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.
Getting ahead of the game today as I have a lot to share.
It's a New Comic Book Day tomorrow but before I get to comic reviews last weekend saw the New York Comic Convention take place! Thanks to SYFY Wire streaming, I was able to watch a number of the panels live and see some great comics people get interviewed.
The panels were mostly TV related, but very exciting TV! Star Trek: Discovery and Picard cast member's giving away a few details and releasing brand new trailers. Picard is out in January next year with Discovery following shortly after . Excited? Hell, yeah! Discovery has just grown in leaps and bounds. The ending of series 2 was a jaw dropper and the prospects for series 3 are infinite.
That wasn't the only exciting sci-fi series with New York presence, Lost In Space series 2 has finally got a trailer and release Date. Christmas is going to be fun for me and the kids this year. We loved series 1 and can't wait for series 2.
It's been 20 years since Angel first aired, so watching the cast get back together for a Q&A was fun. I love Angel (more than Buffy) and this just reminded me why.
Away from the TV shows, I was able to watch interviews with Chris Claremont, Jason Aaron, Joe Hill, and even a live draw with Bill Sienkiewicz, although not much drawing actually got done. The guy loves to chat, and I loved the chance to listen to him.
It's rare I get to see stuff like this, so being able to watch it at home, in my kitchen, drinking coffee and eating crisps, was a great way to spend a weekend.
Okay, so this weeks comics. There are a lot of good titles out this week. A LOT.
Image Comics have the start of the end of East of West. I have not read this yet but I am looking forward to this quite a bit. I have loved the series, it is easily one of my favourite comic runs of recent years, and I can't wait to see how Hickman, Dragotta, and Martin tie everything up.
Also from Image is Coffin Bound #3. A brilliant, but must be said, disturbing, psychological comic which I describe as Tank Girl with a death wish. I review the issue here, and it is one of my favourite releases this week.
I also review Shoplifters Will Be Liquidated #1, a new title from AfterShock Comics. A strong start to a series with a few things to say about consumerism. The central characters aren't particularly endearing which could be a turn off but it's worth checking out.
BOOM! Studios has been building towards their first Buffyverse crossover and Hellmouth #1 is out this week. Buffy started of as one of the best comics of the year and Angel has had an equally as good start. Unfortunately, the crossover does not have the best of starts. It is a disappointment coming after the parent titles and left me a little non-plussed. For my full take check out MonkeysFightingRobots here.
Other titles hitting the shelves and picking up:
Doctor Doom #1 and Powers of X #6 from Marvel
Postal Deliverance #4 from Top Cow
Supergirl #35 from DC (review will be up at MonkeysFightingRobots.co tomorrow)
and finally, Pretty Deadly:The Rat #2 (cover below) from Image Comics. Visually spectacular, this title is fighting for comic of the year.
Before I go, still comics related, BBC Radio 6 are in the middle of a special season of their Paperback Writers series which a current Graphic Novel theme. Basically, they have a number of comic book writers host an radio episode for an hour or two, playing their favourite, inspirational music and chatting. So far I have listened to Alan Moore, whose episode was produced more like an interview, and Neil Gaiman. Coming up are Hannah Berry, current comics laureate, and Warren Ellis, comic book genius.
The episodes can be found here... some great music and fascinating chat. Go listen to comics people while reading comics.
I finally picked up my comics from the shop. Three weeks since I was last there so I had quite a stack. Luckily for me today has been rain free so I could read and walk.
There are a number of titles I'm waiting to get my teeth into. Not least among them is the latest Criminal from Brubaker and Phillips. I'm really enjoying the current run, it has a really engrossing, noir feel to it.
Also in my stack is the new Dark Crystal title that ties in with the Netflix series I have been meaning to watch. I loved the first episode but haven't got around to watching the rest yet. Guess now I have the comic to urge me on.
There are also the building mountain of X-Men comics. I have three House/Powers Of to catch up on. But I'm looking for to indulging in a quite hour or two of reading, especially as I also have Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz's The New Mutants: War Children to feed my X-Men craving. Check out the cover below, I mean, why wouldn't you want this comic?
Despite the pile of comics I have to read, my number of reviews this week have been minimal.
