Thursday, 28 April 2016

Kickstarter Comics

A very quick post about some British creators who have active Kickstarter campaigns running at the moment.   Some very interesting and varied projects that deserve the support of British comic fans.

I've already mentioned Andrew Pawley's GalaXafreaks Dark Vibes campaign for issue 2.   Cosmic adventures that have the wildness of early undergrounds and the freakiness of Ditko Dr Strange.   Just a couple of days to go in this campaign but if you are in any way interested its worth getting in now for the added extras he is giving away to supporters.  Andrew is fully funded for this issue but I'm sure he'd welcome a few more advance orders.

GalaXafreaks Issue 2 link

Ness, from writer Chris Welsh and Dublin Artist Rob Carey, is a Lovecraftian horror story set on the banks of Loch Ness.   Chris wants to give the UK its own giant monster but somehow this looks much more interesting then Cloverfield or Godzilla and his friends.  The preview pages look fantastic. Rob's artwork has an atmospheric and cinematic style all of its own.  He must, or at least should, be on the radar of some of the bigger publishers. Chris already has a pedigree as a writer with his excellent Wart comic, digital versions of which are available as part of this offering.  Projected to run at least 4 issues this Kickstarter campaign is to fund the first.  There are still a couple of weeks to run on this campaign and again it is already fully funded.

Ness Issue 1 link

There's a Tiger on the Bus is something a little bit different.  It's an offering from 'Amy' or Tiger Tea as she is also known, for three short, brightly coloured, kids picture books.  Amy is an illustrator and designer and says in her campaign that this is her "first adventure in visual storytelling".   A useful video shows her creative process and you can clearly see that her style comes from classic children's illustration.  The first print run of "Tiger on the Bus" was handmade and this campaign is to have the books professionally printed and with a more substantial print run.   Each order comes with an A6 animal sketch done in India Ink, otherwise it's a pretty simple campaign.   I'm pleased to say that Amy is also fully backed and there are just a few days left to go.  Perhaps not the usual fare for Splank! but as something of a fan of illustrated children's books I'm fascinated to see how these turn out.

There's a Tiger on the Bus link

I suspect that these round ups of what I'm looking at in Kickstarter will become a regular part of Splank!  If you are a creator starting a Kickstarter campaign do drop me a line to the Splank! e-mail address if you are interested in being included.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Splank! and The Grumpy Penguin

A few days since my last post and I've been busy researching something that connects Hammer Horror Films, The Two Ronnies, John Lennon, Buster (the comic) and stamp collectors.

This morning I received a lovely piece of art relating to a project I've hinted at a few times already, the idea is for a revival of Splank!* later this year with the marvel Superhero strips replaced with some home-grown adventure stories.  One character being developed is "The Grumpy Penguin" and the artist here is one Stanley Robinson.

The idea for the Grumpy Penguin developed out of this short film, produced by my nephew for his 'A' level in 'Moving Images' a few years ago.  Somehow he persuaded me to play the part of Peter.  I hope you enjoy it and if you do I will pass on your good wishes to Jake Desmond who you can visit on his "JakesHomeVideos" YouTube site.

So from there, discussions with a couple of friends, Semtex Stan and Seedy Bob - both of whom appear in the film, got out of hand and ideas for comic strips were developed under the influence of strong painkillers and rye whiskey.  (I find Rittenhouse Rye 100 proof to be best for creativity).

Characters were developed, each based on the personalities or foibles of myself, Stan and Bob and a few artists were involved.  I'm saving the names of some of the artists involved for future posts but they include one of my heroes from the comics of my childhood and one of the funniest cartoonists ever come out of Northern Ireland or anywhere else come to that.

Over the next couple of weeks I'll be publishing more details of what we are after and some more preliminary artwork.  But if any artists or writers are interested in getting involved with Splank! the comic, please do get in touch using the address.   We already have some fantastic people involved, but more of that in future posts.

Now, back to my research.

*See post number 1 for the history of Splank!, the lost Irish Comic.


