Friday, 24 November 2017

Small Press Reviews

Splank! has been quiet of late, so much of my time has been set aside for other activities, some of which will be revealed at the end of this posting.  I’ve been catching up on the past fifteen years of 2000 AD through collections and back issues and also having a trawl through the mini-glut of Science Fiction comics that appeared in the mid to late seventies.  That reading will turn into a set of posts that will appear here sometime soon I hope.

For the time being, however, I’ve missed out on writing about a lot of interesting new self-published comics so here we go with the start of a catch up on that front.

Perrywinkle is a comic that’s about as personal as it’s possible to get.  It’s written and drawn by Susie Gander and tells the story of her diagnosis and treatment for Hodgkin Lymphoma.   It’s a redrawn version of a web-comic that she released as a physical book at the recent Nottingham Comic festival.  

The story goes from diagnosis, through treatment, to as uplifting a final panel as you are likely to read anywhere. 

The costumed hero, Perrywinkle, is Susie’s alter ego.  The Superheroine within her, through whom she visualises her battles with cancer.  Perrywinkle is sassy, sexy, strong and gives great makeup tips when Susie starts to lose her hair.  She represents Susie’s own strength and acts as a powerful metaphor allowing Sisie to visualise the chemotherapy as it attacks her tumor.  But throughout the comic you get the feeling that Perrywinkle is real to Susie, a person she could trust and lean on to help her through her treatment. 
There is no sign here of self-pity, or misery.  Just a relentless “what’s next” attitude towards treatments that were obviously painful and unpleasant. 

Everything is faced head on with strength garnered from wherever Susie could find it.  There is a quotation from Game of Thrones (I do hope you’ll send a copy to Peter Dinklage, Susie) and I suspect that Peter Dinklage and George Martin would be incredibly proud to see how those words have been used to gather strength.     

Throughout there is an incredible sense of humour.   This comic is funny.  Really funny.  But mainly its life affirming, inspirational and hopeful.  And, even ignoring the subject matter, it’s a beautifully drawn and skilfully designed comic too, with Susie’s art having something of the look of Phil Philgio.  There is a sequence of three pages, beginning with Susie arriving at the hospital for the first Chemo, that’s about as evocative as anything I’ve read for a very long time.  I keep looking at one panel and how Susie has captured a look of loving concern on the face of one character.  It’s just about perfect. 

I can only begin to imagine how comforting and inspirational this comic would be to someone at the beginning of the difficult process of Cancer treatment.  It would be so easy, and totally understandable, for Perrywinkle to have turned into something clich├ęd and mawkish, but it didn’t. 
Perrywinkle the comic is strong and funny, personal and inspirational and one of the best self-published titles I’ve seen in a while.

Perrywinkle is available in both print and digital editions from the Perry Winkle web-site.  One of my strongest recommendations to date.

The ninth volume of John Lawrence’s Space Ace has just arrived.  Reprinting stories by the great Ron Turner from the monthly British comic Lone Star colourised by John Ridgway.   Editor John Lawrence has tried something of an experiment this time round.   As he says in his editorial, Ron’s need to sometimes spend additional time on more lucrative jobs mean that some of his Space Ace stories were repetitive or not quite up to the mark.

As a result John had set aside a number of serials as not being of a suitable standard for inclusion in Space Ace magazine.   Some had weak openings, others poor or trite endings and others may have been too similar to other strips he had already used. 

Running short on longer, serial stories, he had a look through this discard pile and discovered that  because Ron often used similar themes,  he was able to edit together a totally acceptable and coherent story from a number of different serials.

The result of the first of these experiments is “The Fire Ship”.   A combination of episodes from “The Fire Ship”, “The Fish Men of Formonda” and “The Exiles” all bound up into a 16 page story where, I have to say, it’s quite difficult to see the joins.  

John, who was friend and agent to Ron Turner, is already experienced at taking episodic adventures and turning them into longer stories and he does a great job here.  Space Ace was never the best written of Ron’s works and, for me at least, it is the artwork in these books that are the real draw.  But the extra work John has put into making these stories coherent makes the whole package hang together well. 

As a extra this time John has included a full history of Space Ace, covering not just Ron Turner's contribution to the character but the work of other artists.  Its a fascinating read and a valuable addition to the history of British comics.

This latest volume costs £8.95 (UK) or £12.50 (Europe) and £14.50 (International) including p&p — with payments through Paypal via spaceace.54 AT or by cheque or postal order to John Lawrence, 39 Carterweys, Dunstable, Beds. LU5 4RB

Cat Byrne is an artist and illustrator based in Northern England.   She’s been working in graphic and web design for some time but in 2016 decided to try to fulfil her ambition of becoming a comic artist.   Via her web-site she sells a variety of prints, postcards and beautiful wooden blocks printed with some of her best images, but it is her comics that I’m really excited about.

