Tamara Drewe, by Posy Simmonds
A friendly, almost Archers-feeling story with - gasp! - literary origins
With the obvious exceptions of Matt Groening's Life in Hell series and the brilliantly inexplicable Perry Bible Fellowship creations, newspaper 'funnies' are pretty shameful. But along came Posy Simmonds in 2005 with something different for the back of the Guardian's newly reformatted literature supplement. Astonishingly, her strips, while often witty, weren't designed to be funny, which automatically elevates them above the 'force the clown to dance' effect of the average newspaper strip. Instead, they deliver a friendly, almost Archers-feeling story with - gasp! - literary origins. In the case of Tamara Drewe, we have a retelling of Thomas Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd: the story of a sleepy village and of how the eponymous randy urbanite becomes the inspiration for an entire writers' retreat. This new compilation comes with expanded and refined editions of Tamara Drewe. Lengthy paragraphs - usually internal monologues of the characters - have been added alongside the strips but it's uncertain of what these are supposed to achieve, as the comics work brilliantly in their own right. The extra stuff sadly feels like unnecessary padding. The effect is an odd one: like wading through smelted tarmac one moment and skating along an ice rink the next. A simple straight-from-the-newspaper compilation would have been perfectly justified, as this strip remains a cut above its competitors. [Robert Wringham]
Out Now, Published by Jonathan Cape, Cover Price £16.99 Hardback.