[NB: New editions of Longshot Comics are in the works right now. Follow the blog to hear all the news about when they’ll be available.]
The saga of the family Gethers though the centuries sprang from a two-page throwaway story in Angry Comics #3 and would go on to mushroom into a multi-generational epic encompassing many editions, reformattings and translations. Longshot Comics Book One: The Long and Unlearned Life of Roland Gethers follows the titular character from 1860 to 1949 and his journey through the waning days of the British Empire. Longshot Comics Books Two: The Failed Promise of Bradley Gethers journeys to the New World with Roland’s grandson, and covers the years 1920 to 1993. The long-delayed third book details The Inauspicious Adventures of Filson Gethers and tells the story of Roland’s mysterious grandfather and his involvement in the American Revolutionary War, The War of 1812, and the Opium Wars. Shane has been swearing for years that Book Three will see the light of day eventually, but so far he’s proved himself to by a lying bastard on that account.
The first version of The Long and Unlearned Life of Roland Gethers made its debut in 1993 as an 80-page minicomic. The 3840-panel layout required what was, at the time, the formidable computing power of a 386 running PageMaker 6.5. Since Shane only had a 286, he had to make daily train commutes out to a friend’s house deep in the West Island suburbs to get the job done on a mightier machine. Originally priced at one dollar, because that’s the most Shane thought anyone would ever pay for a comic about dots, the project was financed by friends who would sneak him into their places of business after hours to grab as many free photocopies as possible before he was interrupted by a night watchman or the cleaning staff. Within a few days of Longshot Comics Book One arriving on Montreal comic shop shelves under consignment, Shane started getting calls for individual purchases of as many as twenty copies at a time. Since it took, on average, four hours to cut, fold and staple twenty copies, his time became scarce. Raising the price to two dollars after the freebies ran dry did nothing to deter demand, and eventually Shane began to approach publishers who could fill the demand with actual printing presses and distributors.
Slave Labor Graphics of San Jose, California jumped at the chance to publish an edition of Longshot Comics since word of it had already spread to the west coast and they’d been trying to secure a copy for their own reading edification. In the midst of the 1990’s self-publishing boom in indie comics, Shane was accused in some corners of being a sellout for taking his comic to any publisher at all — even one of the alternative bad boys like SLG. Shane’s response to this admonishment was a witty and erudite, “Piss off.” His agreement with Slave Labor carried on to a sequel, The Failed Promise of Bradley Gethers, and saw him travelling far and wide to make personal appearances at the big league comic book conventions in San Diego and Dallas.
By the late ’90s, Shane was approached by the German publisher, MaroVerlag, to produce a translation of The Long and Unlearned Life of Roland Gethers. This involved a major reformatting of the comic so that the panels could squeeze in all those gigantic German words. Since Shane didn’t actually have to do any of this work himself, he readily agreed. In 2000, this edition won the Max-und-Moritz-prize at the International Comic-Salon in Erlangen, Germany. For this he received a certificate and a medal, neither of which he could read. At the same time as MaroVerlag was working on the German translation, they also produced a limited edition in the same format, but in English, exclusively for Shane to sell himself.
Shane was approached by other European publishers for additional translations, but arrangements for French and Spanish editions kept falling through. Ultimately, it was Italy’s turn to get it right again with Prospettiva Globale Edizioni (or Proglo) in Genoa creating two slavishly detailed volumes in 2007 and 2011. The attention to maintaining the look and spirit of the originals, even in the midst of another reformatting, was astonishing, as was the extensive footnoting to explain all the cultural and historic references in the work.
Discussion, analysis and media
Longshot Comics has been referenced or discussed in a variety of books and articles, notably the examples below. Although there’s no direct mention of it in Hannah Miodrag’s Comics and Language, her book deserves credit here since she did author a later academic analysis of the famed dot comic, thereby officially becoming the first doctorate to weigh in on its value to the world.
Also in the realm of academia, Longshot has been featured in the “Shandyism – Authorship as Genre” exhibit, curated by Helmut Draxler, February 22 – April 15, 2007, at the Secession Building, Vienna. It came up in a lecture about character design at the Pictoplasma conference in Berlin, 2009. And, most recently, it was part of “Talking Pictures Blue (Voices Rising)” at the Songwong Art Centre in Seoul, Korea, June 12 – July 12, 2015.
