It’s Halloween! Which can mean only one thing: A re-reading of the Revolver: Halloween Special!
Okay, pumpkins and sweets and trick or treating as well but this blog is about comics, mostly…
Revolver was a short lived comic published at the beginning of the 90’s by Fleetway Publications. It came with a ‘mature readers’ tag and was the home of some experimental and more daring comic strips including notable entrees like Peter Milligan’s Rogan Gosh and Grant Morrison’s grim look at Dan Dare’s future. But as well as these ongoing strips it offered up short stories by some of Britain’s greatest talent.
And in October 1990 they let loose their horror special into the world and it dripped with macabre tales from the grimmest of storytellers. This single 80 ish page comic was created by such talent as Si Spencer, Will Simpson, Warren Pleece, Garth Ennis, Mark Millar, Mark Buckingham and Neil Gaiman. There were 12 chilling tales in total, encapsulating; humorous ghosts and nasty demons; Carrie-esque coming of age awakenings; soul buying demons; the weird, the wonderful and a touch of body horror. I’ve picked out a few of the highlights. My favourites.
In ‘The Wishing Hour’ by Nicholas Vince and John Bolton, a young boy named Simon wants to dress up as a witch for Trick and Treating but due to a rather sexist attitude on his mother’s part, he doesn’t get his wish. “Little boy’s can’t be witches. Sally’s going to be a witch. You’re to be a Jack O’Lantern” she tells him. He leaves home full of anger and childish thoughts of revenge. Then along comes a demon to give young Simon what he wants. The outcome is bloody and has an ending that epitomises the phrase ‘Be careful what you wish for’.
The story is short and sour with a wonderfully lyrical script packed to bursting point with stomach churning descriptions. Some, but not all, of these are captured by the amazing painted art work of John Bolton. The paint splatter effect he employs adds an extra layer of atmosphere to a tale of darkness driven by a child’s fantasy for revenge. His depiction of Simon as the witch is brilliant and demonstrates to the reader that the ‘classic witch’ look can still be scary and even more disturbing than Anjelica Huston’s turn in the movie The Witches which was released in the same year.
The ending of the tale is a lesson to us all about making deals with the devil and the final page, contrasting the witch’s laughing face and Simon’s face of terror, is all the reader needs to understand the consequences of the night. Although the reader does get an extra image of torturous death just to hammer home the point.
The next story, ‘First Blood’, is a clever little tale about a girl experiencing menarche. Win, the central character, is already a bit of an outcast, bullied by her peers and her mother has no faith in her. At a Halloween party Win decides to feign illness so that she can leave early but as they travel home she actually starts to feel uncomfortable. That night she is restless and wakes, cast in the glow of a full moon, as her body pushes her one step further from childhood into adulthood.
The narrative is designed and laid out like a werewolf tale with Si Spencer referencing elements of clichéd lycanthropy stories. It is illustrated by Tony Riot in the same way, focusing on the central character but always casting shadows onto her or placing her at the edge of the panel as if hiding something about her physical form. Win is an outcast, at the edge of her social group and she feels different: she can feel herself changing but she has no-one to talk to, no-one to help her understand what’s happening. Win’s loneliness is further illustrated by the unusual angles and positions which Riot uses to show her moving through her night of turmoil. It’s as if she is being stalked through an urban jungle by a camera in a modern horror movie.
However, the twist of the tale is that there is nothing supernatural about her feelings at all, it’s just the natural progression of her own body and the ‘horror’ element of the story is a metaphor for her fear that she will never fit in. It is a very smart, thought provoking tale.
My final pick is written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Mark Buckingham. ‘Feeders and Eaters’ may seem familiar to readers of Neil Gaiman as he later turned it into a prose short story published in the collection Fragile Things. The story is based on a dream that Gaiman had and is a story within a story, a trope Gaiman uses to great effect. A man, who looks uncannily like the writer, bumps into someone he hasn’t seen in years but the other man doesn’t look well, in fact he looks especially dreadful for someone who used to be incredibly good looking. The man, Eddie Barrow, has a dark tale to tell about how his life was taken away from him as he became the slave to a woman but not in the way you would expect. When the story introduces Miss Corvier she appears to be a frail old lady. Eddie starts to feel sorry for her and begins to help her out but at the same time he is a little weary: he has a strange feeling about her. But he is unable to pull away from her hypnotic like grasp and ends up feeding her by providing his own flesh to keep her nourished.
This twisted tale is like so many of the others within this horror anthology. It is simple and subtle, building up the tension by affectedly using the illustration to mislead the reader. The old woman turns from a helpless, fragile lady into a dark, overpowering and hungry creature without actually undergoing any physical change: it’s all in the way that Mark Buckingham lights the panels and changes the readers view from looking down on her to looking up into her face. Eddie on the other hand is barely seen in the story as he acts as the readers eyes and is the one who becomes subjugated making the reader feel as though they themselves are falling into the woman’s vile grasp.
