Our favorite teenage British sleuths (well, my favorites, at least) are back! In the sleepy little town of Tackleford, England, we cross paths once again with local teens Shauna, Charlotte, Mildred, Jack, Linton, and Sonny. When last we left our lovable detectives, they had successfully figured out why the town’s football team owner was seemingly cursed in 2013’s Bad Machinery: The Case of the Team Spirit. They also finally worked up the courage to talk to each other, albeit in a limited fashion. Like the first collection, this new book of John Allison’s daily online comic strips will satisfy even the most discerning investigator, all the while keeping them in stitches.
Toddlers are disappearing. A weird, unusually refined animal-like creature named Archibald is living with Shauna. Mildred has won an enchanted pencil at the carnival that supposedly grants wishes. Is it a coincidence that all of these things happened around the same time? No! Well, maybe – the point is, our trusty teens are going out of their way to try to solve these mysteries, mainly the one about Shauna’s weirdly human-like dog. Join them as they continue to badmouth the Velvet Underground, awkwardly try to date each other without their friends finding out, and use Sonny’s little sister as bait to figure out which animal is eating and/or taking the town’s toddler population.
John’s drawings are whimsical and slightly cartoonish, but still very rooted in realism. The illustrations are beautifully colored, bright, and engaging. John uses a mix of traditional paneling with funny, off-beat, one-page spreads or the use of words across pages and panels. Onomatopoeias are hilariously integrated into the physical action. But it’s the attention to detail that makes the illustrations especially endearing. One particular moment occurs when Jack, Linton, and Sonny are using Sonny’s sister to lure the toddler-stealing/eating creature out so they can take a picture and prove its existence. (That makes them sound horrible, but if you read the book, you’ll see that they were prepared for the worst from the beginning). It’s nighttime, so the illustrations are in tones of grey and white, except in one panel where a flashlight spot is yellow. John’s illustrations take into account things like sunlight or darkness, and though the style of the characters (human and animal) are funny and exaggerated, the little things make it feel so real.
I adore these books so much that I’ve started reading the comic online so I don’t have to wait for print publication to get more of Tackleford, England. But if you don’t want to spend your life refreshing the website for an update, these books are the perfect choice. The illustrations translate from online comic to print perfectly. One note, though: the Bad Machinery books are long – as in literally, physically longer than most books, which makes it kind of hard to shelve them – but trust me, they’re worth it. Bad Machinery: The Case of the Good Boy is my new favorite comic. All the characters are well-developed and easily distinguishable. It’s super funny, and the mysteries have a supernatural element mixed in, so the town and the people are one part normal, one part mysterious, and one part fantastical which equals total perfection. This book will be loved by tweens, teens, and adults, and I definitely look forward to keeping up with my new beloved teenage gumshoes both online and in book form.