Saturday, 30 July 2016

Cold Colony and Monologue

Some comics just look different. Distinctive.  You know instantly who the artist is.  That's especially true of small press and self-published comics.  Outside the strictures and conventions of the main publishers there are no rules and creators are free to work in their own style.  The small press scene gives us access to comics that are different and special, and we are lucky enough in Northern Ireland to have a few creators who fit.   Nobody is ever going to mistake a comic by Davy Francis or Paddy Brown as coming from anyone else. (I've recently binge read the 10 issues of Paddy's "Cattle Raid of Cooley"), an excellent, and quite late evening.

Millicent Barnes?
A couple of weeks back I received a couple of new comics from another Northern Ireland based creator, Stuart John McCune of Millicent Barnes comics.  I think they qualify as really, really different.

Stuart's comics have a distinctive style.   His figures and faces are not in any comic-book style I recognise, owing more to modern fine art than Kirby or Ditko.  But they are more expressive and distinctive than anything you'll see from Marvel or DC.  His backgrounds can be sparse, but he uses colour to build atmosphere and set the scene for the action of the comics.  He's created two related series that I'll write about at some length when I get a moment Mack and Mondo and City War.  Digital versions of these are available from his own site along with other titles and and there are a few items available through an Etsy page.  You can find the links at the bottom of this post.




The first of the new comics, Cold Colony, has all the claustrophobic tension of the movies that the Kickstarter campaign claimed as inspiration.  We were told to expect something in the spirit of The Thing, or Outland and that's just what we got.  The story is set on a mining colony on a distant planet and everything about the comic screams out constriction and tension.  There is nothing comfortable or bright, from the beginning there is simply a sense of growing unease.  The plot is relatively simple, and would not have been out of place in an old marvel mystery comic, or one of those science fiction anthology TV series of the fifties, but this comic is all about atmosphere and Stuart succeeds in building that atmosphere.   

What is most impressive about the script is the world-building that goes along with  the story.  While never hitting us over the head with long winded exposition, we get a clear idea of the universe in which the story is set from clues that drop in naturally in dialogue and allow us to build up a clear picture of the universe as we read.  Too many comics insult the intelligence of the reader, this isn't one of them. 

As always with the Millicent Barnes titles, the artwork has a distinctive look.  I particularly like the design of the gold helmeted miners and the company manager and the small number of exterior scenes, but whereas Stuart often makes use of large areas of empty space in his comics, Cold Colony is very different     You can find more details of the comic on its Kickstarter page.

 

And then we have Monologue issue 2.   I'm not sure how to describe how it looks.  Elegant again comes to mind, designed, sparce, beautiful.   All through the comic are panels that look like they should be prints and yet it all hangs together as effective comic storytelling.  Stuart clearly understands the language of single images but more importantly how they come together to form comics.   

I'm also beginning to get some ideas of Stuart's preoccupations and interests.  This story, which could be one of madness or could equally be a simply Ghost story, reminded me of where I had heard the name, Millicent Barnes, before.  There is a bit of clue in this post, but it'll be more fun to figure it out for yourself.  I think this is an improvement over issue 1, its one of the comics I've enjoyed most in the past few months and I'm looking forward to the next issue just as soon as he can finish it.            

Cold Colony Kickstarter
link to Digital versions of the comics 
Millicent Barnes Etsy Page

Monday, 25 July 2016

Morning Reading - Some great Blogs you might enjoy.

Every morning, with a cup of coffee in hand, I sit down in front of my computer and go through a little ritual.   I switch to Spotify, to select something interesting to listen to, then a quick check of Facebook and then onto Blogger to see what activity there has been on the Blogs I follow.   Today was a good day on the blogs so I thought I'd share a few of the Blogs on my list

Art from Nigel's Blog
Top today was Beano artist Nigel Parkinson's blog,  "Nigel Parkinson Cartoons" Here you will normally find stories of Nigel's travels round the comic cons (can we get him an invite for Enniskillen next year Paul?) and examples of art out-takes from the Beano.  But every now and then Nigel gives us something a little bit more, a bit special.  Today was one of those days.  

