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John Allison's Scary Go Round et al.

conchobhar

What's Shenmue?
(he/him/his)

Shamelessly nicked from the Tackleford Wikia

I think it's about time that New TT had a thread for the works of John Allison! The complex tapestry of Tackleford can be found HERE, new hotness Steeple can be found HERE, new sideprojects can be found HERE, and his print comics can be found on Comixology HERE. And you can discuss any and all of it HERE, in this thread!

For those unfamiliar with the name, read on.

Who is John Allison and what does he do?
John Allison is a webcomic author who's been at it since 1998 (in recent years, he's also branched into print, but most of his work is published online). Unlike many others who have been in the game for comparable lengths of time, however, Allison has not been laser-focused on a single, never-ending comic; he periodically ends his comic and starts anew, while also juggling smaller projects on the side. His major comics include Scary Go Round (2002–2009), Bad Machinery (2009–2017), Giant Days (2015–2019) and Steeple (2019–present).

Allison's stories fall somewhere between urban fantasy and slice-of-life: following the lives of youths and young adults as they also get caught up in and grapple with their town's supernatural happenings. They're pretty light-hearted and full of humour, but never anything ironic or self-aware. Several of his comics (including Scary Go Round and Bad Machinery) are set in Tackleford, a fictional city in Northern England; each comic is a soft reboot, but there is a shared continuity between them and old characters are liable to pop up from time to time. In recent years, Allison has been moving away from the "Tackleverse": Giant Days is a half-step away (still in continuity, but set in a different city and largely concerned with its own affairs), and newer series By Night and Steeple are entirely independent.

There's a lot going on here! How do I make sense of this and where do I start reading?
Allison does have a "New reader" page on his site that's meant to untangle his work and lay it all out, but I feel it may actually make his oeuvre look more complex and confusing than it is; it is an exhaustive list that chronicles not just all the one-off comics he's done, but also a few that are unavailable and/or effectively disowned. Also, it's slightly out of date. In my view, the ones to be concerned with are the ones I mentioned at the beginning of the last section: Scary Go Round, Bad Machinery, Giant Days and Steeple.

Of those, the best place to start is Bad Machinery. Bad Machinery follows six school-aged kids— Charlotte, Shauna, Mildred, Jack, Linton and Sonny— who investigate mysterious happenings around their town, which inevitably have some sort of fantastical explanation. Beyond the solid premise (who doesn't love a mystery), I think it's also his best work to date: a perfect mixture of intrigue and silliness while also affording time for character development. One of the more impressive aspects is that, because each case takes place over a school semester, you get to watch the cast grow from precocious kids into troublesome teens. It is available online and in print. You should eventually follow this with Wicked Things, a post-BM story in which Charlotte investigates a murder.

Another strong starting point is Giant Days. This is one of Allison's rarer grounded works, set at a university and with your requisite university melodrama; there's nothing supernatural here, but it does exist in a sort of heightened reality. It doesn't re-invent the wheel but it's good fun, anchored by a great core trio— flighty goth Esther, cheerful and naive Daisy, and tightly-wound Susan— and has his comedy chops on full display (sometimes, there's a new joke in every panel). It is, however, less accessible than Bad Machinery, in the sense that it is a print comic and you need to pay money for it.

On the other hand, if seeing these gives you an archive panic, then you could go with his latest comic, Steeple. Steeple stars a pair of women— Billie, a curate in the Church of England, and Maggie, a priestess in the Church of Satan— who become unlikely friends and bumble into various supernatural occurrences (if their religious backgrounds make this sound edgy to you, don't worry, it's really just doing a buddy-cop thing). This looks to be Allison's main project for the foreseeable future, and it only just started recently, so you easily jump in, catch up and follow along as it publishes. One slightly awkward thing is that while it's mostly a webcomic, it actually began in print, and you'll need to read that single volume first to understand what's going on.

