Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Big Tasches and Mysterious Splashes - Space Men and Monsters from the Deep

Two of the Kickstarter projects I'm been most looking forward to seeing come to fruition arrived recently, including a new issue of one of the very best self-published comics coming from the UK and the first part of a four issue mini series with some fantastic artwork.

I'll start with "Ness" from the ever-reliable Chris Welsh, writer of Wart and the Doc Dino comic I mentioned a couple of weeks back.  His partner on art this time round is Dublin illustrator Rob Carey.  Together they have just delivered the first issue of a four issue horror series set on the banks of Loch Ness.

Full page panel from Rob Carey.
On his campaign page Chris laid out his plans for the series, "I wanted to give the UK its very own giant monster (Japan has Godzilla, America has Cloverfield and, er, sometimes Godzilla...) because giant monsters are endlessly fascinating to me."   The first issue is more in the Lovecraftian mold. Less stomping on cities, more terrifying mystery and small scale personal horror, and, for my taste, much the better for that.  But we will see how the series progresses.

The set-up has many of the elements of the best Cthulhu tales.  There is a book, a strange priest a group of friends in a remote and spooky location and locals who may not be all that friendly.   Rob Carey's artwork captures the atmosphere beautifully, in a style that owes something to Mignola, but is at the same time quite distinctive, and he moves the story along skillfully.  Occasionally there are images that are stunningly good, including three full page panels that are spectacular, all helped hugely by Dee Cunniffe's colouring.  And it's always good to see a hand-lettered comic.  

Don't get me wrong, this is a solid entertaining book, with some superb artwork and I'm really looking forward to the next issue.  And in a way that the biggest problem I have with it.  It’s either a little too short or lacking some, 'substance'.  There are 22 pages of story, lots of action, but somehow the plot has not moved forward as much as I would have liked.  I found it a slightly frustrating read, in that the issue ended too soon or should have contained something more, perhaps a little more about the motivation of some of the locals or the lead characters. I understand that this is the function of a serial, to leave the reader wanting more, and my reaction could be seen as a sign that the creators have succeeded, but somehow this time I needed something more for this to be a truly satisfying read.

I have a suspicion that subsequent issues will deliver all that I am asking for and this will be a series  that reads better as a whole.   But in the meantime I was fully entertained and Rob Carey's artwork is excellent throughout.  I'm being more critical than usual here and I don't want to put people off.  If you like horror comics then you will love this, I just have this one minor reservation over what is otherwise a really good comic.

Space Captain - Best Tasche in Comics

Part of my problem with Ness was that I sat down to read it immediately after I'd read the third issue of what I think is one of the best comics about at the moment.  I've written in glowing terms before about the first two issues of Michael Park and Chris Baldie's "Space Captain" and issue three is going to be no different.

Space Captain is the story of the last human in the galaxy (and incidentally, the owner of the best moustache in comics) and his quest to return to his home planet and find out what happened to his race while he was in suspended animation.  But as this issue goes on it becomes clear that that there is much more to the story.   We see more of the alien race who have been pursuing Space Captain in the first two issues, get hints about their culture and motivation and why they see him as being so valuable - or so dangerous.  
Space Captain no. 3
Overall, though, this is an issue for cinematic action, with an Indiana Jones type plan to be carried out by our hero.  And that is what I like so much about this series.  Each A5 issue has had a different feel to it.   Number one, set on a crumbling, frozen planetary outpost, had a tense claustrophobic feel.  Issue two was a space-based western and for the third issue we have a big-budget heist story with hints as to the whole back story coming thick and fast.  And all told with a sense of humour.

Michael and Chris handle each of these genres with aplomb, with great storytelling and, I'm tempted to say, ever-improving artwork*.  At forty pages they give themselves a lot of work between issues, but it pays off.  Each issue has been complete in itself, setting out to move the plot forward and set up the next issue

I'm tempted to follow another reviewer and suggest that Space Captain deserves to be seen by a wider audience and belongs somewhere like 2000AD, but that, in my view, is the wrong home for it.   Its good enough, that's for sure, but key to its quality is the space the creators have given themselves.  Chris and Michael use the forty page format to to pace each episode perfectly, to take the time to tell their story and give us light and shade.  The story seems to dictate the format, not the other way round.

Anything that required shorter episodes would impact on that pacing.  I just wonder what Grant Morrison would think, now that he's editor of Heavy Metal?

Not much from Splank! over the past wee while.  I'm afraid I started on a couple of rather ambitious posts, both of which have involved a lot of reading and research and a trip to the attic for some very old issues of 2000AD.   Plus I've a first novel by a Belfast comic creator that I've been reading and will review here pretty soon.    

* That's difficult, as I still think the first five pages of issue one are among the best I've seen anywhere.
Chris Welsh's Kickstarter Page for Ness is here and you can buy his other comic Wart here.

The Space Captain issue 3 Kickstarter page is here.  The Space Captain web-site is here

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