There was an okay-ish comic from Berger books, Ruby Falls (review here). It has potential but just didn't get me enthralled enough.
Dead Eyes #1 on the other hand...Although a re-branding of Dead Rabbit from last year, this Image comic was a whole lot of fun, while still getting a serious message across. Gerry Duggan, John McCrea, Mike Spicer and Jo Sabino have done a great job with this comic, and an even better job of sticking with it to get it released. I can't wait for issue three to see how the series develops beyond what was originally released last year. If you fancy checking out my review, you'll find it >>here<<.
That's it for reviews, however I do have one last recommendation. If you fancy a laugh, have a darkish sense of humour and not put off by some nudity, then try to get your hands on a copy of Soft Wood. An off shoot of Heavy Metal, this anthology has some cracking comic strips and some absolutely laugh out loud gags. A multiple of creators have produced an array of different strips, from four panel gags, to one page Haiku's, and even parodies of Watchmen taking a broadside shot at DC over the handling of Alan Moore, and other creators.
Soft Wood is a brilliant ensemble of comics for some amazing talent. If you can get hold of a copy, do so, but watch out for the Newsflash strip, it'll take you by surprise.
Mountainhead is a disturbing story about a young boy whose life is thrown into turmoil when he finds out his life has been a lie. He returns to his real parents only to become embroiled in mysterious and unsettling incidents plaguing a small mountainside town.
Ryan Lee has an expressive art style and he uses heavy black lines that create caricatures and grotesque people and places. There is an element of early Frank Quitely about the work, especially with the over saturation of detail within each panel. The characters are a part of the scenery with each creating drama and narrative on the page.
One of the artistic techniques that Lee employs in the pages of Mountainhead is the use of cutaway panels. Sometimes the link to the narrative is fairly obvious but at other times the connection is abstract. This creates a mysterious element to the comic and heightens the threat level, constantly keeping the reader on their toes.
There are some great scene setting panels such as a single falling leaf in the first issue (see above). It helps to establish setting, the tree in which the character is climbing, but it is also an abstract analogy for the events taking place. Abraham is a young boy, breaking into a house with his father but his life is about to unravel, he is about to be separated from his father and forced to leave.
A single leaf, falling from the tree.
Later in the same issue, Lee uses a stack of small panels to depict a place where Abraham and his father are staying. The three panels give the reader all of the information they need to establish location without directly relating to a particular moment within the narrative or the characters themselves. There is a full ashtray, rubbish on the floor, and a Do Not Disturb sign on the door handle. The three simple images signify the cheap motel that the scene is set in. The uncleanliness is obvious, so is the careless attitude of the occupants and the secrecy surrounding them.
Like the leaf, these panels tell a larger story than the images that they represent.
One of the best examples of Lee’s abstract panels comes in issue 2 of Mountainhead. A series of events have led some reporters to discuss the mountains that overlook the town of Braeriach. Something untoward and potentially violent is happening out beyond the boundaries of the town. As the two reporters leave a hospital they stare into the distance commenting on a distant storm.
This transitions into the following panel:
Lee produces an image that at first glance looks as though it has been inverted, with a red sky behind black mountains. As you adjust to the image, however, you realise that the blackness is the storm, filling the sky and blacking out the light. The mountains are soaked in a red, the colour of blood, a reflection of the violence that has been hinted at but also a warning of what is to come.
The panel is a combination of the two examples I’ve mentioned above. It both sets the scene with the storm and the mountainous landscape but also is a premonition of things to come. It acts as both scene setter and metaphorical storytelling. The style of the image creates an uncomfortable end to the page which leaves the reader full of apprehension for the page turn.
This single panel does so much. It stands out on the page and within the narrative but also reinforces elements of both. Combined with the other cutaway panels, Ryan Lee demonstrates the importance of abstract images within storytelling. Not everything needs to be linear and instantly recognisable in context. Occasionally it is worth throwing in a curve ball or indulging in a moment of abstract visuals. Not only does it give the page a fresh, exciting look but it also enhances mood and tone within a narrative,and engages the reader on a different level.