From there, you'll want to read Scary Go Round to get the full scope of Tackleford's cast of characters, as they are key to things like New Bobbins and Bobbins.horse, and star in various spin-offs like Destroy History.
 
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conchobhar

What's Shenmue?
(he/him/his)
Anyway, the reason I made this thread now is because Allison has a new comic starting next week: CIRCUS WINDOWS, starring Charlotte and Mildred in a post-Bad Machinery (and post-Wicked Things, which I think is on a sort of hiatus?) story. I'm excited to see the mystery kids as mystery adults.
 

Falselogic

Techno-Threadcromancer
(they/them)
How much do any of these new projects have the best Allison creation, Desmond Fishman?

Thank you for the reminder. I fell off of following and need to catch up with Horse, and start Steeple.
 

JBear

Internet's foremost Bertolli cosplayer
(He/Him)
I feel like he may have snuck in a Desmond cameo in a crowd shot in one the recent Steeple stories? I may have wiped it from my memory.

Anyway, here, you degenerate. "Enjoy":



Also, since the timing is right, enjoy this silly cross-post from the Star Trek thread:

 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
I’ve decided to jump feet first into this brouahaha. By which I mean “I started reading Steeple, since it has the smallest archive”. I am charmed by it so far. Nothing more to report as of yet.

I was also reluctant to even begin for years because I kept confusing Bad Machinery with Diesel Sweeties. Which I was also confused to think was still a thing
 

ThornGhost

lofi posts to relax/study to
(he/him)
Somehow I slept all year on Steeple? Anyway, I burned through the entire online archive as well as the collected series on Comixology over the last two days.

Steeple is great! I mean, I assumed it was because basically everything John Allison does is great, but it really hit the mark for me.

For those that have read the collected edition, do you think that Billie and Maggie had a romantic-type encounter on the night of the witch festival or just some wild witch dancing fun? It's hard not to read a little romance into those few frames, but nothing else in their friendship really gives me any sort of those vibes, and as far as I can remember, they never reference anything of the sort, so I don't know.
 

Patrick

Magic-User
(He/Him)
I read John Allison comics daily for close to two decades, then stopped after Bad Machinery ended. I lost track of which ones were running & didn’t want to buy the paper comics. I should probably see what I’ve missed over the last few years.
 

Nich

stuck in baby prison
(he/him)
I can understand not wanting to buy paper comics, since they take up a lot of space, but if you have a tablet with a Comixology app then you can also get the full run of Giant Days that way. And it's worth getting!
 

Patrick

Magic-User
(He/Him)
Yeah, it’s sheer inertia. I even used to send him money every year via his donate button, so it’s not due to the cost either. And I heard that they’re good. I just was used to reading his comics on a website every morning and I didn’t make the jump to another format. I’ll add it to my list for 2021.
 

conchobhar

What's Shenmue?
(he/him/his)
Somehow I slept all year on Steeple? Anyway, I burned through the entire online archive as well as the collected series on Comixology over the last two days.

Steeple is great! I mean, I assumed it was because basically everything John Allison does is great, but it really hit the mark for me.

For those that have read the collected edition, do you think that Billie and Maggie had a romantic-type encounter on the night of the witch festival or just some wild witch dancing fun? It's hard not to read a little romance into those few frames, but nothing else in their friendship really gives me any sort of those vibes, and as far as I can remember, they never reference anything of the sort, so I don't know.
I slept on Steeple for a while, too, because I was skeptical of the premise and worried it would get into some edgy religious stuff (that note in the opening post didn't come from nowhere). But then I caught a few pages of "Secret Sentai", and, though confused— turns out that jumping into the middle of the third story arc is not the best way to acquaint yourself with a series— I was intrigued enough to give the trade a shot. Kicking myself for waiting so long, now… my fears were completely unfounded.

