Obscure Comic of the Month takes a detailed look at a little known entry from my personal comic book collection. Some will be from major publishers, others self published projects, Original Graphic Novels, issues and Manga. What they'll all have in common though, is that I've rarely, if ever, seen anybody talk about them.
The Pennyfarthing Project by Philippe Cottarel and Jean-michel Philibert – Six of One 1997
The Pennyfarthing Project is a special publication of Le rOdeur, the french language Prisoner magazine. It is published for the French and overseas members of Six of One, the official Prisoner Appreciation Society.
We'd already taken a look at the official Prisoner comic, Shattered Visage, last year, and as such it'd be tempting to take this opportunity to compare. The Pennyfarthing Project, however, defies such comparisons. While Shattered Visage was an attempt to expand the scope of The Prisoner, The Pennyfarthing Project is instead a faithful tribute, an attempt to ape the tone and mood of the TV series without trying to do something inherently different.
The Pennyfarthing Project is one of the main reasons I wanted to start Obscure Comic of the Month. It's probably the weirdest part of my collection. A self published, personally bound, French fan-comic of The Prisoner that I picked up at Portmeirion . The fact that it even exists just makes me smile.
As mentioned, The Pennyfarthing Project is simply Cottarel and Philiber's tribute to the TV series, nothing more complex than that. What they set out to do is produce a story that could be seen as a 'lost episode' of the TV series, just unburdened by budget or imagination, and for the most part they succeed.
The Pennyfarthing Project plays closely to a lot of the TV series best episodes. Number 6 is brainwashed and convinced that The Village is a recovery resort for amnesia cases. Number 2 plants the charismatic Number 7 to coax information out of Number 6, who slowly figures out their plot with the suggestion that he and Number 7 have met somewhere before.
All in all, it's a pretty good Prisoner story, with the expected twists and turns. Cottarel and Philibert also make great use of The Pennyfarthing Project's own format, with psychedelic visuals very in keeping with the TV series but in ways the budget would never allow. Spiralling panel layouts reinforce the feeling of distortion and unease. Antagonists morph into hallucinated figures.
Philippe Cottarel's art deserves high praise, really capturing the atmosphere of the village, though it is clear that at times he's copying from stills of the TV show, making the characters feel somewhat stiff. But the black and white is crisp, and the story has a momentum to it that gives a life to the artwork.
On the other hand, some of the translation feels a little clunky and the lettering choice is really weird. Still, the visual storytelling is really creative and the bonus artwork at the back is capital B beautiful. There's lots of visual nods to the classic series, with references to the opening, the finale and an appearance near the end of Leo McKern's Number 2 that really taps into the chemistry they had on screen.
If The Pennyfarthing Project has one main problem though, it's in the character of Number 7. Based in appearance on Sam Fox, she visually sticks out from the rest of the comic in a way that feels jarring. She looks smoother than the other characters visually, far more 1980's in both fashion and beauty standards, but more than anything, she's just too sexy.
The Prisoner always had a sterile, sexless quality to it, not least because it's star Patrick McGoohan, was allegedly uncomfortable playing sexually liberal characters. That always worked in the shows favour though, adding an extra layer of 'wrongness' to the village.
So hot pants wearing, midriff baring Number 7 is a weird anachronism. That's not to say there isn't something interesting you could do with that, especially in a Prisoner comic, but that doesn't seem to be what The Pennyfarthing Project is going for here. It seems more likely that Cottarel and Philiber simply wanted to draw Sam Fox in a bikini.
Which is a shame because sexless McGoohan vs sensual Fox could have been a fascinating concept and an interesting statement, but the writers just try to slot her into a standard Prisoner story without minding the seams. It damages the overall experience too, which would otherwise be a tightly paced, lovingly rendered homage to a classic series.
Philippe Cottarel and Jean-michel Philibert still seem to be cracking out new stuff for the comics scene over of the continent, and they still seem to have a love for The Prisoner too. It's that love that shines through for The Pennyfarthing Project the most, despite it's flaws.
Ultimately The Pennyfarthing Project is a fun ride of the merry-go-round one last time. A reminder of what made The Prisoner great and, more chillingly, why it's still as relevant now as it was when it was first broadcast.
The night is long for he who watches.
Jack Harvey 2016. The Pennyfarthing Project (c) 1997 Six of One, Philippe Cottarel and Jean-michel Philibert. The Prisoner was created by Patrick McGoohan and George Markstein and produced by ITC Entertainment. Images used under Fair Use.