“What is a comic? That’s easy”, I hear you say as you bring me the latest copy of Batman. “But that’s a ‘Comic Book’”, I would reply, “which part of it is the actual ‘Comic’? What makes it distinctive? How does it compare to other, similar, publications?”
You would probably stop talking to me at this point.
My questions, however, would still stand. There are hundreds of thousands of readers all over the world and the term ‘comic’ means different things to different people. For the majority of people, comics are entertainment, like movies or television series. As long as they help to pass the time in an enjoyable and satisfying way then Comics don’t need to be anything else. For a much smaller group, the production of a Comic is important. These people will understand why Watchmen is one of the best Superhero comics and why Maus is culturally important. An even smaller group of readers are fascinated by the concepts behind the comic’s narrative, the reasoning in the creations and the very notion of what makes a comic a Comic.
If you are reading this I am going to assume you have read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics: if not you can sneak off now and read it, we won’t say anything. The entire function of the book is to break down what a Comic is and the elements involved in their creation. McCloud does an excellent job of explaining the main elements of a comic book structure and the importance of the Art used in their creation. Where his analysis begins to come up against problems is in trying to create a definition for what a Comic is and fix this to a historical timeline. Unfortunately for McCloud, no matter where he states the history of comics begins there will be someone with an opposing view, whether this be an earlier or later date.
Depending on how specific you make the definition, the start and progression of the Comic will wildly differ from one view to the next. It will also be affected by the society you are a part of, the country you live in, and your own personal experiences with what a Comic is. For example, there are a number of Ages of Comics, the Golden age, the Bronze age etc. These however only apply to the American Comic Book, something which arguably started with a reprint in English of a Swiss comic called ‘Histoire de Mr. Vieux Bois’. But this instantly negates the history of European Comics and those from different continents. In Japan, for example, sequential images have been used for centuries to tell tales and pass on folklore, all heavily influenced by an 11th Century painter, Toba Sojo.
The problem of cementing a historical timeline depends entirely on your definition of what you are trying to tie down. The history of cinema also has a similar problem: what is your definition of cinema? Does it start with feature films or the projection of moving images? Is Louis Le Prince’s ‘Roundhay Garden Scene’ from 1888 the first ever movie? Clocking in at less than 3 seconds long, the oldest surviving film footage is enough for the Guinness Book of Records to record it as such. However, a movie should include such elements as character and plot, shouldn’t they?
The same arguments can be, and often are, raised when discussing comics. Comics must have a series of sequential images that tell a story, but this leaves out Abstract Comics that contain most of the other requirements to be a comic book. Comics must combine visual imagery with text. In response to that I would recommend The System by Peter Kuper, a wordless comic that exposes the underbelly of city living. The more you try to define what a Comic is, the more examples there are to disprove your definition.
The intention of this series of articles is to delve into what makes a Comic. Instead of trying to pinpoint a hard and fast definition of what a comic is or should be, I am hoping to produce a growing concept for modern comic book creators and readers to sample and digest. A move away from an obsession with attempting to map out a complex history and onto producing a manifesto, similar to an Art movement, which can inspire and influence people in their own work. Not everything that is included will necessarily ring true for everyone, and there may be omissions that others feel are important. Over the coming months, as I look at various aspects of the Comic, from concepts and inception to production and consumption, I am hoping to stimulate thought processes and create a dialogue about this medium that everybody reading this is passionate about.
The way forward may not always be linear, as time constraints and availability of resources will ultimately dictate what I can do, but I intend to give you something to think about in each post or a new insight into the production/history of this wonderful medium. By the end, whenever that maybe, I hope to have created a document expressing the malleable shape of what a Comic is and its place in modern society.
Where to Start
Earlier in the article I mentioned the concept of a Manifesto. The purpose of a manifesto is to declare and state a set of principles or aims by which something can be measured or held accountable. Often Art movements have such statements by which the artists in the group adhere to but on occasions, the principles are attributed to a particular movement during or even after the fact.
The idea of a manifesto is not new to the comic book world either. Publishers have set themselves objectives and styles of working, creating a ‘House Style’. This is usually to produce a consistency within their own publications but it illustrates the fact that people are thinking about Comics in a broad term not just a single issue or run.
When DC Comics hit upon a successful run of off-beat and non-superhero comics, they created an entire Imprint to put all the titles under: Vertigo. In 1993 Karen Berger, who was a former Art History student, headed up the new imprint that worked outside the Comics Code Authority allowing for adult themed stories and, more importantly, experimentation's with the format of the monthly comic. Just like any Art Movement, a new wave of artists and writers flooded the American Comic Book market, reinventing characters and expectations.
The Comic Code Authority itself was a form of manifesto, dictating what was and was not allowed in mainstream comics. However, this was counter productive as it limited Art and expression. Instead of encouraging the form and inviting experimentation, it sought to control and censor. I will come back to the CCA at a later date.
Outside of publishers and other companies, the creators themselves often create their own set of rules to follow. More often than not it’s related to their own work and the processes they follow but occasionally a person or group attempts to create an ideology for many to follow. As an example, the self published writer/artist Adam Lumb set up his own publishing imprint, Rich and Strange Press, and along with it a set of principles that the imprint would strive to achieve. The full outline can be found here and it is exciting to see that one of the principles is about pushing the potential of the medium. Whether it succeeds or not, we’ll have to wait and see but the fact these ideas exist is encouraging.
There are a number of new publishers beginning to challenge the established ranks of IDW, BOOM! Studios and, in intent at least, even Image Comics. There are companies like AWA Studios whose aims are geared towards the production of comics and support for the creators, retailers and promoters. Whereas AfterShock Comics are dedicated to ‘Shattering Expectations’ by telling ‘original, uniquely compelling stories’.
In order to produce something that is worthwhile, and takes into account the history and creativity of Comics across the entire field of publications, there has to be some initial guidelines, a foundation from which to build. The articles in this series will focus on one, or more, of the following three guiding principles:
Artistic and Literary merit
Ingenuity and Experimentation
From a critical point of view, it is my belief that these are the main factors required in discussing the importance and relevance of Comics today and from the past. I have no desire to dismiss comics that are created for ‘entertainment’ only just as I wouldn’t dismiss a Dan Brown novel from discussions about literature. However, to justify the existence of the medium, entertainment is not, and will never be, enough. For Comics to last and be remembered there must be an element of them that strive to be something more than disposable time fillers.
For every Michael Bay movie that is forgotten, the minute the next Michael Bay movie comes out there is a Stanley Kubrick work of Art that is watched and studied again and again. Comics as a medium needs those works of Art as much as any other medium. In order to find those there must be some definition, some guidelines, around what makes a comic a work of Art. That is my intention over the following months and beyond: to find and establish what turns a comic into a work of Art.
It’s still early in the new year but I’ve already done something I have never done before: Bought a Mystery Box from a Website.
Long story short, a conversation started over on Monkeysfightingrobots about Comic Box Subscriptions and as I undertook a little research one UK based site kept popping up, Comic-box.co.uk. It kept popping up on facebook and in the background of websites I was looking at, it was everywhere. So, I decided, for research, to order a box. I settled on a 1980-1990 mystery box for various reasons and waited for it to come.
