Monday, 17 February 2014

2014: The Busy Year

It's been a while since my last blog - and this is because right now my life is busier than a busy beetle busying its business along a branch.

For one: I've got a job. My stunningly unproductive stint as a freelancer left me with less money than a horse with no money so I've gone back to the trenches of archaeology and all is muddy and busy. It's the perfect weather for that kind of thing. Digging big holes below sea level in the South West of England is a GOOD IDEA RIGHT NOW.

I've managed to squeeze in some activities though in the last month and a half and here be some of them:

Two recent Dreddheads - that being my annual Santa Claus and Ash of Evil Dead fame. Catch all of them on the tumblr there and yes you can request one but bear in mind the next one I'm doing (clue) is a request from the end of 2012 so that's how slowly I'm getting through them!

Here's a Scott Pilgrim commission I did recently - it was for a chap called Theo hence the "the" in the K.O. there. I'm still taking commissions if you want anything drawn - drop me a line for a quote.


In the autumn of last year I coloured Smitten - which is now live over on the New Haven Comics website. Two new pages every week! It's a rollicking manga tale with giant robots and magic schoolgirls and guitars and all that sort of thing. It was written by New Haven's Aaron Walther and Sergio Apodaca who also pencilled it and the whole thing was inked by Jesus Salas.

Crabcake 6 - 1 (Captain Cosmos) by crazyfoxmachine

Oh yes and Captain Cosmos is back in the first of the ... sixth bit of Crabcake. WHO IS CAPTAIN COSMOS I hear literally nobody asking apart from those capital letters just then. He's a superhero from a story I wrote in college a decade ago - and I'm tying his whole bullshit nonsense into Crabcake because CONTINUITY IS GREAT. 

Embarrassingly several years ago I took it upon myself to read the Cosmos story out loud like an idiot. The prelude will be the first time I've actively drawn it - just what the world was waiting for. How will that ridiculous tale weave into the Crabcake tale though? Hmm?!

Drew this house thing on the train through the crazy crazy damp countryside the other day - I may give it a bit of a digitizin' if I'm in a mind to further down the line. The tree-bound pub is called "ye olde tree".

But where was that train going to, eh? LONDON. I went to see Swedish stonerkings Lowrider and Dozer which was a blummin special gig actually - the two had played at Desertfest last year but had both been plagued by sound problems and the dreaded "truncated set for a festival" syndrome. Meaty English foursome Steak supported - and the small amount I caught was grand. Lowrider pulled out some new(ish) songs (some of them older than their lone 2000 release) - it had me longing to hear more from them really as they were clearly having a whale of a time. Their sound was atrociously flat at Desertfest so it was amazingly good to hear their riffy tunes played louddddddd. Dozer were something else - and crowd were euphoric throughout which made for an unforgettable bit of jumping about. Even a great few moments of happy stoner moshery which is always welcome. They overran by a bit and you could tell that even when they finally finished they were ready for more. I had a train to catch so I couldn't stick around for afterparty. Lets hope these two groups don't stay quiet for quite so long after this!

Oh yes and I drew a Lego version of Deadwood which is the best television series there has ever been. Will probably do up some prints of it in the future. All tinned peaches go to Rob "Sol Starr" Phillips and Jasmine "Seth Bullock" for the ideas and assistance.

Right - my small press pile has benefited greatly from time away from the blog - so there are quite a few reviews to get through - 

Ladies & Gentlemen #2 (Water Closet Press) Richard Worth & Jordan Collver
Curse of the Were-Hyena and Other Horrible Hybrids
The second Ladies & Gentlemen is a huge step up from the first - with both Worth & Collver in stupendously confident form throughout. There are a few playful narrative techniques used and the two of them are clearly having a ball - the amount of attention & effort gone into the composition on some pages is genuinely breathtaking. Storywise, it takes the form of straightforward thriller, heavy on Victorian derring-do but solid characterisation and good pacing prevents the appearance of some well-tread tropes from lingering on the mind and disrupting enjoyment. It's a profoundly solid comic and easily one of the best American format small press books I've seen - if you're a fan of Victoriana or absurdly well-drawn action comics then this is for you. Here's hoping their new anthology can continue on from this strong start.