Monday, 18 April 2016

GalaXafreaks - Dark Vibes

While the commercial comics industry in the UK seems to be shrinking, there is no shortage of creators doing their own thing and using the crowdfunding phenomenon to finance their own self-published comics.   A quick look at Kickstarter today showed 184 live comic projects, with a good dozen or so from British creators.  
One of these is Andrew Pawley’s latest GalaXafreaks comic, Dark Vibes no 2.  Andrew has previously published four issues of the GalaXafreaks comic and one of the proposed five part Dark Vibes miniseries.

From Dark Vibes issue 1
Dark Vibes is the story of Meeko the Darkling.  A mild unsuspecting heroine thrust into an intergalactic stellar adventure that is beyond her, and at least at the beginning, my understanding.  But that doesn't matter, it’s the energy and the vibrancy of the artwork and the story that carries you along.

Beautifully printed in extreme colour on glossy paper with card covers, these 32 page tales of cosmic weirdness have echoes of Moscoso from the old underground Zap comics, of Steve Ditko's Dr Strange at its most outlandish and of what we used to call Saturday Morning cartoons, but which now seem to be on 24 hours a day.  His colour palette threatens to burn out your retinas and his figures are bold and unique.   

The scripts are anarchic, wild, violent and cosmic.  Like Robert Crumb and Jim Starlin working on the Beano with a colourist recovering from some long strange trip he took in the sixties.  It came as no surprise to hear that he cites Leo Baxendale as an influence on his style and remembers laughing hard at Leo's Bash Street Kids.  He also talks about Mike McMahon and Kevin O'Neil from 2000AD and Robert Crumb as other artists who have had an impact on his work. 

And once he mentions those particular artists you can see what he is getting at.   Each of them drew with a freedom and a freshness that was different from what came before them.  There is nothing in Andrew's artwork that looks like it was done by Baxendale or McMahon or O'Neil.   But there is the same spirit, the same disregard for the rules, and the fashions of current comics.  The same freshness of style.  Really, I'm not sure if I've seen anything quite like these comics before.  

Oh and watch out for the 'Easter eggs'.  Lyrics from a few old Prog Rock bands seem to appear here and there, adding to the air of sixties psychedelia that permeates the whole project.  So, if you like what you see here, take a look at Andrew's Kickstarter Page and his GalaXafreaks web-site (links below).   This is the kind of high-quality production that deserves our support. 

To try out the series issues 1 and 2 of the original series available as free downloads from the GalaXafreaks website.  And if anyone has a physical copy of issue 1 going spare, I'd like it to complete my collection.


Sunday, 17 April 2016

Sparky and the Racist Robots

Sometimes, when you look at the traditional British comics still on sale in the Newsagents, it seems as if time has been standing still for the past forty years.  The Commando picture libraries have changed little since they first appeared in 1961 and even 2000AD has an air of familiarity about it.   A quick look at a recent Beano revealed that all of the featured characters had been about for more than 30 years.  Some, like Dennis the Menace, The Bash Street Kids and Roger the Dodger, for more than 60.  But some characters don’t survive.  Time and social attitudes catch up with them and nothing can be done to adapt them for the present.  Take Sparky for example.

Sparky, the comic, debuted in January 1965 as a sister title to The Beano and The Dandy, but aimed at a slightly younger audience.   It was the same size as its more popular stablemates and printed on the same paper. 
The Moonsters from the cover of Sparky 100
Early issues were not exactly memorable for invention or originality.  Among the best of the new features was the Moonsters by Bill Ritchie.  Usually an excuse for a single large panel with lots of sight gags featuring little green men trying their hand at earth hobbies and activities.

But as well as new strips D C Thompson moved or revived a good number of humour strips from the Beano and the Dandy to start the new comic.   Hungry Horace, Keyhole Kate and Freddie the Fearless Fly were brought over from the Dandy and Pansy Potter, Frosty McNab and Hairy Dan from the Beano.