In a post entitled Secrets, Part 2, Nigel talks about why he draws and what drawing means to him.  He talks about the comics he enjoyed as a kid and how he got started drawing.  It was a real pleasure to read a true gentleman, talking about his lifelong and ongoing enthusiasm for drawing comics.


Steve Holland's "Bear Alley" is always interesting and updated almost every day.    Named after the "man-made gorge" that led to the storage facility for the records and file copies of of Amalgamated Press magazines in the old Fleetway House built by Alfred Harmsworth, the blog is a fascinating mixture of news of new British comics publications, historical articles on old comics or paperback books and from time to time really good quality scans of classic strips from look and Learn and other comics of my youth.

The cover to one of Steve's excellent comic index books
Steve is a true scholar of his subject, and the blog is an invaluable resource for information on writers and artists of British comics and vintage paperback books.  He is also accomplished editor and is responsible for a plethora of excellent books reprinting British comics.  he was editor for the fantastic oversize books reprinting Don Lawrence's Trigan Empire and Storm series and has also self-published a series of books under the Bear Alley Books imprint.  A mixture of detailed indexes of various British comics, reprints of strips not often discussed but well worth reviving and British pulp fiction, Steve's books are immaculately produced and will be the subject of a much longer entry here some day. 


Another Beano artist on the morning reading list is Lew Stringer.  Lew has two blogs, one containing details of his own upcoming work in the Beano or Toxic or in his own self-published comics  Lew Stringer Comics and Blimey, the Blog of British Comics where he features other peoples publications, convention reports and really interesting memories of British comics of the past 30 years.  If Bear Alley concentrates on the adventure strips then Lew's focus tends to be on the superb and unique history of British humour comics.

Finally, I want to mention Robin Barnard's Images Degrading Forever.  Robin is currently featuring "Star Jaws" on the blog, a monthly 'remix' comic, taking pages from old Scomics and telling a totally different story by rewriting the text and 'adjusting' the artwork.

At the moment the title features a Star Jaws strip, which tells the story of Robert and his wookie friend Paul meeting Serigo Aragones and his posse, a series of single page strips by Martin Hand, where super-villains talk about their suppers and Star Jaws Oiks, the tale of two rather familiar yet foul-mouthed robots. 

It's fun, great fun.  Especially for anyone who remembers the original comics and with past entries featuring Robin and his artist friends take on Marvel Team-Up and Captain Britain comics this is well worth a look.


I'll cover a few more Blogs in a future post, but for now I'd love to hear what British comics blogs other people are reading that I might be missing. 

Drop me a line to Splank@BoxofRainmag.co.uk or add a comment here.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Quantum Capers with Fuzz-Muff and the Dark Vibe Underlords

A very short post to let you know that issue 3 of Andrew Pawley's superb "GalaXafreaks: Dark Vibes" fell across the quasi-dimensional threshold that I call a letterbox this morning.   So hot off the presses, Andrew has not quite managed to get the issue up on his web-site shop yet but by the time you read this it might well be there.  Also in the package was the trade paperback collected edition of the now out-of-print first GalaXafreaks series.

Dark Vibes 3 is the same mixture of influences, taking so much from the Psychedelic sixties and mixing it with the language of quantum physics and a little bit of the comics of Jack Kirby.  I also got the feeling this time that the GalaXafreaks are a type of far-out, drug-induced version of the Green Lantern Corps. 

But while the core of the comic stays the same, there is progression and change.  Comparing the collected edition of the first series with issue 3 of Dark Vibes, you can see an evolution in everything. He has experimented with backgrounds, layouts and even lettering and issue by issue these become tighter as more successful techniques and ideas come through.  The dialogue, while continuing to mix archaic hipster jive-talk, with the vocabulary of quantum physics also seems more focused, and tells the story more effectively than before.  Its great to have the collection, and I can really recommend it, but if all Andrew was doing was repeating the same things over and over again then the appeal of the comics would fade quickly, as it is I've just spent a great morning reading some really strange and entertaining comics.  If you want to catch up with this really weird world then visit galaxafreaks.com and check out his online shop.