Porcelain - A Gothic Fairy Tale (Improper Books) Read/Wildgoose
Porcelain made a bit of a buzz at Thought Bubble '12 due to an enormous amount of free samplers gushing like a flood from the Improper Books table. It's a tactic that paid off as I don't think I saw a single person that year that wasn't wielding one - it was a mesmerising little booklet thanks mainly to the beautifully fluid artwork of Chris Wildgoose and the delicate muted palette of colourist Andre May. Even without the intriguing setting and the haunting white porcelain automatons it would be a buyer. They didn't have any copies there though and it wasn't until the spring after at Maidstone's Demoncon (the fifth one) that I snagged an issue off of Chris Wildgoose who seemed alarmed that it was such an easy sell. It easily justifies the hype - and as a statement of intent for new publisher Improper Books it is thoroughly convincing. A stand alone story in a mysterious universe - writer Benjamin Read wisely sticks close to the main characters and allows only slight peeks at the world outside the walls of the house where lives the only man who can make Porcelain move... With a boisterous cockney urchin as our guide the narrative rattles along at a brilliant pace to a startling conclusion. The heavy-handed "a gothic fairy tale" subtitle is perfectly apt as this is just what Porcelain is. An absorbing and thoroughly professional-looking book with not a panel or speech bubble (cap permanently doffed to letterer extraordinare Jim Campbell) seems out of place. I was sat opposite Improper Books at the Thought Bubble after - and their endless tide of samplers this year was to promote Read & Wildgoose's next offering: Briar. Even without reading the freebie I'm thoroughly sold.

Ann and The Majestic (Self Published) Karoline Achilles
I got ahold of this little book from a "Laydeez Do Comics" event in Bristol last spring. It's by a local art student and I was taken with its loose expressive style. A rather sparse story centered around Ann - a small girl that lives at a hotel. It was put together and illustrated over a single 24 hour period and its rough simplicity is nicely evocative. An effective short comic and an artist to watch.

Britten and Brülightly (Jonathan Cape) Hannah Berry
Another purchase from the Bristol "Laydeez Do Comics" event last year from speaker Hannah Berry. This, her first graphic novel, is a dark noir following a morose private investigator (Britten) and his partner who is a talking teabag (Brülightly). There is an underlying absurdity that pulls the gritty and twisting mystery into a unique and appealing world. Visually it's stunningly rendered and has a palpable physicality - Britten resembles a character from Chomet's Triplets of Belleville (and is frequently mistaken for being French presumably as an acknowledgement of this resemblance) - the moody greytones never quite spill over into full black-and-white and some of the more rainwashed scenes are breathtakingly atmospheric. The lettering is all freehand as well - and mostly works well although Britten's inner monologue is in a fussy joined-up handwriting that is sometimes difficult to decipher - and also the placement of occasional passages go against the reader's eye. This doesn't occur frequently however and it is not enough to prevent it being a thoroughly absorbing and remarkably unique graphic novel that marks Berry as a name to shout about. Her second book, an out-and-out horror called Adamtine, is going straight on my to-buy list.

LOAf #1 (Self Published) Various
LOAf Magazine: issue 1, for big kids and little adults.
The last thing I bought from the "Laydeez Do Comics" event - by the first speaker Rosie Faragher - co-creator of LOAf which is an arty anthology zine aimed at kids. I'm a sucker for anthologies and this sturdy thickly-papered and nice-smelling (underrated comics quality that) little comic was impossible to resist. Filled as it is with condensed sequential tales by a wealth of children's illustrators. There are some puzzles as well - mazes, spot-the-differences and other kid-friendly fodder and also, most pleasingly, two pages dedicated to three stories conjured by children themselves. The theme of this first issue is "Fears" - so there is a fair amount of "under the bed" type stories but the standouts are:
Joff Winterhart's opener about his scary Thatcher teacher which is wonderfully fluid, Mike Smith's hilarious and beautifully simple silent two-pager consisting of tiny boxes, Dawn Cooper's lovely "comfort zone" image which has a wonderful message, Becky Palmer's "Speed Demon" which is enthralling and brilliantly drawn (I'd read a full book of that), Melissa Castrillon's "Through the Night" which is enchantingly lovely ending with a bedsheet transforming into landscape, Daisy Hirst's hilarious "Lesley and Marvin and the llamas de meurte" and the hypnotically detailed "Magic Manfred's Earth Park" which is more of an activity than a story.
Some stories fall into the category of obscure symbolism or "hipster pretentiousness" that a lot of DIY zines/comixs sometimes dip into - it's not something I dislike particularly but it would certainly be beyond the comprehension of most child readers if not childish adults like myself. Some stories just simply don't have endings which frustrates me - and it's something the three young contributors ("Sebastian, Summer and Elizabeth") manage so there's really no excuse! 
Overall though it is a strong comic and a bold piece of art - the fact that it's aimed at children and promoted heavily through public workshops is incredibly admirable. Their second issue "Friendship" came out shortly after although I'm yet to purchase it. With this and the face-blisteringly incredible Phoenix the children of 2013 were utterly spoilt!