Sparky from issue 1.
 The cover feature, after the first issue, was another revival of an old strip, this time a much older one.  “Sparky”, the character, was as blatant a racial stereotype as ever graced the pages of a comic.  He was a black boy, with huge red lips, grass skirt, earrings, ankle bracelets and bare feet.   He lived, apparently alone, in suburban England and, to begin with at least, spoke a strange patois English.  “Golly! This sure am a steep hill” he said in the second panel he appeared in.   

And his precursor, Sooty Snowball from Magic no 1
Visually Sparky was a revival of “Sooty Snowball” who had run in the Magic comic in 1939.  Magic, like Sparky, was a companion title to the Beano and the Dandy that had been aimed at a younger audience.  It lasted little more than a year and a half, quickly falling victim to wartime paper shortages.  I’ve only ever seen the very first issue, reprinted in the excellent DC Thompsons’ Firsts book, but Sooty and Sparky were so alike that I can only assume that this was a straight revival but with someone deciding that Sooty Snowball was not an appropriate name for a comic book character in the mid sixties.

As the strip progressed Sparky lost his accent.  Indeed its difficult to see what point there was to the visual depiction.   In all but appearance, Sparky was simply a boy who had funny adventures.  The stories were no different in tone than those featuring Korky the Cat or Biffo the Bear in  Dandy and Beano. 

In 1969 Sparky lost his strip, but continued on as a disembodied head on the joke pages for a few more years.  On the cover of issue 210, his last issue, Sparky had trouble packing his suitcase for holiday, he never did come back from that holiday.  It would be nice to think that he was removed because he was offensive, but I very much doubt that to be the case.   Casual racism was the order of the day in the late sixties and early seventies.   We were still a few years away from television programs like “Love thy Neighbour” and “Mind your Language” which included racist language that would simply not be tolerated on television today.  No I don’t believe that Sparky lost his place on the cover for any other reason than he had run his course. 
Ironically British comics in the sixties were mainly seen as being wholesome, they reflected a post-war ‘respectable’ society.  Many, such as the Eagle, were even seen by parents as being ‘good for kids’.  American comics, on the other hand, were still suffering from the moral panic of the fifties and were seen as bad influences, leading to crime and all sorts of depravity.  All this despite the introduction of the Comics Code, a body of censors who made sure that nothing too unpleasant made its way onto the printed page.  

The Comics Code was the guardian of the morals of American kids. And each and every comic that bore its logo had to be submitted for approval.   In 1954, in an issue of Incredible Science-Fiction EC publisher William Gaines and editor Al Feldstein fell afoul of the code and one of their stories was rejected.  They decided to replace it with a reprint of a powerful anti-racist story by Joe Orlando from Weird Fantasy 18, Judgement Day.

In the story a helmeted representative from earth comes to the robot planet of Cybrinia.  He is there to judge whether the inhabitants are civilised enough to join the Galactic Republic.   All is well until he discovers that Robots are divided into an elite, with orange coatings, and a worker caste, who carry out all the menial jobs and are forbidden to be full citizens.   He discovers that the only difference between the two is that the lower caste have blue casings placed on them at construction.

Judgment Day from a recent Fantagraphics Reprint book.
The Robot leaders are distraught when told them they are not yet ready to join the Republic.  Asked by the Robot leaders is their hope that they may someday be ready the representative answers.
“Of course there is hope for you my friend.  For a while on earth it looked like there was no hope.  But when mankind learned to live together, real progress first began”.  Entering his spaceship and leaving the robot planet behind he removes his helmet to reveal that he is black.  

This proved too much for the Comics Code, a story about equality was fine, but equality with black people?   The story was rejected by Code Administrator, Judge Charles Murphy, unless the black astronaut was removed from the story.  Gaines refused and pulled the story from the comic, threatening to go to the Supreme Court. It proved to be the last straw for Gaines and EC comics stopped publishing anything other than Mad magazine, a title not covered by the Comics Code. 

It’s a strange contrast that in Britain the socially acceptable comics continued to reinforce unpleasant racial stereotypes well into the sixties and yet the American imports and reprints, which were seen as immoral and dangerous, could be the home of much more progressive, even moral attitudes.