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 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 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. 


Friday, 8 July 2016

Good News about Tommy Donbavand

Earlier in the week I posted a little bit about children's author and Bash Street Kids writer Tommy Donbavand who has been undergoing treatment for throat cancer.  At the time Tommy was still in hospital after having a pretty rough time following the completion of his cancer treatment in May.  I'm delighted to say that Tommy's friend, and fellow author, Barry Hutchinson, reports that Tommy is now out of hospital and at home and hopes to be back writing his blog himself soon.  Barry, who is also a children's author and Beano writer, has been filling in and keeping the blog up to date.

In the meantime Barry also had other news about the efforts of Tommy's writer friends to help support him.  Obverse books are to publish a collection of Dr Who short stories written by people like Philip Ardagh, Paul Cornell, Daniel Blythe, Roy Gill, Sharon Tregenza, Steve Cole and Barry himself.  The book, entitled "A Target for Tommy" will be out sometime in the summer.  The book will cost £9.99 (£5.99 digital I think) and will be part of a a one-off print run.  So when they're gone they're gone.

Editors Stuart Douglas and Paul Magrs are still working on the book, but expect it to be out during the summer.  You can pre-order from the Obverse web-site here.

Just a quick reminder, tomorrow is comics small-press day across the UK and Ireland.  Sad to say there are no events in Belfast (maybe next year), but you can find full details of all the events across the country on the website here.   

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Tommy V Cancer

Those of you with kids may know the name Tommy Donbavand, he's 48 and he's a writer of more than 100 children's books.  One of his most popular series, Scream Street has been adapted for TV and is currently showing on CBBC.  He's written a Doctor Who novel, some graphic novels for younger kids (all of which seem to be a little gruesome) and until recently wrote the Bash Street Kids for the Beano.

Tommy also has cancer.  He was diagnosed in March of this year and bravely decided to start a Blog to write about his condition.  Its honest and moving, sometimes its funny, sometimes not so much.  A single post can be uplifting and difficult to read at the the same time.  Hard because of the effects of the illness and the treatment, uplifting because of Tommy's reaction to it.    Its a good read, but then Tommy is a good writer.  There are suggestions that it may soon be compiled, along with some additional material, into an ebook to raise some much needed money for Tommy and his family.  I'll post about that when it happens.

Tommy's friends from the Beano have chipped in with help, Nigel Parkinson, artist on Dennis the Menace and a real ambassador for the Beano and comics for younger kids at comic cons across the country has supplied some really apt images for Tommy's blog.   Posts are regularly accompanied by drawings from other Beano artists and friends but its Tommy's words that are the important thing.  I might just ask him for a few tips myself once he is feeling better.

Like many professional writers a good chunk of Tommy's income comes from running workshops, giving talks and visiting schools.  All of that is out of the question for the foreseeable future.  To help Tommy has set up a Patraeon page where he offers his skills to draw up plans for school writing workshops, supply monthly tasks, videos and even feedback for up to 10 pupils. Its a measure of the man that he would rather use his skills to raise much needed money than just ask for help, but you can also make a donation through paypal just to help out.

Last update was that Tommy was in hospital, he's finished his chemo and radio-therapy but has had some rough times with his breathing.  As his wife does not drive they were spending £100 a week on  Taxis.   He and his family can do without money worries at this time.

So if you feel you can help then please visit his webpage and see if you can make use of the Patraeon services he is offering, or just make a donation.  Maybe go to Amazon to pick up a few of his books.   I'm reading his Doctor Who novel, Shroud of Shadow at the moment but if you have kids one of the Badger Graphic novels for reluctant readers might be interesting or the Scream Street or Fangs, Vampire Spy series.  I must admit I'm quite taken by the idea of the short book, "My Teacher Ate my Brain" and its waiting on my Kindle for me now. 

You can find the Tommy v Cancer website here and his normal site with details of his books here.
Please do take a look.

From Scream Street