Ryan Lee pushes his visual style and design in an attempt to engage and enhance this storytelling and Mountainhead is more interesting because of it.
Mountainhead #2 is released this week from IDW Publishing
Some comics have a large amount of text. Whether this takes the form of speech, internal character dialogue, or narration, the job of the letter is still the same: they have to include all of the text without diminishing the art or disrupting the narrative flow.
There are ‘rules’ about the amount of words that a comic book page should include, Alan Moore famously was obsessed by his own word count and he stated in an interview with the Zarjaz fanzine:
“it you’ve got six panels on a page, then the maximum number of words you should have in each panel is 35. No more. That’s the maximum. 35 words per panel. Also, if a balloon has more than 20 or 25 words in it, it’s going to look too big.”
This was based on advice given to him when he worked for DC Comics and it formed the basis for his own work. Anyone who has read Alan Moore’s comics will come to expect heavy word counts and layer upon layer of information per panel; it is the way he works after all.
But not everyone is used to that intensity and coming across a comic that has a lot of text can be daunting, which is why it is important that the lettering gets it right.This year I have seen examples of comics getting it right and, some, getting it very wrong. Earlier in the year I compared the recent Go-Bots comic with an old Tales From The Crypt to illustrate a point about heavy text based stories (Fig 1 below).
This month IDW Publishing released issue one of Pandemica, written by Jonathan Maberry. It is obvious from reading the comic that Maberry is an accomplished novelist and this is reflected in his dense script. Despite a number of action sequences, Maberry packs the page with conversation and narration, with some pages running up words counts over 220 across five panels. These pages stand out in the comic, instantly noticeable for their word count on the turn of the page. , However, letterer Shawn Lee handles the heavy workload superbly. He turns a difficult word count into a wonderful storytelling experience.
There are two examples of placement I am going to look at from Pandemica #1 that illustrate Lee’s technique, both of which are about leading the reader across a page.
In example one (Fig 2), a conversation is happening off panel about the spread of an unknown infection through certain area’s of America. The text is in caption boxes laid over images showing the effects of the infection. One element of the page, the text, is about the cause and the other element, the images, are about the effect. Together they combine to give the reader a fuller picture of the situation.
This page is about the horrific nature of the infection with the text hinting at a greater conspiracy. To portray this through the text Lee has decided to make the images the focal point with the narration almost in the background, like a voice being drowned out by the horror and death. Lee accomplishes this by keeping the caption boxes to the top and side of the panels.
There is a clear line for the reader to follow through the visuals, down the centre of the panels, taking in the worst of the infection. Lee then places the text in a way to facilitate this reading. The reader follows the text across the top of the page and down the right hand side mirroring the natural flow of the images.
The text does not interfere with the images but instead draws attention to them allowing the reader to digest both the visual and social outcomes of the unknown infection.
The second example follows directly from the first. On the next page Dr Katz, one of the central characters of the comic, is being interviewed for a television news programme. The very nature of the scene makes it speech heavy as the question and answers flow back and forth.
On this page, artist Alex Sanchez is trying to relay as much information about the character of Dr Katz as possible through the use of body language. The confidence and potential arrogance of the man is illustrated using facial expressions and the positioning of his limbs.
To assist this reading and emphasis the subtle visuals, Lee positions the speech balloons in a diagonal reading line across the page from the top left to the bottom right (Fig 3). The reading line brings the reader into contact with Dr Katz in each panel helping to focus on the man’s body language. As you read his answers to the questions posed, you can’t help but notice the smirk upon his face and his slouched position within his chair.
Letterers sometimes have the hardest jobs. They have to work with a script already written, art already drawn, and often have little say in either. It is their job to place all of the required text on the page to make it easy for the reader to follow while at the same time not infringing on the narrative. A good letterer can make the speech appear invisible on the page, serving its purpose in telling the story, however a great letterer incorporates the text into the storytelling process, enhancing the reading experience.
In Pandemica Shawn Lee does just that; he uses the large amount of text to lead the reader around the page, highlighting specific elements of the panels, and contrasting the speech with the visuals.
He enhances the reading experience and turns a potential textual quagmire into a visual treat.
Life long comic book reader, collector, and reviewer.