There is a lot packed into this little anthology and it’s a magnificent blend of styles and stories to chill your soul on a dark and stormy night. It’s a shame they never got chance to do any more of these but that was part of publishing comics in Britain in the 1990’s, especially genre breaking stories like the ones on show here. I’m not sure if any of the material has been made available elsewhere, but is you see any of it, give it a read.
It has been 12 months since I set up this web/blog site to rant endlessly about the comics I read. A full year of reading, reviewing and writing about comics. That’s crept up on me.
I started off well, covering each weeks releases, writing full reviews and managing to add a few extra’s; such as stealing from previous reviews to create The Pointless Review. But as the year has moved on I have become a bit more sporadic. Part of this is down to work commitments and partly down to the fact I got wrapped up in writing an essay (see the ‘Time in Comics’ tab for the full thing).
However, I have kept up with my reading most months, and I have read way more comics than I have mentioned on here. Some good, some not so good and some that just weren’t for me.
To celebrate managing to do this for a year without deleting the whole site, I thought I’d take a look at a few of the past reviews and my favourite comics over the last 12 months.
When I created this blog I was (and still am) submitting reviews to ComiConverse.com but I wanted a place to have a bit more of a personal voice, somewhere I could recommend comics or write more specific comic based critique. So, when I started I took a number of reviews I had already written and fleshed them out, re-edited them and turned them into something else.
The first comic that I did this for, and as such ended up with a lot of content over the first month, was Lazaretto, a creator owned, zombie-esq comic written by Clay McLeod with Art by Jay Levang. The comic was grotesque in the best possible way and managed to make the very product you held feel dirty and contagious. Levang’s art work was unsettling and the narrative took a number of unexpected twists. A magnificent horror comic which shone a bright light onto the unnerving College experience that people still have today. Social commentary thinly disguised as a disease outbreak.
If you didn’t read Lazaretto I highly recommend it. It is still available in a collective form from any comic or book shop worth its salt. But be warned, it’s not for the queasy and I’d read it wearing gloves. Just to be on the safe side.
If you want to know more about my thoughts on Boom Studios Lazaretto (and I had many) check out the achieved posts for October 2017
Another horror comic received a lot of my attention in November 2017. Winnebago Graveyard published by Image comics was by far one of my favourite comics of last year. Written by Steve Niles and created/drawn by the amazing Alison Sampson, this comic played with the horror genre tropes and the final product was outstanding. The narrative twists and turns in unexpected ways so that you never feel comfortable. But it is the artwork that really sells the disconcerting feel of the comic. Alison Sampson produces some of the best artwork I’ve seen in years. She manipulates the panels, distorts the perspectives, and simply messes with the reader’s idea of how a comic page should work.
Plus, the collected edition had a touchy/feel-y velvet cover edition which is just lush. And the content is good as well, obviously.
November 2017 achieved posts contain my thoughts on Winnebago Graveyard.
I’ve done a bit of fencing in my time and really enjoyed it. It is something that I’d like to get back into as a hobby; when I have the time. What has this got to do with anything? Well, Boom Studios announced a mini-series early in 2017 about the world of competitive fencing and the first issue was released in November 2017.
It was delightful. Written by C.S. Pacat and drawn by Johanna the Mad, the comic tells the story of rival junior fencers who find themselves attending the same academy where they must battle to win a place on the academy team.
Inspired by Manga sporting epics, Fence is a clean and crisp teen drama with adorable characters and thrilling competition. You don’t need to know anything about fencing to read it but you will probably find yourself Googling the sport to find out more, just to keep up with the action sequences. Johanna the Mad’s artwork is fine lined and shifts from energetic, heart stopping action to Manga-esq comedic panels. The aesthetic is helped by the seemingly simple colour work of Joana Lafuente, who’s ‘simple’ approach actually gives the page’s depth and emphasis.
It is visually breath taking with an uplifting narrative.
I reviewed issue 2 in December 2017 but also plenty of the other issues on here and over on ComiConverse.com
One of my favourite comics started in January 2018 and became the backbone of the essay I spent several months writing this year.
Days of Hate. Published by Image Comics, this comic is a cold look at modern America through the eyes of the very near future. The disturbing elements of the current political and social landscape have, in Ales Kot and Danijel Zezeli’s world, taken control. There is paranoia and fear everywhere.
The comic is beautifully rendered by Zezeli with Jordie Bellaire’s colours making each and every page a delight. The narrative is hard hitting and in many ways brutal but there is also a streak of hope running through it.
I’ve written a number of reviews and additional pieces about Days of Hate, check out the January Achieves for the start of these but, on top of that, the Time In Comics essay includes a large section on this outstanding comic, if you have some spare time.