The box cost £13.99, with £2.50 postage but I had a 10% first order discount so in the end it cost me just over £15 for 20 comics. Not a bad value. And if I’d been a fan of X-Men comics it would have been much better. How so? Well, let’s look at the contents:
Title Issue Year Pub. Writer Lead Artist
The Amazing Spider-Man 327 1989 David Michelinie Erik Larsen
Classic X-Men 24 1988 Chris Claremont John Byrne
Flash 17 1988 W Messner-Loebs Greg LaRocque
Manhunter 1 1984 Archie Goodwin Walter Simonson
Marvel Comics Presents 50 1990 Erik Larsen Eric Larsen
Marvel Fanfare 27 1986 Bill Mantlo Tony Salmons
Marvel Fanfare 33 1987 Chris Claremont June Brigman
Marvel Super-Heroes 3 1990 Various Various
Marvel Tales featuring 235 1990 Bill Mantlo Sal Buscema
(as above) 236 1990 Bill Mantlo Sal Buscema
Marvel Universe (Vol 2) 16-18 1987 Various Various
The New Mutants 43 1986 Chris Claremont Steve Purcell
The New Mutants 72 1989 Louise Simonson Bret Blevins
The New Mutants 74 1989 Louise Simonson Bret Blevins
The New Mutants 91 1990 Louise Simonson Rob Liefeld
Wolverine 3 1989 Chris Claremont John Buscema
X-Factor 28 1988 Louise Simonson Walter Simonson
X-Factor 35 1988 Louise Simonson Terry Shoemaker
That’s 20 comics.
18 Marvel, 2 DC.
12 featuring the X-Men (Marvel Fanfare 33 is X-Men based).
5 written by Louise Simonson, 4 written by Chris Claremont, and 3 by Bill Mantlo.
Walter Simonson is main artist on 2 titles but he also produced work for each of the titles with ‘Various’ against it, so that makes, I guess, 6.
1 Rob Liefeld comic is 1 too many for me.
The earliest comic is 1984’s Manhunter but this is a reproduction of Detective Comics from the 1970’s. After that we have 2 published in 1986, 4 each in 1987, 1988 and 1989, and 5 in 1990.
There are a number of Team covers, but only three covers feature a prominent female character. 1 of those is Manhunter, the other 2 are Marvel Fanfare #33 and The New Mutants #72. In both of those the character in question is being threatened in some way, one by strangulation the other by a force field.
And 13 came in those self-sealing bags with the sticky strip that sticks to everything when you are trying to put the comic back in. I have therefore re-bagged 10. Only 10? Yes, because the Marvel Universe ones aren’t worth me re-bagging.
All in all, it wasn’t the best result for me personally. If I’d been an X-Men fan, this would have been wonderful. I can’t complain about the X-Men bias although I did expect more of range, even if it was just a greater mix of DC and Marvel.
I would also have preferred more of a spread across the decade: it’s hard to call it a 1980-1990 Box when all but one of them were published from 1986 onwards. There really shouldn’t have been 5 from 1990, although 2 of these will make it into my collection because I collect Spiderman comics.
There was also one issue that wasn’t in great condition. The Marvel Super-Heroes Fall Special had a badly damaged cover with a number of creases, a folded corner and even a significant tear. I’m not sure that I would personally have included this in any bundle.
Having said that there is still enough in this bundle to keep me interested and I will place several titles happily into my collection. The Manhunter comic is especially interesting and I’m looking forward to reading it.
And I don’t have any of these comics already, so big bonus there.
Overall, I’d say the box was value for money as there are enough comics of worth to warrant the cost. However, a greater range would have improved the chances of there being more gems and at least given me more of a mixed reading experience.
I wasn’t sure what to expect and my excitement for the experience was probably worth the venture. I have some new comics for my collection, a few new reads, and a trip to the charity shop for the, unread, Marvel Universe comics.
I mean, who needs 3 issues of that?
What is a panel in a comic book? Or to be more precise, what is the purpose of a panel in a comic book?
The general consensus would be that it represents a moment of time within the sequence of a narrative, a snapshot of the action. When read in conjunction with the preceding panels and the panels that come after it, the single panel forms and informs the narrative.
This, however, is a very simplistic view of the panel and its function. For starters, the idea of a ‘snapshot’ belies the passage of time within the panel itself. It is true that the gutters, the space between the panels, is the leading generator of time shift in a comic strip, but the panel does not simply represent a single second of time: it is not like a still taken from a movie. The panel can, and in most cases does, contain a variable period of time which is dictated by the image and text combination.
You simply have to look at a page from Moore, Gibbons, and Higgins’ Watchmen to see this in action. Pick any page and it becomes obvious that each panel is not equal from a timing perspective. Within the nine panel grid that the creators adopted for the comic, a number of panels are merged to create emphasis on certain pages, even to the extent that a single image is used for a full page spread. However, even comparing panels of the same size it is obvious to see that they do not represent a single second of time, or even an equal amount of time. Some panels are text heavy creating a slower movement through the panel, while others lack text and even background detail, thus pushing the reader forward at greater speed.
It is surprising how much the background, or environment, featured in a panel can affect the reading of that panel by creating additional time as well as influencing the foreground narrative. In a large number of cases, the environment has this effect by creating additional false panels within the main panel, artificially elongating the period of time within that image.
To start with, let us look at the fifth page of issue 2 of Cry Havoc from Image Comics.
The first thing to note is how much work the text is doing in setting the scene. The language used within the speeches, and the emphasis that Simon Bowland gives to certain words and letters, makes it clear that the two characters are in the middle of an argument. Bowland takes this even further by using the speech balloons to act as a barrier between the two characters. In panel three, there is a clear separation between the lovers which would exist even if the speech balloons were empty. A thick, while line has been drawn down the centre of the panel.
This concept of the environment within the panel separating the two women, is followed through into the next panel. Panel four is the main focus of our attention here as it clearly uses the environment to inform the reader that these two characters are at loggerheads. The destruction of the flat creates a physical barrier between them and, combined with the edge of the wall at the back of the panel, it produces a split down the centre of the panel. This, in effect, creates two panels, lacking a recognisable gutter.
The result is twofold. Firstly, it makes a clear schism in the relationship. And secondly, it stretches the time within the panel. With the image bleeding to the edge of the page, the blunt separator down the centre of the panel breaks up the reading of the image, stopping the reader in the centre. It gives the impression of a large pause between the speech on the left and the reaction on the right.
Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba use this technique a lot in The Umbrella Academy.
In the first volume, Apocalypse Suite, Way brings back together the pupils of the Umbrella Academy after years of separation. Throughout the comic the back stories of the characters are revealed and their animosity towards each other is explained. However, the story is very fast paced, covering a lot of ground in 6 issues, if you have seen the Netflix TV series you’d be forgiven for thinking that the series covered many more of the comics.
One of the ways that the creators cover so much in such a short run is by using visual imagery to express character development and relationships. By far the most successful technique that Way and Ba use is to make the panels feel larger than they are and provide much more information than a simple snapshot of a moment.
