Review by Jamie McNeil
Rob Miller moonlights as an inker for Frank Quitely in Glasgow, Scotland. He’s also curator of the Scottish Underground scene through publisher Braw Books and produces underground strips himself, using his homeland as inspiration. Let’s say it isn’t the affable Oor Wullie or the Hollywood shine of Outlander. This is Scotland a-la Irvine Welsh with a beady observational eye and treacle black humour, so not for the sensitive or easily offended.
The Collected Braw! gathers Miller’s previously published strips along with some new material. He has a surprising breadth of style, expression and emotional heft to his strips, some of which are crammed with characters (‘Luvvable ‘Lex’) while others focus on one (‘Dominoes’). Miller is a superb satirist who skewers everything from the colourful denizens of Glasgow to celebrities. Another surprising feature is how much mood is invested in his scripts. An obnoxious British celebrity is drawn as a giant arrogant condescending phallus, the tone sarcastic and scathing, yet there is heartfelt sympathy for the flawed characters of Scottish society maligned by the news and politicians. ‘The Ballad of Peely Wally’ tells in rhyme the downward spiral of a smack addict he sees at the train station. ‘Luvvable ‘Lex’ is a bitter sweet examination of effects of substance abuse on families. These aren’t laughing matters, but without humour the strips would sound preachy and judgemental. The laughs are woven into the narrative in local dialects, disarming the reader in a combination of good writing and excellent cartooning.
The funniest story focuses on one gurning character going through a myriad of bad choices. The facial expressions are outstanding. Every character has a face that looks alien, worn away by the harshness of life. Physical movements are dynamic, some strips having an easy pace and others a frenetic energy. Being underground it straddles the fine line of decency, sometimes sending good taste to hell with a hand grenade. It’s so vivid it turns your stomach. Its as if Miller has taken a soul enema and put the results on the page with an almost infantile glee. Most strips comment on Scottish society in some form, and while broken the characters are oddly likeable. However, about half the collection feels like Miller’s venting his frustrations. It’s spectacularly rendered venting, otherwise it wouldn’t affect you, but it’s repetitive. Miller’s work is so visual it burns itself into your brain making it hard to take in all at once. The brutal honesty and graphic illustration caters to a very specific audience and you’ll need your Scots/ English lexicon to hand.
Underneath the shell suit and burberry cap The Collected Braw! has a heart of gold. In that regard it is very much a product of Scotland: tough exterior but surprising kindness. That kindness isn’t something you see in comix and it sets Miller apart. You won’t find this or any of his work on Amazon or in many bookshops, you’ll have to head over to the Braw Books website. Go ‘oan. Gies it a wee shot!