Review: The Wonderful Absurdity Of Paul Rainey’s ‘Gripe Night’
by Richard Bruton
Currently finishing off a successful campaign on Kickstarter, Paul Rainey‘s Gripe Night is a masterful thing, scattershot comedy, pop culture parodies, all with that unique sensibility of Rainey’s, taking an off-kilter look at the world in and out of his head.
We told you about Paul Rainey‘s Kickstarter for Gripe Night already, but with the campaign coming to a successful end, time to tell you just why it’s such a fine, fine comic. 28 pages of strips, many of them one and two-pagers, but all of them – yes, ALL of them, good. Hell, Rainey even makes the ad for his other books entertaining!
I’ve read Rainey’s work for decades now – and it would be fair to say that he’s never written or drawn better. The style, the tone, this really is a creator coming into a rich vein of form, something that was recognised in 2020 when he won the Cape/Comica/Observer Graphic Short Story Prize with Similar To But Not, which is included here in Gripe Night and seems as good a place as any to begin.
In Similar To But Not, Rainey spins a tale of his young self, and is perhaps the epitome of what makes his comics so compelling – with the 5-pages telling us the fantastical moment when a 17-year-old Rainey happened to meet Madonna in 1985. Not at a gig, not at a press thing, no, that would be far too obvious. Instead, brilliantly, Rainey sets the meeting in a miserable Milton Keynes pub.
The absurdity meeting the mundanity and the clash of cultures – both of them are key elements of Rainey’s comics work, whether here in Similar To But Not or the many examples of his one-page gag strips playing with celebs. But over the last couple of years, he’s refined things, making comics that are wonderfully silly yet often thought-provoking and always interesting. And Similar To But Not is a perfect example of this. Yes, it’s a ridiculous idea, coming from a teenage daydream about how Rainey would imagine meeting Madonna, but that’s not the point. Instead, what really comes over is the interplay of characters, the subtle body language here, and of course, Rainey’s wonderful ear for dialogue.
And all that absurdity and funniness carries on through every strip in here, pretty much equally split between the out and out gag strips and the more autobiographical works.
There’s not all that much to say about the gag strips that you can’t immediately see in the few examples I’ll include here. You’ve got a very different take on John Wick (Wicksy Goes Berserk), the earliest adventures of Paul Hollywood (The Paul Willyhood Story), even the bizarre spectacle of Ricky Gervais, He Talks To The Animals, where the famous comic does just that, including his Bible-spouting dog and his disdainful and overly-curious cat. There’s pastiches of popular UK quiz show, The Chase, a ‘what-if Neil Armstrong was anti-helmet’ scenario in For All Mankind, and then a brilliant bit with Shatner In Space, where Jeff Bezos is trying to narrow down the list of just who it was farted onboard the Amazon rocket – followed, on the same page by the exact same fart gag idea onboard Vigil – after the recent submarine set BBC TV show.
Again, all of them are classic Rainey strips, playing with the ideas you know and twisting them inside out to make you laugh and then pull the rug out from under you. His comedic timing is wonderful, but the real genius comes from the absurdity of the idea and the wonderful ways that Rainey manages to execute the ridiculous gags and then run them a little longer, into something that’s almost strangely profound and thought-provoking, like so much great comedy does.
And then you have Rainey’s more autobiographical works. Well, maybe not so autobiographical in the case of new continuing tale Boom! Boom! Push The Button, where a gym-visiting Rainey communicates with the alien race who’ve given him a button to whisk him and a chosen few off the soon-to-be-destroyed Earth. Again, like the Madonna tale, this one is a magnificent flight of fancy grounded in the mundanity of Rainey trying to figure out how best to choose when and where to push the button – most of it based on trying to work out how he’d take his comic collection with him or how to increase the ratio of men to women. It’s wonderfully observed, gloriously and knowingly self-deprecating stuff.
More grounded fare comes with Aunty Bunty, showing us Paul’s childhood again and his very cool visiting aunt who first saves him from despair at missing the last 15 minutes of Planet of the Apes on TV (it’s Sunday, a school night, POTA finishes at 8:15 and ma and pa Rainey were strict with the 8pm bedtime) by giving him the Marvel “Apes” comic, and then by “dealing” with a nun who confiscates another one of his comics.
And finally, my favourite of Gripe Night, William, It Was Everything, where all that’s always been so great in Rainey’s work comes together – the mundane, the absurd, the ridiculous, the pitch-perfect observations, the taking of something simple and transforming it… and all starting because a bloke in a bar 30 years ago took Rainey’s off-hand comment of being ‘Mister No Friends’ and changed it to ‘Billy No Mates,’ gaining fame and fortune off the back of it all.
30 years later, a very pissed off Rainey finally gets to confront him about it.
And that’s it – a multi-pager that just riffs off that ridiculous idea of Rainey getting so obsessed with the perceived sleight and makes it into something almost disturbing – but quite brilliant.
All in all, Gripe Night is a perfect showcase to the wonderful world and wonderful work of Paul Rainey. Of course, this is just one part of what he can do – he’s also pretty damn great at long-form comics, as seen in the epic Why Don’t You Love Me? – serialising at his website and due to be published by Drawn & Quarterly in late 2023.
Gripe Night by Paul Rainey, currently funding on Kickstarter – go and back it – you won’t regret it.
Then head to Rainey’s website for Why Don’t You Love Me? and to his shop to pick up more goodies – including Gripe Night at some point following the Kickstarter.
Oh, and that reference I made earlier to Rainey even managing to make an ad-page for his work entertaining (not to mention typically self-deprecating) – here it is…