A major theme of The Umbrella Academy’s first arc is character isolation. Number Five spends a large part of his time in the future, literally by himself, a circumstance that forms the backbone of his character. Way and Ba have a number of ways of depicting Number Five’s loneliness, including a mannequin which acts as a friend and a confidant, however they also have much subtler ways of illustrating the isolation between the characters.
On the second page of issue 2, for example, when Rumor returns to the mansion and meets Spaceboy for the first time in years there is a distance between them. A distance that is made wider by creating an obvious empty space between them. On the final panel of the page the speech balloons fill the top of the panel while the bottom is cluttered with the characters' legs and a suitcase creating a small, physical barrier between them. The gap from the top of the suitcase to the bottom of the speech balloons is dead space. It is empty. There isn't even any background details.
What there is, is the illusion of a break in the panel. An invisible line down between the two family members producing an uncomfortable, dramatic tension. This is a motif that flows throughout the comic and the arc as a whole. A number of panels have this artificial pause placed up on them due to a barrier inferred by the environment. It carries onto the third page of the second issue with the arrival of Seance and a wonderful example is from page 15 of issue 4.
Some members of the family have gathered together and there is real animosity between certain characters. In panel 2 the family unit are split down the middle thanks to the inclusion of a pillar. The thick, mostly black column acts in exactly the same way as a gutter between panels. The speech that Spaceboy makes is harsh and the unnatural pause produced by the fake gutter gives the speech extra weight. The insult is made and the reader is forced into a long pause before taking in the speaker and moving onto the next panel for the reaction.
Way wants you to concentrate on the speaker as much as what is spoken. The focal point is not Diego, who has been insulted, but Spaceboy and his reasons for speaking this way. The insult seems against character and the forced pause makes the reader question what is going on.
If you described the above examples as creating ‘soft’ panels within a structured panel, i.e. a border-less panel inside a bordered panel, then the only description for what Stan Lee and Marcus Martin do in the back up strip for The Amazing Spider-Man #636 is ‘hard’ panels.
The two page spread is broken down into three main panels with three inserts across the main panel. However, the main panel is itself broken down into a number of additional ‘panels’ using the architecture of Peter Parker’s apartment.
The first two panels are standard scene setting shots: the villains following Spider-Man in their helicopter followed by a long shot of Spider-man in the foreground, his pursuers in the background. These images are presented in a recognisable format with borders and gutters separating them.
The third panel however is something wonderful. It encapsulates an entire scene using the rooms of the apartment like panels. The walls become the borders and the space between the walls become the gutters. The action is played out using the speech balloons as guidelines, leading the reader from one picture of Peter Parker to the next. The inserts act as grounders for the narrative, making the transition from one part of the apartment to the next flow smoother. They also provide additional information in relation to the timing of the scene.
At no point does the reader question the number of times they see Peter in the apartment: the concept of the character moving from space to space is obvious and the walls create the panels needed to tell a coherent narrative. Peter moves through his lounge, gets changed in the bedroom, washes up in the bathroom, and finally gets to work on his machine in the kitchen. All of this is in one sweeping movement. It could be presented in separate panels, with the inserts slotted in between however this would alter the fluidity of the scene and make it pedestrian in nature. Presented as it is, the mundane actions of a man are elevated.
Martin has presented something eye catching that toys with the standard comic book format. By creating false panels, using the walls of the building, he is able to instruct the reader in the reading. We instantly accept that Peter is moving through the space and our interpretation of time is dictated to by the series of actions methodically undertaken. It is like a series of steps that we can follow all taking place in a confined space.
As a reader we are reminded of the greater world outside of the apartment but this itself reinforces the idea that the apartment is Peter’s world.
These examples of panel usage show how comics can comprise a complex structure fusing narrative and form. The manipulation of one can, and most often does, inform the other. The interpretations of intent and content opens up a whole world of critical theory and narrative dissection. One aspect that is raised here is, what is the function of the gutter and is it integral to the comic strip? The later example above adopts a form of border/gutter usage, although in a slightly different format, but the other two forego the formality to a certain degree, allowing the image to lead the story and dictate pacing. Panel layout and the importance of a gutter is, however, an entirely different and much larger discussion.
Each page of a comic, especially weekly American Comics, have the same field to play on. The dimensions are the same, with the same area on the page. However the creators can break up that field in a number of different ways to produce wildly different tones, concepts and narratives. Each panel is different and the manipulation of the images within the panels opens up a world of storytelling techniques and possibilities.
Cry Havoc. Published by Image comics, Writer: Simon Spurrier, Artist: Ryan Kelly, Inks: Barbara Guttman Letters: Simon Bowland, Colours: Nick Filardi, Lee Loughridge, and Matt Wilson.
The Umbrella Academy. Published by Dark Horse Comics. Writer: Gerard Way, Artist: Gabriel Ba, Colours: Dave Stewart, Letters: Nate Piekos.
Spider Sundays ( backup strip in The Amazing Spider-Man #636). Published by Marvel, Writer: Stan Lee. Artist: Marcus Martin, Colours: Munsta Vicente, Letters: Joe Caramagna
In just under two weeks time it’ll be that most special of days: the release of the final issue of East of West.
For six years now Jonathan Hickman, Nick Dragotta, Rus Wooton, and Frank Martin have been wooing the readers with their pre-apocalypse, Manga inspired tale of the End of the World. We’ve followed Death on his search for his son, watched the remaining three Horsemen as they’ve wreaked havoc across The World, marvelled at the backstabbing politicians from every nation, and basically been in awe of the majestic storytelling.
Before that final issue drops on 25th December (I’m not sure if my local comic shop will be open but breaking in on Christmas Day can’t be a crime, can it?) I thought I’d look back at some previous posts and reviews about East of West.
East of West #19
Balloon, Babylon’s technological teacher, has instigated some new programming and advanced the son of Death’s educational regime. This involves instigating situations where Babylon will be forced to kill for a number of different reasons. There are three lessons to learn; you have to kill to eat; you have to kill to survive; you have to kill to protect your future. Needless to say Babylon rises to the challenge and after a blip at the beginning he learns with incredible speed. Unfortunately the Squirrel and the wild hog family only learn one thing; how to die.
Babylon’s reaction to the situations which Balloon puts him in raises questions regarding the idea of Nature versus Nurture. To start with he is nervous and even unwilling to kill as if he has a sense that what he is being asked to do is wrong. However the underlying family instincts kick in and Babylon takes to killing in such a way to make his father proud.
There are two outstanding parts to this issue. Firstly, there is the deeply philosophical script by Jonathan Hickman. There are layers within layers to the seemingly simple narrative that is on show. Whatever level you read at, whether its surface or depth plunging, this issue will keep you occupied for a long time. I’m sure there will be dissertations written about this sometime soon.
Secondly, the artwork is superb and also as simple as the script. The two worlds of Balloon are expressed in such a simple format using a rose tinted colour wash for the world as portrayed to Babylon and a murky blue wash for the real world. I can’t say this enough: it’s so simple yet absolutely brilliantly realised.
With these long running monthly comics, especially ones written by Jonathan Hickman, it’s easy to just accept that they are good and take it for granted that they reach a high standard month on month. Sometimes it takes an extra special issue to remind us why we continue to keep these comics in our pull list and this month Jonathan Hickman, Nick Dragotta, Frank Martin, and Rus Wooton have done just that.
