Tuesday, 22 November 2016

ZX Spectrums and Commodore Amiga Tie-Ins - Comics from Dan Whitehead.

Dan Whitehead has a thing for games, old games, the sort you played on a ZX Spectrum and loaded via a cassette player.   He also has a thing about comics and this year has joined the two interests and has written a couple of comics that relate to very, very old games.  Dan's background is in Computer Game journalism and both of his projects reflect the computer game scene of the 80's, a time when graphics were poorer but arguably games were more fun.  He's edited and written a few comics in the past, most notably The Raven, an adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe, stories for Self Made Hero and an adaptation of Jason and the Argonauts for younger readers.

Midwinter, is based in the world of a Commodore Amiga Game written by games legend Mike Singleton who died in 2012.  The game, Midwinter, was a unique mixture of first person shooter, adventure and strategy.  It was set in a world where an asteroid impact had created global cooling. 

The player took control of a number of characters, most notably John Stark, as they tried to free their small island from the despotic control of Col. Masters.  The comic, entitled Landfall, picks up well after the game.  John Stark is gone and a small group of survivors are living a comfortable, if precarious life, in a well-protected and most importantly geothermically powered village. 

The first issue, well-paced and clearly plotted by Dan, sets the scene, creates a few interesting questions for the reader and, by the end, puts in place the main conflict for issues to come.  It's well written and has a bit of a Chuck Dixon feel to it, although there is also the influence of British comics of the eighties, Battle or Action Force perhaps.  The Black and White art is by another of the small cadre of excellent Northern Ireland based artists working for 2000 AD, P J Holden. 

P J Holden art from Midwinter
Here P J does not quite have the opportunity to strut his imaginative stuff as much as he does in the superb Department of Monstorology, but his art serves the needs of the story perfectly.  His characters are expressive and distinct and the sense of space and place that he creates makes the setting believable.  Much of the story takes place in claustrophobic locations, but it’s in the opening pages that P J does his best work, with some deft storytelling.

The excellent cover is by Steve Pugh and reminded me of both, the old Eclipse comics of the eighties and the full-page ads for various computer games at about the same time.  It promises much for the future.   This is a good adventure comic in the style of the British comics of the eighties and some of the best of the independent publishers of the eighties.  Knowledge of the original computer game is not going to be necessary but for anyone who played it there is going to be an extra frisson of pleasure from picking up on small points of reference.

Dan's second comic, Hex Loader, combines a number of eighties themes.  It takes the 'dangerous book' idea of Lovecraft and transfers it into the cassette-based game age.  A mysterious tape sent from by a reclusive games genius leads on a path of mystery and occult danger.   Dan says that Hexloader began as a joke, and that's very much how I see this first issue.  It combines Lovecraftian ideas and some of the foibles of the American comics’ scene in the eighties.   It’s full of references to British TV and culture of the time.   The surprise on the final page made me chuckle, and I am wondering what will come next. 

Atmospheric art from Conor Boyle
If I'm honest, not as strong a first issue as Midwinter.  Lots of ideas but many that I had seen before, Conor Boyle's art looks great for the first four pages and the final sequence, but for much of the comic he has little opportunity to show how good he is.  It’s well worth looking on his blog for some recent samples of his work.

These are good comics, professionally written and drawn.  They both hark back to the time when Dan was growing up and if you are of that generation and remember the ZX Spectrum and the Commodore 64, or if you played Midwinter then I think these could well be right up your street.  We need second issues soon, and I'll be looking forward to them.

Both Hex Loader and Midwinter are available through Comicsy.  Many thanks to Dan for letting me see them!    

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