Back again for another mystery, Bad Machinery’s sixth volume was made available for purchase at the end of November and follows a subset of the regular cast as they struggle to find and solve a new mystery to stave off the boredom of being left behind in Tackleford for summer holidays. John Allison’s signature witty dialogue and captivating characters continue to shine even as the non-supernatural issues the characters face become more complex. Allison kindly took the time to correspond with NerdSpan over email in the weeks following Volume 6’s release.
One thing that really sets Bad Machinery apart is Allison’s dedication to depicting the struggles of growing up faithfully. Says Allison, “The hardest thing has been preserving the tone of the book, and keeping it appropriate, book by book, for the audience that the first book was intended for. There’s a level of emotional turmoil and adolescent reality that started to loom by the fourth book that I hadn’t anticipated, and trying to be true to the characters means not ignoring that.” Adamantly against dumbing things down or shying away from these topics, or from issues like gentrification and other socio-economic conflicts, Allison enjoys the more open-minded approach younger readers have to new ideas. “If they don’t understand something, they just set it to one side, or ask what it means, rather than feeling stupid and put-off. They accept that maybe some of this material is new to them. You never get the dead-eyed fanboy ‘I don’t get it’.“
In Volume 6, The Unwelcome Visitor, Lottie must deal with her mother’s boyfriend moving into the house, while Linton becomes worried for his father’s job. John Allison has previously said that he enjoys writing college-aged and teenaged characters because he can put them in problem situations and work them out in ways he may not have thought of when he was that age. “Linton and Lottie are very proactive, whereas I would have been utterly supine! I might have sulked a bit. Well, I would have sulked a lot. The difference between the Bad Machinery kids and real kids is that they have a lot of agency. They get things done.” This is a hallmark of the series; the characters rarely, if ever, get to a point where they accept that they have no control or no options. Written to be accessible for a young audience, this provides powerful examples of proactive behavior and perseverance, even considering that “real kids” have less agency, as Allison said.
Lottie, along with Shauna, were characters that first appeared in Scary Go Round, one of Allison’s previous comics. When Scary Go Round ended, Allison “knew that there was further that [he] could go with them.”
“They had, immediately, very distinct characters that I don’t pretend to understand – they came out like that from their first appearances, and they’re still like that, only more so. Bad Machinery is my longest running series, or ‘sub-series’ if you like,, and their friendship continues to evolve and change. They just seemed richer than the characters I’d come up with beforehand, and they remain so.” The Unwelcome Visitor was originally the antepenultimate case for Bad Machinery, but Allison has since returned to it, hoping that all of the series will be published and planning “to continue to tell the cast’s stories, but in a new format, with stories that reflect that they’re on the cusp of adulthood…but shake up the pacing and physical format of the stories. I’ve probably done as much as I want to do in the landscape format. I’ve done about 1000 pages that way, and it’s a little limiting.”
One thing that makes The Unwelcome Visitor stand out from the other cases is that the supernatural threat our heroes are facing down isn’t based on an existing cryptid or myth. When asked about his inspiration for this creature, Allison responded: “Unwelcome Visitor was a bit shapeless when I started it, I was trying to find a shape for it even while I was drawing the first few dozen pages, but when I drew this mutant Bill Nighy figure, it began to make sense. My first job after university was on an industrial estate in one of the poorest parts of England. There was a strip mall where we’d go to get lunch some days, and it felt almost haunted, surrounded by decaying tower blocks. I tried to channel the spirit of that place.”
Also forthcoming from Oni in March 2017 are “pocket editions” of the published volumes of Bad Machinery. We asked Allison if he enjoyed re-reading his own work, whether for pleasure or professional reasons. He said, “I do like re-reading my old work, though I seldom do it when there isn’t a professional reason to do so. I can never believe how much of it there is. I’m proud of it. The further back I go, the more I encounter attitudes that I’ve outgrown, but that’s all right, it’s a sign of progress – I hope!”
Definitely take advantage of any opportunity to check out John Allison’s amazing body of work, whether in the most recent volume of Bad Machinery, the pocket editions, or checking out the most recent storylines he’s working on online at his website, scarygoround.com.