Lest we take ourselves too seriously, however, let’s all try to remember that this is ultimately a gimmicky little funnybook about dots living, dying, fucking, killing, and wandering, ignorant and narrow-minded, through their brief existences on this Earth. Oh wait, that sounds a lot like all of us. Perhaps it really is a profound insight into the human condition and a minimalist deconstruction of both world history and the medium of graphic sequential storytelling that expands and redefines the art form as a whole. With toilet humour.
Comic-Biz Names Rave About Longshot Comics
It’s brilliant, it’s hilarious, and it’s mind-blowing. There’s nothing else like this in comics. Mr. Simmons has figured out how to tell an epic story of a life in one regular-sized comic by making the pictures as absolutely minimal as possible. And yet, you can still tell what the dots are supposed to be doing! These books are pure genius.
— Johanna Draper Carlson, Comics Worth Reading
Longshot Comics! It’s great! It’s the first minicomic that should come shipped with its own bookmark. The discipline of telling a story with nothing but speeches of fifteen words or less gives the novel a haiku-like intensity. The production is superb. This minicomic should be in every library and comic collection on Earth!
— Matt Feazell, Cynicalman
“The Long and Unlearned Life of Roland Gethers” is the funniest thing I have read in a while. A hilarious minimalistic minicomic that kept me thoroughly entertained for a couple hours one night during a long, boring train ride. It’s eighty pages thick and well-written with great dialogue.
— Roberta Gregory, Naughty Bits
Everyone should have a copy of this once-in-a-lifetime magnum opus.
— Dave Sim, Cerebus
Shane Simmons must get an award. You hear me?! Someone give this man a medal! Longshot is incredible! On sheer size alone it’s overwhelming, 84 pages and 3840 panels make it the biggest mini-comic on record!!! Lordy! Most folks would have stopped there, but no, he actually wrote something in each one. Longshot is the life story of one Roland Gethers, a Victorian era son of a British coalminer. His struggles, victories and boring Sunday afternoons (89 years of ’em) are laid out for us in glorious black and white. How did he fit all this into a mini? Well, the whole story is drawn as if it were a longshot — get it? Each character is a tiny little dot (although Shane swears the details are visible with a microscope). It’s a funny and surprisingly complex story that I’m sure I’ll read again. A monumental achievement.
— Mark Frischman, Factsheet 5
The most original mini-comic I’ve seen in a long time, and funny too.
— Jeff LeVine, Destroy All Comics
Looking for a good read? Find your attention span too short? Why not try a new comic book called Longshot Comics: The Long and Unlearned Life of Roland Gethers. This is an 80-page masterpiece spanning 89 years on life in the British Commonwealth. Unlike most comic books, the characters are simply dots. Think it’s impossible to become attached to a dot? Think again. Shane Simmons has created a beautiful mini-comic/novella that takes you on the journey of a lifetime in 3840 panels.
— Secret City’s Instant Teller, Hour
Every once in awhile, a small press mag comes your way that renews your enthusiasm for small press. This is one of those zines. With Longshot Comics, Simmons tops himself by presenting a story of epic proportions that recounts the life of an Englishman named Roland Gethers, spanning “eighty-nine years in the British Commonwealth” from 1860 to 1949 in the process. What maintains your interest is the storyline and script, which are, by turns, funny, historically accurate, and moving. Although the main character, Gethers, is not an extraordinary man by any means, his life story touches upon many important markers of the waning days of the British Empire. Make no mistake, however, because this is still, at its core, a well-written and hysterically funny story. As he has shown in his earlier work, Shane is a good writer with a fine sense of comic timing. A funny, sophisticated book. It’s even one of the best-produced minis I’ve seen in a long time. Highly Recommended.
— Randy Reynaldo, WCG Notes
One of my favourite comics of all time.
— Rich Johnston, Bleeding Cool
No discussion of art and writing in comics would be complete without mention of the sublime Longshot Comics…which uses insanely minimal art to tell a funny, affecting and epic story. It’s astonishingly effective comics storytelling. Powerful stuff.
— Kurt Busiek, Kurt Busiek Resists
Reprints, new editions, and the third chapter of the Gethers saga are all pending. Follow the Eyestrain Productions blog for upcoming news.