Amala's Blade #0-4 (Dark Horse) Horton/Dialynas
I won a signed copy of the zero issue by random chance by liking the Facebook page for Amala's Blade. I ordered the rest of the issues from my local comic shop - without even reading it really - I just dug the look of it and you can't get stronger incentive than that really (winnings aside). Amala's Blade is about an island nation separated into two warring factions: the "Purifiers" (Steampunk) and "Modifiers" (Cyberpunk). In the middle is the mercenary Amala - literally haunted by the ghosts of her past that hang around her. The five-issue miniseries is a nice self-contained story that whips along at such a breathless pace that it sometimes leaves you swimming - but there are some strong characters and some very memorable set-pieces. This is all very much helped by Dialynas's outrageously vibrant art - with a strong sense of movement and an amazing feel for colour - the atmospheric intricacies of every panel evoke a hand-drawn point-and-click adventure. Mr Dialynas is a serious talent - and the comic is a keeper for the extraordinary art alone - never mind the immersive world it ushers into your brain.

What is odd format-wise (and bear in mind this is the only Dark Horse "monthly" I've ever picked up so I guess I'm just not used to it) is that in the back of most issues there is dedicated maybe two or three pages just to the author Steve Horton replying directly to the lavish praise that's been piled on the series. Which just seems... off to me. 



Just... seems like something that should be in private correspondence really. Seeing all this just after you've read the issue makes it seem like Dark Horse think "if we don't put PRAISE in there the reader won't know WHAT to feel about it!" It's not that I don't like hearing behind-the-scenes babble from the creators, I just like having the thing stand for itself and then CHOOSING whether or not to seek out other people's opinions. Call me a nutter. Go on.

So as I decide where to put my other prize (a giant glow-in-the-dark poster on awesomely thick card) I must say I don't regret following the competition through to the product and getting involved with it. It's a beautiful comic and I'm very happy to have read it. Although I'm also now very much aware that I'm not the only person who feels that way...

Broadcast: The TV Doodles of Henry Flint (Markosia) Henry Flint
Markosia's astounding collection of Henry Flint's nonsense scribbling is an absolute must-buy and a no-brainer when I spotted it and Flint himself sharing a table together at Bristol 2013. Cy Dethan's well-judged commentary is fluidly constructed and self-aware enough to avoid coming across as purely sycophantic or overly leading and Sharman's stark design is wisely unobtrusive and lets the doodles speak for themselves. Really though the star of the show is Flint - one of the most visually striking British artists and easily one of the brightest talents from the already-blinding pages of 2000ad. His transcendentally cluttered inky confusions are appealing in the extreme - even some of the most abstract have some minuscule anchor into logic that makes them instantly accessible and endlessly absorbing. His collaborations with his daughter Rosalie are a joyful highlight - but the whole book is outrageously good. Markosia have done a grand thing putting this out and it's the pride of my bookshelf. Just knowing that at this very moment Flint is likely drawing up a storm somewhere makes me absurdly happy.

The Goose (Self Published) Daniel Bell
The Goose
The second of my Bristol 2013 haul is a moderately successful attempt to merge kitchen sink drama with superheroics. It follows the solo adventures of The Goose, a psychic female superhero from "The League of Powers" which as I understand it was another small press book by the now-defunct Underfire comics. A lot of the weight within this story relies on you having read these adventures before and the single "see League of Powers" caption within doesn't really do the job that maybe a paragraph or two of backstory in the inside front cover would have done. As such it's a slightly confused read and lacks the punch of a real ending. It's not without charm though - particularly with some strong visual moments from Bell and the essentially likeable central character. The contrast between her mysterious (for me anyway) superheroic past, her mundane day-to-day and the sinister machinations of the background antagonist is compelling and I'd definitely pursue the story if it continues - although Mr Bell is currently busying himself producing some truly epic viking pages for Time Bomb's "Defiant" which should occur later in 2014