So Andrew, when is the next issue out?   

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Space Captain 3 Kickstarter.

 
Chris Baldie and Michael Park's Space Captain is one the gems in the British world of self-published comics.  Its a well-written, beautifully drawn science fiction comic that is so much more than the Space Opera that it appears to be at first glance.  I wrote a fuller outline of the series a couple of months back just after issue 2 came out. (You can find that here)  At that time Chris thought that issue 3 might be delayed for a while, but I'm delighted to say that the Kickstarter page for the third issue has now gone up and is sitting at about 300% or the required funds with most of the extras, in this case a sketch by Chris, already gone.

For issue 3 Chris and Michael promise us jungle action and giant lizards and perhaps more fumblings towards the final fate of the earth in 40 A5, full colour pages for £5 (postage paid) or £2 for a pdf.  I know I'm repeating myself, but Space Captain is an intelligent, funny and genuinely moving comic with a great plot and superb art that owes a lot to the European big-foot style.  I do wonder if a collection might do well in the French BD market? 


Space Captain isn't just one of my favourite self-published comics, its one of my favourite comics at the moment, full stop.  Its one of a hand-full of self-published comics that I would recommend to anyone.   So follow one of the links and get yourself one of the best comic reads you'll have this year.

The Kickstarter includes bundles of all three issues or you can buy issues 1 & 2, along with other comics from Chris, at his online shop here.



 


Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Salad-Based Comics from Macc-Pow


It’s a niche genre, comics with vegetables as the lead characters.  Sometimes, as in Bob Burden’s “Flaming Carrot” or Sarah McIntyre’s, “Vern and Lettuce” a comic might appear to be about an edible plant at first glance, but then you find yourself disappointed to discover that it’s really about a man who has taking on the identity of a root vegetable or a rabbit named after his favourite food. 

So up to now those trying to avoid red meat in their comics have had to depend on the wonderful “Tales of the Beanworld” or finding a copy of the first issue of Norway’s bi-annual anthology comic, Bergen, described as being “hallucinogenically healthy” and entitled “Vegetable Comic”. 

But just recently there has been another addition to the genre, and it’s from the UK, it’s self-published and it’s by one of my favourite cartoonists.

Marc Jackson, from Macclesfield, has had work in the Beano, in his local paper and in the Brooklyn Red-Hook community newspaper.   He has a single page strip in each issue of Comics Heroes magazine and appears regularly in the on-line comic Aces.  His work is bold, energetic and very distinctive.  His new comic is no exception.

“Ha! It’s Lenny the Lettuce” is a full-length, magazine-sized epic about a lettuce who is late for work.  Lenny is Marc’s Beano character, but this self-published comic is not a collection of his Beano stories but a brand-new full length story.  Its manic, almost stream of consciousness stuff involving birds, superheroes and some really niche shopping outlets.

Up until now Marc's self-published comics have been A5 size, so I wondered how his artwork would look on the larger page.   I have to say it works brilliantly, increasing scale also increases the impact and the surreal humour moves things along at a great pace.  Marc has a great eye for character design and layout.   Even the background colours add something to the assault on the eye.  Add to that, Lenny the Lettuce is one of those humour comics that is actually funny and you have real winner.

I will declare an interest here, I'm working on a project of my own to publish a comic later in the year and Marc is one of the contributors.  He's one of the most prolific cartoonists out there and  a real joy to work with.   More on that in the coming weeks.   Marc was also the driving force behind the Macc-Pow comic festival in Macclesfield earlier this year.  Like our own excellent festival in Enniskillen this year, a very different type of comic convention from the big commercial shows. 

Have a look at the festival Facebook page here.

Check out Marc's Tumblr page for details of how to get hold of Lenny the Lettuce and other great comics. 

   

Monday, 11 July 2016

Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Dan Dare?

