Here are two very different comic strips I’ve enjoyed recently, both of them featuring cycling. The first is how many of us would probably like to see ourselves – a glorious phalanx of wheels and whimsy enveloping an entire city – and the other is a chuckle at the grim reality.
I’ve been meaning to write about Bicycle by Ugo Gattoni since Jen gave it to me for my birthday a couple of months ago. Inspired by the 2012 Olympics, this dialogue-free strip is a lurching cityscape featuring a bike race, drawn in a rambunctious, surreal and heavily-detailed style. I guess you might call it Richard Scarry meets Hieronymus Bosch – or you might not if, unlike me, you have a thorough working knowledge of the visual arts.
It comes in a folder and opens out into a long, double-sided poster.
The sprawling journey is anchored around real landmarks – Big Ben, the London Eye, Regent Street and so on – while the smaller places appear to be made up (Gattoni, who is a Frenchman, has populated his version of Britain’s capital with fictional French shops). I can spot only two references that are the exception to this rule: Nobrow, the publisher of Bicycle, and Look Mum No Hands!, which has an advertisement in a version of the cafe’s distinctive cursive script stuck on the side of the Olympic Stadium.
That gave me a kick. It’s like when Pulp did a song about Bar Italia – you have an indication that a place has left some sort of a mark on the cultural consciousness when it’s referenced in a creative work. Or maybe the Look Mum fellas simply bunged Ugo a few Euros for a plug. Obviously, I prefer the former explanation.
The second strip I’ve come across is two pages in the latest issue of the peerless Viz. In Cockney Wanker, the eponymous cabbie flies into a panic after he runs over a female cyclist. “Is she orwight?” worried Wanker asks his mate Barstard…
…before it’s revealed that the “she” he’s concerned about is his beloved black cab.
This isn’t really satire or any serious attempt to make a social point. The joy of Viz is watching how the narratives push the already ridiculous characters into ever-more ludicrous extremes. In this case, Wanker gets the injured cyclist to pay for the damage to his vehicle by taking her card out of her handbag and running it through his PDQ.