the artwork images for this post.