In Defense Of Traditional Comics : Jack Turnbull’s “The Wash-A-Shores”

I’ll be the first to admit that, around these parts, I tend to let my biases as a reader show, and that they inform (or maybe that shout be infect?) my biases as a critic. Stuff that can generally be described as “avant-garde,” or as “art comics,” or at the very least as “non-traditional” tends to be what I prefer to spend my time with and on, and I also give extra consideration to work that I haven’t seen reviewed anywhere else. Whether this is good or bad I leave up to each reader of this blog to decide for themselves, but I’d be lying if I said every single comic that I either purchase or receive is given absolutely equal consideration when it comes to deciding whether or not I want to take the time to review it.

And yet — there’s certainly nothing wrong with good, old-fashioned narrative comics. Nor with narrative comics illustrated in a conventional sequential art style. In fact, when they’re done well, they can be every bit as aesthetically and intellectually rewarding as the more “far-out” stuff.

Which isn’t to say that the latest self-published comic from the always-fascinating Jack Turnbull, The Wash-A-Shores, isn’t “far out” — it surely is. And yet, at its core there is a commitment to both traditional comics scripting and art that its deliriously non-traditional cover wouldn’t lead a reasonable person to expect to find. Still, just because something is, in fact, traditionally structured and executed doesn’t mean that it can’t subvert expectations — and Turnbull not only manages to do so frequently, I dare say he also does so gleefully.

That, I guess, is my long-winded and borderline-pompous way of saying that this is a very funny comic, sure, but more importantly it’s a fun one — Turnbull sinks his teeth into this tale of jaded seafarers who are prone to philosophical diatribes, dubious decision-making, and nostalgic reveries, and along the way makes some cogent points about the “pirate utopias” of anarchist legend while laying out the fundamental “ground rules” of a legendary world of his own creation. In short, then, what we have here is something that plays with standard genre tropes ranging from treasure-hunting to sea monsters, yet explores them from a decidedly off-kilter vantage point that is communicated by means of a highly accessible, indeed even a populist, methodology.

Of course, if you want to stand out in a field as admittedly crowded as that of “normal” comic books, you’d better do what you do damn well, and on that score no one need worry — Turnbull’s art is as dynamic as it is detailed, and as contemporary as it is classical. He’s not one to cut corners or to shirk basic visual storytelling responsibilities, but his commitment to craft doesn’t preclude him from clearly having a good time drawing, and that shines through most obviously in his rich linework and his wonderfully expressive faces and figures. This is cartooning that is informed by every era — and would therefore look good in any era, since it doesn’t date itself by dint of its style.
And, quite honestly, the same can be said for the comic as a whole. Certainly the “freedom vs. feudalism” subplot that underlies much of the story seems to have special allegorical relevance in the here and know, but a reader in 1921 would probably feel much the same, and a reader in 2121 likely will, as well. Which might just mean that Turnbull has created something more than simply “good” here, and has instead achieved something that all artists strive for, to one degree or another — true timelessness.


The Wash-A-Shores is available for $9.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to check it our by directing your kind attention to

2 thoughts on “In Defense Of Traditional Comics : Jack Turnbull’s “The Wash-A-Shores”

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