East of West #21
It starts with a juxtaposition of ‘Love’ and ‘War’ and shows how the manipulation of one can influence the other. Doma has become a pawn in the game between the Nations and despite her confidence it would appear that she is out of her depth and clueless to what is really going on.
The pre-credits sequence this month has an incessant tapping to accompany the secret dialogue and this is cleverly illustrated with broken text spread across each of the panels. The repeated tap, tap is like the ticking of a clock counting down, building the intensity within the scene. Sly looks between the characters and constant close ups help to build the suspense so that when things finally explode it’s almost a physical shock for the reader. This shock is then turned to horror at the grotesque panel that follows.
All of this is book-ended with the intimate relationship that Doma is in and the erotic lighting of these panels is a stark contrast to the greys of the drool meeting and the blood red images of death.
All of this makes the opening of this issue superb, proof that Hickman can still write a compelling comic. Unfortunately some of this is lost over the next few pages as another meeting, this time with a deep blue backdrop, unfolds rather like every other dull meeting of the Nations. This meeting is nothing more than set up for Narsimha to go walk about in the land of the Dead.
The final third of this issue recaptures the opening in style and pace and builds up to another act of violence. The design of the machines and the characters is wonderful and makes me wonder how much these guys have been influenced by the work of Frank Herbert? There is an element of Dune about the style and pacing of East of West and one that is enjoyable, if you like your sci-fi deeply political.
Hickman has been a bit hit and miss with some of his work in the last couple of years, leaving long gaps between issues been the greatest miss, but his standard of writing for East of West is always of a high quality. Whereas the Marvel event story Secret Wars is slowly drifting from its brilliant beginning into something less than farcical, East of West maintains, if not exceeds, the brilliance of its beginning. Even when dubious moments make their appearance, such as meeting number two in this issue, the art work lifts the quality of pages up. I have yet to see a bad panel by Nick Dragotta in this title.
The story marches ever on to War and the creators of this comic make sure that the reader’s journey is always worthwhile.
East of West #22
When a creator owned comic runs for long enough, especially when you have confident artists/writers working on it, it will eventually reach a ‘concept’ issue. Issue 22 of East of West is an example of such a comic.
In this issue silence is golden and, in the hands of Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta, ‘golden’ is definitely the word for it.
The simple story revolves around an assassination attempt on Mao Xiaolian. A group of armoured unknowns sneak into the citadel and murder their way to Mao’s inner chamber where they come face to face with Death’s Ex. All of this with no speech or sound of any kind.
Sometimes it can be difficult to review an ongoing comic; there’s only so many ways to say that the comic is good, or bad, especially if each issue is of the same standard as before. But of course there is always a way to make readers sit up and pay attention again; guest artists; out of arc standalone stories; crossovers; or, in Hickman/Dragotta’s case, produce a stunning work of art. There are illustrious depictions of stealth and speed, subtle moments of pause and one truly kick ass scene of uber violence.
Okay, the assassin’s find Mao in the bath, naked as the day she was born which could cause some worry but this situation isn’t dealt with coyly, there isn’t any school boy tittering to be heard over these pages. In fact her nakedness allows the character to move in ways that serve her situation, unlike the bulky, stealth costumes her assassins wear that ultimately hold back their abilities in such an uneven fight. The way that Dragotta handles this fight scene is magnificent and it has such a powerful energy to it.
The movements flow from one panel to the next forcing the reader to flip from page to page eager to battle through the bloodletting and get to a moment of calm. The silence deepens the trauma because there’s no distraction there; you are forced to witness the violence and desperation in the emptiness left by the lack of text.
The splash page of Mao at the end of her fight is haunting, soaked in red and black, but there is also an unquestionable beauty to the character that makes you understand why Death was attracted to her in the first place. Beneath the arm wrenching, disembowelling and blood splattering violence there is a subtle character dissection happening.Hickman is showing the reader exactly who Mao is and what you can expect from her. He is portraying her strength physically and emotionally. Mao is a force to be reckoned with so Gods help the Seven Nations.
This issue is an outstanding example of what you can do in the comic book medium. It will take your breath away. And speech or no speech, this issue screams out about the talent behind this comic
Page Transitions in issue 40 of East of West
A more exciting use of a page transition can be seen in issue 40 of East of West. Image Comics provides an advantage for its creators, like Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta, over the Big Two publishers because it gives them greater control over their comics. This works in Hickman and Dragotta’s favour because they design each issue of East of West from cover to cover, choosing the layout and content for every page.
The transition from page 14 to page 15 (Fig. 5) is especially interesting because, not only does it lead the reader from one page to another, it breaks the usual conventions of reading an American Comic book page. Page 14 reads like most of the other pages in the comic, starting with a widescreen panel and stepping down in a usual Z-path reading pattern but when you get to the bottom of the page, where the character Death ignites the engine blast, your vision is drawn uncontrollably directly to the right and then up, across the large panel on page 15 to the top of the page where you read the first panel on the page out of the usual order.
Dragotta and Martins image in that large panel is a direct line from the bottom right of the left page to the top right of the right page. The simple, arrow like image forces the reader to buck convention and read the page in reverse. The dialogue at the top of the right page links directly with the dialogue at the top of the left page and the entire double page spread acts like a circle leading the reader from the top of the left page, down and round back to the top. It is an extremely clever piece of art work and also has narrative merit as it portrays the strength of Death’s character. By manipulating the reader physically and subconsciously the creators are expressing Death’s strength of character and influence on the world around him.
A double page spread can be used for a number of different reasons, in a number of different ways. This East of West example demonstrates that two pages of well-designed layout can speak a lot to a particular character. When used wisely creators can use the two pages to reflect upon and even compare specific characters within their narrative.
The nights are drawing in, there are work and school parties every other night, and gruesome horror movies on the horizon..at least in my house. All of this can only mean one thing, the end of the year is fast approaching.
And as the end edges ever closer, it heralds in the End of the Year Best of Lists. I’ve already seen some, paving the way for the many others that are destined to follow. I personally have submitted some input for a Best of the Year list and a Best of the Decade article for Monleysfightingrobots so expect to see them appear soon.
As I’m not one to buck a trend (i.e. unoriginal and proud) I thought I’d chuck together a personal ‘best of the year’ list. There’s plenty of time to pick up Christmas presents so maybe try to source some of these beauties for your comic-book loved ones, or even yourself.
Daniel Warren Johnson’s excellent Metal Music infused emotional drama is over the top and rooted to the ground in equal measures. It’s surprisingly moving and will make you cry just as much as it makes you punch the air in excitement. What’s it about? Just read it, because it’s difficult to explain in a quick paragraph like this, however, Murder Falcon does not disappoint.
It’s been a while since I read any X-Men comics and, to be fair, I don’t really buy Marvel comics at all but one thing attracted me to this: Jonathan Hickman. I love Hickman’s work so I thought I’d give House of X and Powers of X a go. And, boy, has it been an impressive journey. The depth of world building and expansive character arcs pull you in and envelope completely. The 12 issue run is just the beginning but it is well worth investing your time. The only drawback is that it will lead to a whole series of X-Men books that you’ll find yourself not wanting to miss.