For many British kids in the sixties, their first sight of Marvel Superheroes came in the pages of Wham!, Smash!, Pow!, Fantastic and Terrific - The "Power" comics line of weeklies from Odham's comics.  Up until then Stan Lee's creations had been available only as unreliable imports in job lots from Thorpe and Porter - remember the old T&P stamp? - or reprinted almost at random by Alan Class in one of his multi-publisher anthology titles.

The Power Line published the strips in order, and in full, providing the continuity that was so big a part of Marvel's appeal.  For the first time it was possible to follow all of the adventures of Spider-Man in Pow! or Daredevil in Smash! or The Avengers and Dr Strange in Terrific. 

At the same time the grand old man of British comics was having a hard time.  The Eagle had been created in 1950 by an Anglican priest, Marcus Morris.  Morris had seen American comics during the forties and while he was sometimes impressed with the quality of the artwork, he had been appalled at the contents.  The Eagle was to be a comic that combined the high standards of art found in some American comics, with high moral standards.  At the time of a moral panic about the content of horror comics and their impact on children, Morris set about creating a comic that parents would be happy to buy for their children. 

It had been a huge success, selling 900,000 copies of the first edition and regularly hitting figures of 0.75 million through the fifties.  The biggest success was Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future.  In their book "Flying with Eagles" Morris' daughters Sally Morris and Jan Hallwood include their fathers account of the development of the character from an idea for a strip called Lex Christian that he was working on with Frank Hampson.

"To begin with we turned Lex Christian into a flying padre, 'The Parson of the Flying Seventh',  Then one day, after re-reading C.S. Lewis' science fiction novel 'Perelandra', I said to Frank that I thought Lex Christian should leave London and go out into space.  I remember telling Frank to get him to Venus and I would take over from there.  Frank got him to Venus without much difficulty and I didn't take over.   Frank continued to work on the story and the characters".

Hampson changed the character's name and finally, very late in the day, amended his profession from Parson to pilot, indeed the first dummy of the Eagle had on its cover a strip entitled Chaplin Dan Dare of the Interplanet Patrol.
 
By 1968 things were looking very different.  Sales had almost halved and Morris was no longer involved with the Eagle, it was now owned by Odhams the publisher of the Power comics line.  Dan Dare had disappeared from the cover moving to the inside pages and then only as reprints of his very first adventures.  Gone were the bible stories, the historical adventures, indeed almost all of the factual strips,  Very few, if any, of the stalwarts of the Eagle from the Morris days were retained.

Instead there were the type of adventure strips that could be seen in any of the comics of the time, including a British super-hero strip of sorts called Iron Man and a decent science fiction strip, The Guinea-Pig, which would be reprinted in later 2000AD and Starlord annuals.

But this was not the Eagle of the peak years, the paper was of poor quality and the 'improving' ethos had gone.  It had ceased to be special and was now just another British weekly comic.  But hidden away for a few issues, and serving as the replacement for stories like Heros the Spartan or other tales of ancient times, was a strip by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, "Tales of Asgard" featuring Thor. 

These were the back-up strips from the Thor comic in the US, presumably published under the same agreement that allowed for the Marvel comics reprints in the Power line.  Nominally tales of norse mythology, I'm not convinced that the Rev. Marcus Morris would have approved of Stan Lee's hyperbolic dialogue appearing in his comic.  The strips may have been resized and pages merged, there some correction of American spellings and removal slang terms, but these were still American super-hero comics in the Eagle.   

It was a sign of the times, the Eagle would not survive the sixties, its last issue, just nine short of its thousandth, would be published in April 1969 before merging with the Lion.  The Power Comics line, for which the Marvel license that had brought Lee and Kirby to the iconic British comic of the fifties and sixties had been bought, had already disappeared in March of the same year with sale of Odham's to IPC.  Smash! would continue in a very different form. 

Marvel strips would pop up from time to time, I think look-In included Spider-Man and Silver Surfer strips for a short time (can anyone confirm that?), but it would be 1972, and the creation of Marvel UK, before there was any real attempt to bring the creations of Lee, Kirby and Ditko to the UK market.  But for just a very short time Dan dare and Thor shared a comic and Lee and Kirby appeared int he most celebrated British comic for many decades.