In little over a year Cat has collected her web-comic, Mizzle, about a would-be Superhero cat working and living with real superhero cats, in three beautiful A5 sized books.  She has produced the first issue of “Mizzle, Flight of the Bumblecat” a three issue graphic novel which takes the same characters and moves the story along.  Mizzle is now a cleaner at Mog-heroes, the foremost Super-hero agency in the country, her very last chance to make an impression.  She has a friend, a Badger who trades in all things geeky and may, or may not, be hiding something mysterious.  

Cat’s art is hugely attractive and matches the tone of the comic, comedic and charming, perfectly.  Looking at the first Mizzle book and comparing it to the new comic you can see the development of style and of the ideas behind the strip.   Mizzle becomes more well-rounded and real as the work goes on and the situation develops.  It’s fascinating to see the whole history of the concept grow and change as Cat works things out.  I’m loath to use the word charming to describe her work. It’s a phrase that sometimes implies something that is too ‘sweet’ or perhaps insubstantial.  But ‘Flight of the Bumblecat’ is charming.  It’s also funny, beautifully drawn and has a well-told story.   What more could you ask?

Just a word about Cat’s latest book, “Conversations with Myselves” launched at Thought Bubble earlier this year.   In what I think is Mr Men format, or something very similar, this is a book about how a person is made up of various aspects of themselves and how the integration and acceptance of those aspects of personality are the way to overcoming feelings of guilt, inadequacy and self-loathing.   Like all of her work, this is charming (that word again) and smart and beautifully drawn.  
Well worth a look.

All of Cat’s books, together with prints, postcards and those fantastic wood blocks (I want one) are available from her web-site

Also look out for her original art and commissions.  Here is her take on me, as a Penguin!  

Finally a word about the project that has been taking up a lot of my time recently.  Sector 13 is a 2000AD fanzine produced by the Belfast Sector House 13 fan group.   We’ve just launched our second issue and ‘yours truly’ not only has a story in the zine, but I ended up doing the ‘InDesign’ work to prepare the comic for printing.  Not something I’ve done before but with a lot of trial and error and a hell of a lot of help from the team who put the material together we got there in the end.  
We are really proud of this issue.  It was, as we were warned, more difficult that the first but its bigger and I think its better than issue one.

Behind a cover featuring ‘Judge McBride’ Laurence McKenna has written a story allowing him, with the able and essential assistance of Simon McKnight, to craft a tale featuring the Sector House 13 Cosplayers in a photostory that looks like no photostory you’ve ever seen before. Laurence has written a fascinating blog entry on the origin of a single panel in the story over on the Sector House 13 Blog.  It shows the dedication and thought that goes into the work he and Simon put into these strips.

As with the first issue there are two strips written by W D McQuaid.  An up and coming writer from Belfast who I’m sure you’ll be hearing much more from in the very near future.   Patrick Brown supplies evocative art for a thoughtful and challenging Future Shock story with Paul Malone doing a great job on a colour Strontium Dog story that is atmospheric and claustrophobic. 

We’re lucky to have W.D writing for us and fully intend to make the most of it until he gets lifted by one of the big boys.

Simon McKnight’s two page Stone Man and Jawine Westland’s black and white art on my own “Ragnarok” story are great examples of how stories can be brought totally to life with the judicious use of shading and toning.  Simon's story is simple yet effective and shows just how much can be achieved in two pages.

The issue also features a trio of superb pin-ups, including Adam Brown’s interpretation of Nemesis the Warlock (Adam’s first sketch, produced in little more than an hour was worthy of publication – the final piece is superb.) and a superb image of a Judge in trouble that should have TV21 fans all a tizzy.  

We also have a great Strontium Dog poster from Richard Harrison and short photo-strip from Logan Bruce while Andy Luke does his usual great job on a Judge Death text story.
The interview, by Chris McAuley, with 2000AD great Glenn Fabry and a one-page strip from Belfast’s own Davy Francis are the final touches to a great issue.

We really couldn’t have hoped for more.   A lot of work went into this zine and all for the love it, I’m obviously biased, but I’m very proud of how well the zine looks, how well it reads and how well it has been received.  36 pages, A4, a mixture of colour and black and white and great fun.

Sector 13 is a not-for-profit fanzine.  Nobody involved gets paid, nobody involved asks to be paid.  It’s a labour of love and I’m personally delighted to be involved and it would not have happebned with a great team.  Apart from the guys already mentioned I have to give huge thanks to Geoff McGrath who supplied the original photo for our cover and Eugene Doherty, our proof-reader.  

Anyone interested in contributing to future issues should contact the editorial address at

Copies of the first two issues (we are very low on copies of issue 1) are still available  Send £6:50 inc p&p (UK only) for each issue to the editorial address above by paypal.  If you want both issues the cost is £11.  Outside the UK, please enquire. 

And just before I go, I’ve also been facilitating another Blog.  Sector House 13, the Blog includes articles, interviews and short stories by members of the Sector House 13 crew.  Check it out here, I think you'll enjoy it.