Sandman Presents: Hellblazer
There has only been one issue and a Special so far this year but Simon Spurrier GETS Constantine. The character is perfect and the stories are a meld of horror and dark humour. This series is a call back to the original Vertigo titles as it has the same themes and tone. And after the excellent start with Aaron Campbell, Jordie Bellaire and Aditya Bidikar on art duties, Hellblazer is going to be hot stuff next year.
Aftershocks Comics have been on a roll this year with some outstanding titles. Stronghold is one of, not only their best, but the best superhero based comics released this year. The first issue made a massive impact on me and I likened it’s intentions to those of Watchmen. Phil Hester and Ryan Kelly break down the Superhero Origin story and use it to comment on modern sensibilities. The Artwork is especially strong, with colors from Dee Cunniffe who has been producing excellent work this year, and Simon Bowland’s letters finished off the comic perfectly. The series finished too soon for my liking but while it was around, I loved every moment of it.
I’m not sure if it was just me and the comics I was drawn to this year, but I’ve read a lot of philosophical themed comics of late. Coffin Bound questioned the very nature of existence and what it means to be a part of the World. Partial horror, partial existential crisis, Dan Watter’s Coffin Bound blew my mind. The art work by Dani suited the nature of the tale and Aditya Bidikar’s letter was especially impressive. Not often an easy read, the final issue dropped on a rough week for me which gave me a slightly different insight into the series than I had up to that point, but it was intensively thought provoking and addictive throughout.
East of West
This series has been running since 2013 and still impresses me with each issue. Hickman and Dragotta’s series should come to an end before the year is out which is bitter sweet. I love the series and can't wait to see what Hickman has planned for that final issue but a part of me just wants it to keep going. A re-read of the entire series is in order in December and I feel I may write more about it very soon.
The first of a three arc series, Faithless from BOOM! Studios introduced me to the exceptional Maria Llovet. Her artwork is lryical, graceful, erotic and beautiful. The panels dance across the page with delicate yet self assured images filling the white space. Llovet’s work is dream like in presentation and fits the story that Brian Azzarello created perfectly. It’s a match made in heaven..or hell!
Another Aftershock title, this time a crime story set in the 1970’s. Ollie Masters is no stranger to gritty crime stories and Killer Groove is a prime example of his writing talent. The story is full of twists and turns with more than one truly shocking moment. Eoin Marron has a lyrical art style which captures the nostalgic element of the story but his layouts and compositions often hint at the darker underbelly of the story. Killer Groove looks like a 1970’s crime movie and is another title that finished too soon. However, there is a possibility for more in the future...
Machine Gun Wizards
Formally Tommy Gun Wizards, I left this comic until last for a reason. Out of everything I have read this year, one creative’s name has impressed me more than most. From his stylistic Superhero covers, to his bombastic, out of this world interiors in Invisible Kingdom, and on through his writing in Machine Gun Wizards, Christian Ward has never failed to impress.
Machine Gun Wizards does feature some of Ward’s artwork but most of it is provided by Sami Kivela and Dee Cunniffe with Hassan Otsmane- Elhaou on lettering duties. The story is a historic, fantasy, science-fiction epic about gangsters, illegal magic and the very famous Eliott Ness. The world Ward has created is too big for this mini-series as it extends across history and far flung universities. The cast is spectacular, with some wonderfully expressive names, and there are a number of clear character arcs. There are moments of sheer breathtaking beauty mixed with urban crime scenes, and wonders I can’t describe. In short, I couldn’t say enough good things about this comic.
This year has been a mammoth year for good comics. Each month a number of publishers have put out outstanding titles, making it difficult to produce a best of list. There are so many good titles missed off this list, such as Vault Comic’s Test or Image Comics’ Pretty Deadly, but to name all of the worthwhile reads would become a phone directory sized document; it would be easier to reprint each month’s Previews magazine.
2019 has been a stellar year for good quality comics and leads us on a high into the next decade. Here’s hoping that the comic industry is able to do the creative talent justice and that ‘comics’ continue to go from strength to strength.
Hang on a minute..only 9! That's an odd number. Well, it's hard work thinking about my favourite comics, so what you have as a tenth choice?
I had a moral dilemma this week when contemplating a submission for a ‘best comic of the last decade’ article.
It may not seem like the kind of subject that would be fraught with dilemma’s, other then trying to choose from the well of excellence on offer, however, I had to put pause to my initial gut instinct and consider much more carefully.
The emerging dilemma boils down to authorship and the connection between the Art and the Artist. Over the years I have encountered the issue of separating the Creator from the Creation often. While studying Visual Art it was a central theme that we returned to time and time again, especially during critical theory and Art History. Roland Barthes wrote an essay in which he discusses ‘The Death of the Author’ and puts forward the hypothesis that the true author of a piece of Artwork is the Audience. Herbert Read, a critic I studied during my University years, also followed the European Idealist traditions that the mind is not created by what it sees but gives meaning to, and therefore creates, the reality around it.
In essence, once the artwork has been let loose on the world, it’s importance, significance, and ultimately it’s worth, is entirely at the judgement of the audience. Obvious forms and creative structures can be discussed to argue why one piece of work is better than another, but a lot of this will come down society, culture and time in which the work of Art is being examined. Some work transcends these three things and continue to be hailed as excellent examples of their medium: for comics think Watchmen, or Maus.
But what does this have to do with having a moral dilemma, and how does it relate to picking the comic of the decade? Well, to reach that point we have to discuss something that is very significant at the moment. To remove the Author from the work and allow the audience to decide what the work is about and it’s importance is one thing but what if the ‘author’ in question lends something to the work other than what is, for the sake of this discussion, published? What if the personality of the creator overshadows the work, whether directly or indirectly?
In the late 19th Century Oscar Wilde fell from grace when a series of trials resulted in his imprisonment for, essentially, being gay. A number of his works were lambasted at the time because of the homosexual undertones. Later in the 20th Century, D. H. Lawrence saw one of his novels, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, banned for being obscene even though it was merely an expression of the writers experiences with those that he loved and cared for. In both cases it was the actions and beliefs of the creators that caused the controversy, with their works becoming victims. The Picture of Dorian Gray was treated harshly by the critics and reviewers, not because of the novel itself but because of its creator.
From our standpoint in time, we can judge the historical critic’s harshly for their biased and influenced opinions. These days one would hope that the personal beliefs of the creators do not impede judgement of their work. But what if their actions were unsavoury, or even criminal? Is it acceptable to dismiss a creator and their misdeeds and simply enjoy the artwork?
Recently a number of big celebrities have been making waves because of their, for the want of a better phrase, bad behaviour and in some cases it has proven criminal. Actors, such as Kevin Spacey, have seen their careers crumble because of accusations and court cases surrounding sexual abuse and assault. In the comic world Roc Upchurch, artist on the highly praised and successful Rat Queens comic, was arrested for battery against his wife. This led him to be removed from the comic but also had a knock on effect with the comic itself. By association, and a few misguided decisions later down the line, Rat Queens lost its charm and fell out of favour. The comic’s success was ultimately judged by the audience based on the actions of the artist.