Steeple actually reminds me a bit of the Scary Go Round of yore. Bille and Maggie stumble into the supernatural happenings by chance or by accident, and kind of just roll with the punches, just like Amy and Shelley before them— and not like the more purposeful and driven kids of Bad Machinery. While I loved Bad Machinery, it's a lot of fun to see Allison return to a looser, wilder tone again… the latest arc, especially (Billie and Maggie being haunted after a pub crawl) is something that wouldn't have fit in to any of his other post-SGR works. Looking forward to its eventual return!

As for your spoiler: there's certainly enough innuendo surrounding that scene to lend to that reading— like Billie calling her morning trudge home a "walk of shame"— but I personally don't see it that way. Like you said, I didn't get any sense of sexual attraction or tension in their friendship, before or after, and there's no change in their interactions afterwards that suggest that sort of encounter.

By the by, has anyone read By Night? I got the first volume recently, and… I really didn't care for it. I wasn't planning to finish it, unless someone can attest to it picking up…
 

Bongo

excused from moderation duty
(he/him)
Staff member
Circus Windows, starring Lottie and Mildred and set sometime after the events of Wicked Things, is running on the Bad Machinery site.
 

conchobhar

What's Shenmue?
(he/him/his)
Circus Windows has been great fun so far. The "mystery" is very thin, but that's kind of the point, as it's really just an opportunity for Charlotte to clown around (ahem). Plus, Mildred's here, and the two bounce off each other so perfectly.

Also, John Allison put up a free post on his Patreon where he talks a bit about his creative process behind Circus Windows, and a sort of post-mortem on Wicked Things. Worth a read; I've always liked how open Allison is about what drives each of his projects, especially since it gives perspective on why he's always got so many plates spinning.
 

Paul le Fou

ShrimpCerealTopangaHusbandIsAMeTooMilkshakeDuck
(He)
I was a huge fan of Scary-Go-Round and Bad Machinery. I think at some point near the end of Bad Machinery I fell off reading it regularly and always meant to go back and catch up, but when I tried once I got overwhelmed by the list of all the repeating series recursively reopening and closing. I think at that point Bad Machinery was over, but Bobbins and Scary Go Round were both back doing separate stories or something?

I think John Allison is great and really want to get back into his stuff. Maybe I'll pick up the Giant Days print run for starters.
 

Falselogic

Techno-Threadcromancer
(they/them)
It is hard to follow the storyline/characters as they seem to jump from comic and medium to comic and medium... Give me that John Allison Cinematic Universe Omnibus!
 

conchobhar

What's Shenmue?
(he/him/his)
I was a huge fan of Scary-Go-Round and Bad Machinery. I think at some point near the end of Bad Machinery I fell off reading it regularly and always meant to go back and catch up, but when I tried once I got overwhelmed by the list of all the repeating series recursively reopening and closing. I think at that point Bad Machinery was over, but Bobbins and Scary Go Round were both back doing separate stories or something?
Allison's mentioned before how the accumulated continuity of Tackleford has occasionally weighed on him and 'forced' him into stories as he just tried to untangle it and make it 'make sense' in his mind, and I think that period was the worst of it— IIRC he was moving between Bad Machinery and New Bobbins and Bobbins.horse with every story, with each of them alternatively rejecting or embracing continuity creep. It was messy.

If you were wondering how to catch up, you could probably pass over the Bobbins stuff entirely, honestly. I like Bobbins.horse well enough but it's inessential— just new stories of the old cast back in their office comedy days. New Bobbins, though is a huge mess, as it's where Allison's continuity anxieties were explored, and it doesn't really hang together.
 

madhair60

Video games
I'd just do Bad Machinery and Giant Days to be honest. Bobbins and Scary feel skippable at this point and I was never lost in either of the follow-ups.
 

ThornGhost

lofi posts to relax/study to
(he/him)
Circus Windows concludes! But it seems that Mad John Allison is moving right back into Steeple in a couple of weeks with a crossover featuring Lottie, which means that if he was hoping to avoid his previous continuity, he has not ripped that bandaid off quite as fully as you might think.
 
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