In January I also discovered the beauty of the new 30 Days of Night. It is a retelling of a superb story and, I’ll be honest, I was a touch dubious when picked up issue one. However, Steve Niles narrative and Piotr Kowalski’s art work won me over. If they hadn’t Brad Simpson’s colour work by itself definitely would have done. I loved the stark contrasting colours; the sense of tension created by a subtle change of shade; or the emotional weight carried by specific colour palettes.
I reviewed 30 Days of Night issue 2 in January 2018 but I took a longer look at the colour work in February 2018. Why not check it out?
I have slowly fallen in love with Aftershock comics and it’s amazing output. They have, over the last couple of years, released some brilliant comics from some of the best creators working today. Super Zero, Jackpot, Babyteeth, Shipwreck, to name a few.
In March 2018 they released issue 1 of Betrothed. A kind of sci-fi love story about two high school kids who learn that their lives are intertwined in ways they couldn’t ever image. Some elements of the comic are ridiculous and there is a definite computer generated part to some of the back ground artwork but it is the comics narrative strength and strong panel composition that makes Betrothed worth reading. Sean Lewis and Steve Uy manage to fully engage the reader from the very beginning so that you instantly become invested in the lives of the two central characters.
Just to give it some frame of reference, Betrothed has the grand tragedy of a Shakespearian play and the sensibilities of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Issue one was released in March 2018 and I wrote a little something about it that month.
In April I was indulging in a re-read of Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers run, for reasons I can’t begin to remember (Infinity War was on everyone’s lips. I saw it eventually. I’ll stick to the comics in future). That is a mammoth task as it encapsulates nearly 100 comics, however, I did find time to read other stuff and even some new number ones.
One of those new titles was Crude, published by Image Comics. Written by Steve Orlando, Art by Garry Brown and Colours by Lee Loughridge, Letters by Thomas Mauer.
From the very start I was transfixed by this family drama and tale of violence. The design and layouts for this comic are phenomenal and the narrative hits emotional spots I wasn’t expecting at all. Beneath the violence and gang warfare, Crude is a comic about a father connecting, too late, with his son.
April 2018 is where I begin my love affair with Crude, but further reviews can be found throughout the year.
I nearly missed Motherlands from DC-Vertigo. I knew it was coming out and was excited because of the talent working on it but it was a title I forgot to add to my pull list. Therefore, it wasn’t waiting for me when I picked up my monthly comics. I then had to track it down, and remember to get the follow up issues and, long story short, I finished reading it several months later than I should have done.
But it was worth the wait. The dimension hopping, family drama played over 6 issues and was a breath of fresh air from start to finish. The story by Simon Spurrier was off the wall but easy to follow. At its heart was a broken family trying to reconcile itself and this came through in every issue, despite the dimension jumping and the distracting sexual technology on display. The art work was handled brilliantly by Rachel Stott and there were some bold colour choices by Felipe Sobreiro. But one of the most outstanding elements of the comic was Simon Bowland’s exceptional lettering (which is why I ended up writing about it in July 2018).
The comic flowed effortlessly and I’m glad I read it in one chunk rather than have to wait month after month because it so easy and enjoyable to read. I would highly recommend Motherland to anyone, over a certain age at least.
It’s been 50 years since the original Planet of the Apes movie was released, I may have mentioned it once or twice over the year. I’m a massive fan of PotA and have only missed one of the comic tie-ins since the late 90’s. The majority of these have been entertaining, worthwhile reads and some have been exceptional comics.
This year Boom Studios have put out a number of PotA comics, and there are still a few to come out. There was the 6 issue series Kong on the PotA: a crossover with the King Kong franchise and a beautifully drawn comic. At around the same time Ursus was released, another 6 issue comic this time focusing on the life of the central gorilla from the PotA franchise. This had it’s good moment’s and a couple of wobbles; mostly in the art department when the artists swapped between one issue and the next. But overall both of these offerings were great reads and, as I have stated, I never miss a PotA comic*
In August Boom Studios released Planet of the Apes Visionaries which is based on Rod Serling’s original script for the first movie. Although Serling left the project the majority of his story was kept intact; there was a shift in setting and a change to the central character but other than that the story in Visionaries is instantly recognisable. Despite the lack of differences, the script has been magnificently transformed into a comic book and the artwork really captures the optimistic fell of Serling’s script.
I loved this book by Dana Gould and Chad Lewis and wrote about it in August this year.
*except the PotA and Green Lantern crossover. I did read the first issue and found it very difficult to get on with. I have zero interest in Green Lantern and I think this is reflected in my bewilderment of what was going on. If I have to criticise Booms PotA comics for anything it is that whenever they do crossovers the other franchise gets more attention. The exception to this was this year’s Kong crossover which I really enjoyed.
So, there we have it. A year in and still finding new comics to read and write about. I’ve enjoyed writing this blog and I hope that someone has enjoyed reading it. I’ll keep going, just in case.
One last recommendation, the comic that I am currently enjoying the most: East of West. Check it out and maybe let me know what you think.