The reactions to Rat Queens and The Picture of Dorian Gray are very similar: at one time the merit of the work is overshadowed by the creator. For Oscar Wilde, it was on release that his work was deemed unworthy, for Rat Queens it was after the fact. Personality aside, did the artwork change overtime? Did Dorian Gray become a better book? Is Rat Queens not actually that good? The structures that were in place for measuring their artistic worth, especially in the case of Rat Queens, hasn’t changed but the impression of the artwork has. It would seem to be contradictory to Barthes theory: in the modern world, the author is not ‘dead’ and their works are held accountable for their actions. It is not a simple act to separate the Creator from the Creation.
And that leads us into the dilemma at hand. When presented with the question of which is the best comic (or comic run) of the last decade it seemed like a daunting problem but one title pushed its way forward. The Massive is a comic series that I love, I enjoyed every issue and was impressed by the collective talents who worked on it. The art work and outstanding storytelling flowed from issue to issue like a well oiled machine. I therefore started to write my submission based on this comic.
There was a nagging in the back of my mind, however. A small bit of doubt which had nothing to do with the comic itself but with the writer Brian Wood. Wood has written a number of comics that I have enjoyed over the years, in fact I have favourably reviewed his recent Aliens run from Dark Horse Comics. Wood has also been the centre of a number of controversies in the last decade. He has been accused by two separate people, on two separate occasions, of abusing his position within the comic industry and of sexual harassment.
Although no formal charges have been brought against Wood, the latest accusation was enough for Dark Horse to cancel his upcoming work, deciding that they no-longer wished to work with the writer. In such instances as this, the audience is faced with a choice of their own. With comics it can become difficult because, as in this case, the writer is only one part of the creative team. It is easy to decide not to buy any future work with that person’s name on it but what about past work? The quality of the entire run of The Massive hasn’t changed just because my opinion of the writer may have. Part of me does not want to promote future sales of the comic despite the other amazing talent that has worked on it. My admiration for The Massive hasn’t abated but my desire to support the writer has. In such cases should the audience separate the Creator from the Creation? Is that even possible in the 21st Century where the creators are so public, promoting themselves and their work?
Maybe this is a change that has happened over time; as an audience we can still see the merit in pieces of work and don’t feel the need to attack the Art itself to punish the creator. Our real power, as audience authors, is to step away and find alternative work that achieves the same goals without the questionable, albeit unrelated, personality behind it. Positive images from writers and artists will sell their work. And the audience isn’t looking for Saints, just honest, fair, passionate people.
The days of the Creator being a distance, unseen figure are long gone for most branches of the Arts. Writers and Artists in every field now have a presence in the world that the audience can interact with. Art works these days have traceable links to their creator and breaking those links is becoming ever harder. The worth of a work of Art has guidelines and structures but whether we chose to even hold a work up for appreciation is in the hands of the audience.
I love The Massive and I will continue to enjoy it in private but if anyone asks for recommendations, I will find something else to pass on. The comic industry is teaming with amazing talent, all working hard to produce some of the best comics created, not only this year but ones that can stand with the ‘classics’. Everyone has to make their own judgement on who to support and who not to. I will promote creators and comics that I believe in and admire.
And now, I have to rethink my 'comic series of the decade’ submission. It may take some time.
Last weekend was the outstanding Thought Bubble Comic Festival held this year in the North Yorkshire Spa town, Harrogate. There is a special way to pronounce the town name and, despite growing up not that far away, I never get it right. Luckily, this is typed out and you can say Harrogate any way you want to in your head.
For those of you who don’t know, Thought Bubble is probably the best Comic Convention in the UK. It’s devotion to sequential art and all of those lovely creators who work hard all year round, is obvious from the moment you step into the convention centre. Everywhere you look are artists eager to talk about their work and there’s none of that Media Convention baggage which tends to overshadow the comics guests. Thought Bubble is a convention for comics creators and comics fans.
I love it.
I’ve forgotten how many years I’ve been attending but every year I enjoy it as if it’s my first. And this year was no different: I caught up with some friends; made some new friends; bought some goodies; and met some amazingly talented people.
I’ll start in the middle with my highlights from the weekend, with the Mid Con party. Every time I’ve been to one of these I make the same mistake, I turn up fairly early. The start of these parties are always bewildering but as the wine starts to flow, the lights go down and the music starts to play, a good time is had by all (or at least most). This year I spent a lot of time talking to Matt Wilson about his work and avoidance of dancing.
I only managed to attend one panel, although there were four that I had my eye one. The one that made it was the first panel on Saturday, which is why I remembered when it started, unlike all of the others… The Strip Panel Naked Panel, hosted by the always humble Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, featured Dave Gibbons, Mariko Tamaki, Daniel Warren Johnson and Matt Wilson, each talking about their approach to creating their work. It was interesting to hear the different approaches that they all take in creating comics. Especially Daniel Warren Johnson who adopts the ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ approach.
The biggest thing I took away from the panel is that, when it comes to the speech in a comic, less is more. Both Tamaki and Gibbons both liked to cut the talk in their comics down to a minimum, with Warren Johnson using the same tactic for his scripts as a whole: the benefits of doing your own artwork.
Later in the day I spoke to Daniel Warren Johnson some more, especially about Murder Falcon which is a spectacular comic, 50% outlandish, 50% heartbreak. I was impressed by the comic and impressed by the writer/artist. I even managed to get my hands on a copy of his Old Man Skywalker mini-comic. It looks stunning.
I met a number of artists/writers over the weekend (more on them in a minute) and it would be an ideal opportunity to network and try to get interviews, statements, etc, however, Thought Bubble is one of my greatest joys and I don’t want to turn it into work. I meet the creators I want to meet as a fan, and often mumble my way through conversations because of the awe I have for these people. I’m allowed to be a small child meeting my heroes and don’t want to lose that by making it a 'job opportunity'. So the people I spoke to, the people I met, I met as a fan.
People like Christian Ward, whose artwork is mind blowing, even more so in print format (which is why I have two). He was having a troublesome start on Saturday because of queues from a table next to him but the staff were on hand to sort it out and it didn’t stop us from having a natter. He is another creator who has made a lasting, positive impression on me. Check out his website to see the amazing work that he is doing.
Another Artist worth checking out is co-creator of Killer Groove Eoin Marron. While doodling on my issue one of Killer Groove, I looked through his original art and discussed some of the more poignant moments of the comic. Such as the split in the road that Jonny drives towards in the final issue and does Jackie dispose of the master tapes at the end? I also found out that he would love to do follow up stories based on the characters but it would most likely be under a different title. Whatever he does next, I look forward to seeing more of Eoin’s artwork.
I bought a tea towel.
What else does one buy from a comic convention? I will in fact admit to going with the intention of buying a tea towel. I found out that at last years Thought Bubble, Alison Sampson had a specially printed tea towel based on one of her comics. As I missed out last year, I bee-lined for Alison’s table to see what she had chosen for this years design. And I love it. It’s based on a cover for the exceptional Winnebago Graveyard, one of my favourite comics for a few years ago. We also had a chat about favourite panels, apparently WG seems to have that effect on people as Alison told me a number of people have a favourite panel from that comic. See Alison’s artwork in the current Hit Girl comic or on her website.
