World Comic Book Review

5th February 2023

Switchblade Stories #1-3 (review)

Creator: Chris Askham

2021-22

Mindy Lou’s life didn’t quite work out the way she wanted. But does she really know what she wants? A cataclysmic event in her day to day existence sets her on a new path of discovery. Switchblade Stories is a mash-up of the romance comics of the 1950’s and the exploitation movies of Russ Meyer.
Switchblade Stories is a full colour, 28 page, US format comic book
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This independently published title, Switchblade Stories, created by British writer and artist Chris Askham, delves into a mostly forgotten genre. The main protagonist, Mindy Lou, starts off her existence within the story as a mild housewife in a bland marriage to Johnny. She works at a typing pool in an unnamed city on the east coast of the United States. She suffers the comments of her fellow workers (traditional family values never sounded so inane). She is plainly miserable and dispossessed by the paradigm of obedience in women, and to her husband’s unhappiness, refuses sex.

Johnny pressures Mindy Lou to go to counselling. A visit to a psychiatrist has her prescribed an experimental drug. It results in what we assume is a schizoid episode: she rapes the mailman at gun point, shoots him dead, runs far away and resorts to prostitution to survive. Living in the back of an auto wreck, she is forcibly recruited by the Main Street Furies, a gang notable for being composed of criminal lesbians. 

Despite a number of sex scenes, there is nothing salacious about the story. It would be a mistake to think that this was some sort of form of lesbian erotica. Instead, what we see is a grim tale set against the backdrop of the 1950s, where Mr Askham (with more than a passing nod to filmmaker Russ Meyer’s cult movie Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! ) takes the genre to its polar extreme. None of the characters in the story are even vaguely likeable. Mindie Lou, may have escaped male servitude, but is quickly capable of horrific crimes. When she re-visits her hometown, she decides to raid a swingers party. She finds Johnny in bed with the host of the party. Mindy Lou savagely shoots Johnny in the head, and kidnaps the host to serve as a sex slave to the hulking leader of the Main Street Furies. This is an obvious effort to appease the gang leader, but also allows Mindy Lou to escape her own sexual servitude to the gang leader. Mindy Lou exhibits no empathy – she ruthlessly wants a way out. A chapter on, and the abductee has been reduced to a mindless state of abuse. The gang leader throws a sheet over her head, as if she was a discarded piece of furniture. It is not very pleasant.

Gender empowerment is a focus of the comic. But it is hard to see this as a feminist text, particularly when Mindy Lou resorts to unpleasant (heterosexual) bathroom prostitution to survive. Instead, the story pays homage to the crime stories of the 1950s. This genre fell victim to the Comics Code Authority, and more or less disappeared. Switchblade Stories is in essence period piece. 

The story finishes with its fourth chapter. Does Mindi Lou kill the gang leader and assume status as the top dog, thereby completing her transformation from good wife to its militant antithesis? Or does she fall victim to her life choices, and end up merely the subject of a vignette in the never-ending gang problem of America?

A word on the art. It is also evocative of the oeuvre, but it is the colouring that steals the show. Mr Askham goes out of his way to portray the issues as if they had been tucked away in some old box. The interior pages suggest they have been stored without care since the 1950s. Some of the pages are stained with coffee, and show other signs of faked aging. This underscores the object of Switchblade Stories – it is intended to fit within the milieu of 1950s crime. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect to the art are the faux advertisements appearing at the end of each issue. These consists of outrageous advertisements for guns, martial arts, and other forms of period print comic book commercials. 

Issues 1 to 3 are available by way of Mr Askham’s Etsy store: https://www.etsy.com/shop/chrisaskham Issue 4 was the subject of a successful Kickstarter campaign: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/managementproject/switchblade-stories-issues-1-to-4