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, his digital versions of print comics can be found on Comixology HERE, and PDFs of now-offline webcomics can be found on Gumroad HERE. And you can discuss any and all of it HERE, in this thread!
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 doing smaller projects on the side. His major series 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 entry in the "Tackleverse" is a soft reboot, but there is a shared continuity between them and old characters 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?
There is a "New reader" page — actually a couple years old and now removed, but saved via the Wayback machine — 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. 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 can eventually follow this with Wicked Things, a post-BM story in which Charlotte investigates a murder; and the online follow-up Solver, which continues her new misadventures.
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 naïve 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 (or maybe visit your local library).
On the other hand, if seeing these gives you an archive panic, then you could go with his latest comic, Steeple. Steeple stars 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 an odd-couple 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.
And if you want to get the most out of Allison's little universe, then Scary Go Round is essential reading. SGR is essentially the origin point for Allison's work — not because it was first (technically it wasn't), but because many of his long-running, ever-recurring characters got their start here. Charlotte and Esther both debuted in these pages, as well as characters like Shelley Winters and Desmond Fishman who have become reliable walk-ons in later works. SGR itself is Allison's most expansive work: it not only goes all-in on the supernatural elements, but features a massive ensemble cast that it regularly bounces between (though it usually stars Shelley and Amy, two twenty-somethings who really aren't equipped to deal with any of this but manage anyhow). I suggest this one last mostly because the scope makes it a bigger undertaking, as well as making it a bit uneven. It's available on Gumroad these days.
With SGR under your belt, you'll be equipped for New Bobbins (continuing stories of the SGR cast during and after Bad Machinery) and Bobbins.horse (a return to the office setting of the original, but not repeating itself) as well as various SGR one-offs like Mordawwa or Destroy History.