Over the course of the weekend I met a large number of people, some all too briefly while I managed a short chat with a number of others. As always I tracked down Paul Cornell to ask about more Saucer State comics and congratulate him on the wonderful Podcast Hammer House of Podcast, unfortunately Lizbeth Myles had just popped away and everytime I passed the table she wasn’t there so I didn’t get to say nice things to her about her work. So, if she sees this, I love the podcast and the banter between you and Paul is delightful to listen to. Several of the films that they talk about I’ve never seen but they’ve convinced me that I need to see them.
I can’t possible mention everyone I met, but I can’t not mention Alan Martin. Creator of Tank Girl, a character that still makes me laugh out loud. It was the first time I’ve met him despite reading his comics for the last 30 years so it was a definite pleasure, even if it was only for a few brief moments.
Other worthy mentions:
Russell Mark Olson. I picked up Gateway City Volume 1 which Dick Tracy mystery crossed with a secret Alien Invasion. Great artwork with a spiralling narrative packed with adventure and action.
Kristyna Baczynski. I love her work, it’s emotional, personal, and always a lot of fun. Her mini-comics will take you on wonderful journeys across beautifully rendered landscapes. Every aspect of her work is lovingly designed and produced: reading it is like snuggling up in front of a warm fire on a winters evening.
Jonathan Burton. Currently working in France, Jonathan produces artwork for special illustrated prints of novels such as Game of Thrones and The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy. His art style is very fitting for fantasy but it was his quaint movie poster for Withnail and I that really caught my eye.
Mr Hope. Cute caricatures of famous geeky characters and endearing new creations greet you at Mr Hope’s table. He manages to get a twinkly bit of magic into everything he draws. I’ve known him for a few years now and am always impressed by his new drawings/products. This year he told me about an exciting project he’s worked on...but I’m not sure if I can say any more yet..
Finally, the wonderful creators from the Family Store based in Brighton. They stock a massive range of stuff from T-Shirts to enamel pins to comics and Zines. They have a selection of artists producing work for them so there is plenty for you to choose from, although to be honest it is difficult to choose between everything they have on offer.
This year, Thought Bubble was in a new venue but it was still Thought Bubble through and through. In fact, it took to Harrogate (however you say it) like a fish to water and was one of the best weekends in it’s 12 year history.
Roll on 2020!
Panel layout is a vital part of comic book storytelling. Often overlooked and sometimes simply accepted as a necessary part of producing a comic, the layout is the structure on which the comic page is overlaid. It is the foundation of the comic and without it the intentions of the writer, artist, colourist, and letter, will falter and be lost.
There are a number of different approaches to panel layout. These will be affected by a number of things, not inclusive to genre, publisher, visual intention. The purpose of the layout and its importance to the overall storytelling process has to be decided from the beginning. Once that decision is made, the layout then has to conform to the original principal or lose integrity as the story progresses.
Obviously comics like Watchmen have famously adopted a style that has been much discussed. The use of the recurring 9 panel grid throughout the comic forms the foundation of the story and the patterns that are created from this highlight elements of the narrative.
In the 1990’s DC’s Death of Superman story line adopted a similar formalised structure to build up to the final confrontation between Superman and Doomsday. Each leading issue was based around a set number of panels per page with the number decreasing by one each issue until the final part of the story which was presented in a series of single page spreads.
Other comics, or comic strips in particular, are restricted by panel layout, having limited space to start with. Comic strips such as Dick Tracy or Peanuts have a single row to play with, limiting the potential layout. This however does not limit their storytelling ability. If you have a set panel structure, altering it slightly has a great effect on the narrative and the reader.
One artist who understands the importance of Panel Layouts is Christian Ward and his work on Invisible Kingdom is a prime example of exactly how the panels can improve and affect the storytelling of a comic.
Standard practice is to use panels as a way of expressing moments of time within a narrative. The length of these moments is often dictated by the images within the panels in conjunction with those that came before and those that come after. The panel itself is just a border, surrounded by a gutter, marking the moment like the hand on a clock marks time. A series of square or rectangle boxes marking the tick tock of a comic’s narrative.
This approach is adopted in large by Ward for Invisible Kingdom, especially in the earlier issues, however he is also doing something else within the comic. It’s noticeable in Invisible Kingdom because of the nature of the panel in the first place. The standard panel, square/rectangle box, is marked out with such a heavy, thick black line. The artwork within the panel is fluid and organic but this is restricted, contained even, within these definitive black lines. Ward’s artwork represents a rich and expanding universe, packed with endless possibilities. He then forces the reader to focus specifically on one moment or sequence of moments by trapping it inside this box.
Ward then breaks this box. He stretches this box. Twists it and subverts it, almost as if the world is too big to be contained. Elements of the image escape from the panel, breaking the border and passing into the gutter. Sometimes the gutters themselves disappear as a sequence of events is over laid to reflect the chaotic or immediacy of the moment.
Some of the panels become extensions of the scenery or costumes of the characters prominent within them. It is as if the comic is organically finding ways to represent the narrative, searching for a shape that fits. This is a major theme of Invisible Kingdom, with several of the central cast misfits in their surroundings. The panels and their positioning/interaction on the page is a direct reflection of the main characters psychological states at that time.
As the series progresses, Ward pushes the panel layouts even further to make them an integral part of the storytelling. In the most reason issue, there are several pages where the panel layouts accentuate the action and even highlight a subtext that the writer, G. Willow Wilson, has included.
During one action packed sequence, the space vessel Sundog is attacked by a larger, more ferocious ship. The Sundog and her crew are buffeted as the might of the enemy is made known. At one point the attack is so violent that, not only is Vess through across an observation room, the very layout of the page is knocked off kilter. The standard, stacked rectangle panels are leaning, almost as it they are toppling over after the violence of the attack. The images give the reader enough information to understand that the ship has physically been affected by the attack but the panel placements relay the extent and the force of the attack.
In an earlier scene, the Sundog comes across a junkyard in space. The visuals show the space ship as it enters a spiral of debris, which in turn becomes discarded Lux waste. From the images it appears to be a river of plastic bottles polluting space. The image itself is fairly poignant , but just in case the reader misses it, the panels form the shape of a giant exclamation mark! The stacked panels help to illustrate the passage of the Sundog through the pollution, acting as per a standard panel layout however the overall page layout subconsciously emphasises the point the page is making.
To get the best out of the medium, the title has to embrace the whole comic; from cover to cover, page to page. This includes concentrating on script, art, colours, lettering, design. The best comics embrace every aspect of the medium, such as Image Comics’ East of West which is finely constructed in every detail. To a large extent the same can be said of Invisible Kingdom. The narrative and art embrace the adventurous nature of space operas and Christian Ward extends that playfulness to the layouts of each page, using the positioning of the panels as an extension of the narrative structure.
"And summon The Black Coats."
(From Tommy Gun Wizards #3 written by Christian Ward)
A couple of quick links this week to my reviews.
Firstly, Horde from AfterShock Comics. A one and done horror comic that starts off extremely well but is swallowed up by fancy demons and the need to create a grand spectacle. Kind of like The House on Haunted Hill TV series. The range of horror influences is obvious and it will keep most people entertained to the end, just doesn't quite land the finale.
I reviewed a Marvel comic this week. A 'superhero' one at that. Shh, don't tell anyone! I'm enjoying Jonathan Hickman's X-Men revival and the first off shoot, Marauders, marks it's own territory fairly quickly. With a cast list including some of my favourite X-Men characters, this was kind of a must read for me but I also think it's a damn good comic. I'm not sure how many of the other titles I will read, but Marauders is staying on my list.
Final review of the week (technically, my first review of the week) was the outstanding Tommy Gun Wizards #3. I love this comic and all those who have created it. Every aspect of it is pure enjoyment: a mesmerising, yet outlandish, story; spectacular art; mood enhancing colours; fun, inventive, lettering. I say good things about all of it and well deserved my praise is. This year has been flooded with great comics, but TGW is easily one of my favourites.
(note the final issue will be published under the title Machine Gun Wizards, not sure why but you don't want to miss out)
The new issue of Angel is out as well this week. I was worried after the first issue of Hellmouth that the tie-in stories would also loose some of the brilliance of previous issues but Angel is still going strong. A tie-in in reference only, the latest issue of Angel focuses on Fred and Gunn, hunting down wayward vampire Spike in a high class nightclub. Action and character development galore.
I've also found a new comic related blog to follow this week. I've only read a couple of entries but so far I am liking the style and the choice of collections for review. It's called The Literary Comic and can be found via the link. Not that I want you all to leave but it's good to share.
Finally for this week, something a bit different.
I don't normally share preview stuff, veering more towards comics I've actually read and enjoyed, but anyone who has read my reviews for Faithless will know, I love Maria Llovet's art work.
Her art style is fashion influenced and would definitely be described as European (living and working in Barcelona would probably effect that). She has a fluid approach to composition and creates emotional characters out of the simplest of inked lines. Faithless was visually seductive and this appears to be the case with her new title Heartbeat due to be released from BOOM! Studios in November.
It's not too late to order a copy of issue 1 and based on the preview provided by BOOM! (below) it looks like another title not to be missed.
"How can there be despair when everything we ever knew and ever loved is right here with us?"
(From Trees: Three Fates #2 written by Warren Ellis)
I seem to be reading a number of comics at the moment that have a strong philosophical bent. I love a bit of introspection and cosmic existentialism. Maybe it's an age thing, or maybe I just notice it a lot more theses days. Anyway, I'll come back to Trees:Three Fates from Image Comics.
There are a lot of good comics out this week. And by 'good', I mean outstanding. A number I had a hunch about before picking them up but there have been a couple of surprises. However, before I start on this weeks stack, I picked up a late copy of The Batman's Grave, written by Warren Ellis, pencils by Bryan Hitch, Inks Kevin Nowlan, colours Alex Sinclair, and letters by Richard Starkings.
I've not read a Batman comic in a number of years, not since dropping Scott Snyder's New 52 run after about 12 issues. I only picked this title up because of my love of Warren Ellis' other work.
This is is a great little comic. It is a character driven, exploration of Batman and his obsession with crime. There are a number of enticing scenes and Ellis seems to have a deep understanding of Bruce Wayne. The fact Batman puts himself inside the victim and not the criminal is a wonderful touch. It humanises him and creates empathy for the character.
The artwork is equally expressive, capturing the energy of Batman but at the same time keeping the action realistic. It reminds me of the early Legends of the Dark Knight series that began in 1989 as a reaction to the Tim Burton movie. The concentration on realism and character makes it much more fascinating to me than a lot of Superhero comics.
There is a review of the first issue on MonkeyFightingRobots here.. (not written by me).
Next up, and the first surprise of the week, is Dark Horse Comics new The Mask comic, I Pledge Allegiance to the Mask.
Surprisingly poignant, often funny, and definitely as violent as the original Mask comics, it's a blast from the past with a modern twist. I thought it would be a read and throw away comic but it's probably a keeper.
Patric Reynolds' artwork is as gritty as Christopher Cantwell's script. It's disturbing on a number of levels but strangely entertaining. I would recommend this to a number of people but if you're not a fan of the mindless violence scene, maybe give this a wide birth. If your knowledge of The Mask is solely based on the movies, this might come as a bit of a shock.
Quickly onto the next..the surefire hit that is X-Men # 1. If the creators don't sell this to you (Jonathan Hickman, Leinil Francis Yu) then the fact that it's the dawn of a new mutant age should. Hickman has already made massive waves with his HoX/PoX 12 issue run so the start of the monthly tsunami of X-Titles must be something to, at the very least, be intrigued by.
And X-Men #1 is a great introduction to the new X-World order. It mostly revolves around Scott Summers and his place in the grand scheme of things, but you can see the ground being laid for future events. Knowing Hickman, his entire run is probably hinted at somewhere in this single issue, we'll just have to wait and see what the clever little tyke has planned.
There are many, many X-Men comics coming out, and to be honest I won't be reading them all. My bank account can't take the hit. However, I am looking forward to the Marauders which is out next week. I just love Kitty Pryde, and Gerry Duggan.
But mostly Kitty Pryde.
The final issue of Killer Groove can out from AfterShock Comics this week. It has been an amazing series. It has been nice just to read a bit of noir action that hasn't resorted to supernaturalism, or sci-fi shenanigans, not that I have a problem with that but I do like the occasional, pure thriller. Killer Groove has been that and more. The artwork by Eoin Marron is emotionally captivating and brings the characters to life is a real and engaging manner.
The ending is bitter sweet; smartly written with a satisfying finale. You can read my full review of the issue here, if you haven't managed to pick this title up, watch out for the trade.
Some comics I like to keep for myself, choosing not to review them because I don't want to think of them as 'work'. East of West is one such title and Trees is another. I mentioned Trees: Three Fates at the beginning and said I would come back to it.
This is me coming back to it.
I love it, go buy it. Together Warren Ellis and Jason Howard create comic book magic. And that's all I have to say on the matter.
Finally for this week, another surprise for me.
I feel a little confession is in order first, I'm not a fan of Kick Ass. The first mini-series was okay but I didn't really like the film. I found it problematic (I watched it last weekend again and didn't hate it as much, I just have a general disinterest in it now). I turned the second film off so can't comment on that, except to say I detested the beginning. I also gave up on the comics in pretty much the same manner, so I haven't read Kick Ass 2, the further adventure of Kick Ass, Kick Ass the Next Generation, Hit Girl: The Spin Off, and Hit Girl Keeps On Hitting..or what ever the titles are (some of those sound like they should be Tank Girl comics).
So, to get to the point, I only picked up Hit Girl #9 because I have always been a fan of Peter Milligan, ever since I first encountered his writing in Revolver Comics back in the early 1990's, and I adored Alison Sampson's Winnebago Graveyard.
To my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed this comic. It has the quirky story that I associate with Milligan melded the horror inspired art style of Sampson. Somehow it work's to produce an enthralling, often disturbing, engaging comic that is suited to it's location. It manipulates the reader's expectations and makes you fell uncomfortable while reading it.
Yes, it has Hit Girl in it and, I suppose, it is a Hit Girl comic but it's not what I expected. It is so different in style and motivation to what I thought it would be, and so far removed from the Kick Ass comics I gave up. Hit Girl #9, India part 1, is a triumph and has me hooked.
Life long comic book reader, collector, and reviewer.