As the nights start to draw in and the new series of Doctor Who looms on the horizon, it finally feels like the summer has come to an end.
On the plus side it means I may actually get a chance to catch up on my reading. There are a number of titles out this week that I will be adding to that pile; such treats as Coda #5 from Boom! Studios, Days of Hate #8 and Death or Glory #5 from Image Comics, and a new one called Impossible Incorporated from IDW which caught my eye.
However, there are two titles I want to talk about this week, each for a different reason.
First up is the final issue of Crude, published by Image Comics. If you have read many of my previous posts you will know that I have been enjoying Steve Orlando and Garry Brown’s series about revenge in a corrupted Russian worker city.
The series has impressed me on every level from issue 1 onwards. The narrative is, on one level, brutal and shocking with some uncomfortable reading, especially when the central character gets stuck in to the villains. Neither the script or the art pulls any punches when it comes to the violence; it’s big and violent and definitely in your face. This works so well because the fight scenes are expertly choreographed by Gerry Brown: the movements on occasions are exaggerated but the reactions and consequences of the fights are always realistic and painful. This is not ‘cartoon violence’, it clearly hurts.
In contrast to this, the narrative has a very emotional central theme. At the heart of this comic is a man in desperate need to connect with his son, albeit a little too late. His journey, although soaked in blood, is actually an emotional one which is touching and ultimately has a melancholic ending. Piotr doesn’t learn to appreciate and respect his son until it is too late and everything that he has done in his son’s name is meaningless compared to what Piotr has lost.
Orlando and Brown can dress it up as much as they want in espionage and gangster thrills but this is a story about family and loss. It is a story that pushes the reader’s emotions to breaking point and it does it with style.
The colouring by Lee Loughridge and the lettering by Thomas Mauer enhance the setting and overall tone of the comic. Loughridge especially uses his skills to highlight Piotr’s final journey as the backgrounds slowly change from the cold, brutal blue into the warming reds and oranges of a new day dawning.
If you haven’t read any of Crude, you have been missing out, but now the series has come to an end be on the lookout for the inevitable trade (out in November). Piotr’s journey is one worth following.
A new release this week is something that I have been wanting for a long time; a brand new, monthly, Dick Tracy comic. I am a big fan of Chester Gould’s rough and ready detective and have been reading the collected daily strips for years. I loved the Disney film and every time I hear rumours of a TV series I have to fight the urge to get excited, knowing deep down that it will never come to fruition.
So, a new monthly comic, containing brand new material, should have me leaping for the stars, nearly as much as a new series of Doctor Who. Unfortunately, IDW Publishing’s new offering is far from what I had hoped for.
I have written a full review of Dick Tracy Dead or Alive, written by Lee and Michel Allred, art by Rich Tommaso, for Comiconverse.com but I wanted to add something extra on a more personal level.
I was whole heartedly disappointed with this comic.
Warning, spoilers ahead.
The story is at best a rehash of several earlier Tracy stories, featuring as the central villain Big Boy. This in itself wouldn’t be a problem if there was something new to say, but there isn’t. It is a soulless, uninteresting romp through the motions of a Dick Tracy Adventure. A lot of the script is clichéd and more than one sequence is a direct lift from earlier work; the sequence with Big Boy’s criminal board meeting is a step by step reply of a scene in the Disney Dick Tracy movie without the charisma or presence of Al Pacino and James Caan.
I will admit that I am not a fan of Rich Tommaso’s art style to begin with. His most recent work Dry Country was a difficult comic to engage with and I found all of his characters to be devoid of emotion. So, it will be no surprise that I was equally cut adrift from the characters in Dead or Alive; the difference is that I know most of the characters in this comic already and I have, for the most part, loved them in the past.
Big Boy is an outstanding, larger than life villain, almost Shakespearean in his theatrics but to see him as the oversized toadish character portrayed here feels like missing the mark. The depiction of Tracy is just as troublesome, especially since Tommaso pictures him in gleeful ecstasy as he threatens a criminal in his custody and wallows in the mindless violence. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that the Dick Tracy comic strip has been soaked in blood from day one and the violence surrounding the detective has reached shocking and disturbing levels however, Tracy is about justice not violent punishment and making him enjoy the destruction gives him a cruel edge not befitting the character.
Tommaso can produce some interesting work and he has a style which appeals to a number of readers but I don’t believe he has the right aesthetic for a Dick Tracy comic. His work lacks energy and dynamism needed for a Tracy story. The 1990’s movie tie in’s drawn by Kyle Baker captured the energy of the story telling, even though the art work bordered on abstraction in places, whereas Tommaso’s work is lifeless. This lacklustre highlights the more disagreeable aspects of the comic, such as inconsistent speech balloons and caption boxes, turning the reader off from the adventure.
I wanted this comic to work. I have been waited patiently for new adventures of the legendary detective and I thought that was going to happen with the announcement of Archie Comics Dick Tracy comic. Imagine, a comic written by Michael Moreci and Alex Segura, drawn by Thomas Pitilli, based on the exciting adventures of Dick Tracy. What an outstanding comic that could have been, especially when you see the sketch and design work that had already been produced. It is such a shame that instead with have Dead or Alive, a comic leaning more to the former.
I hope that IDW have some success with this Dick Tracy comic because that would lead to others with different writers and artists, each bringing their own unique take on the character. But for me, this offering is nothing more than a disappointment.
Another New Comic Book Day and there are more comics out than I have time to read.
In fact I am still so far behind in my reading.
Part of this is due to The Summer, everything goes out of the window when summer comes around. You have to grab the sun when it's out, etc, etc.
But also I have been working on something a bit more in depth. You may notice across the top that there is a new heading. If you go there you will find an essay about comics, more specifically the representation of time within comic books. I original conceived the idea for a project which is not going ahead but as I'd already started work, I decided to finish it. I may find another home for it somewhere but for now, here it is. Or, rather, there it is....
In other news, here are a few new releases worth checking out and reading:
Cemetery Beach #1 from Image Comics
MCMLXXV #1 also from Image
Low Room West #1 from Boom! Studios
House of Whispers #1 from DC Comics
That's a collection of number 1's! There are other numbered titles out this week but I've not got around to reading them yet.
Here's a few pictures to convince you to get to your local comic shop.
It shouldn’t have escaped your notice, especially if you’ve read a few of my previous posts, that the original Planet of the Apes film is 50 years young this year. 50 years since Charleston Heston embarked on his mission into a world so very different yet hauntingly familiar to our own. 50 years since Kim Hunter’s Zira stood up to Ape authority and championed a ‘lesser creature’. 50 years since Roddy McDowall made a career out of playing a chimpanzee.
The original script for the film, written by The Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling, would have required a budget too big for any of the Hollywood studios to take on but a rewrite by Michael Wilson saw the setting of the story change and the rest, as they say, is history.
However, to celebrate such a milestone in the films life, Boom! Studios have adapted the original Serling script into a gorgeous, hard backed graphic novel so we can all, finally, share in the original vision for the Planet of the Apes.
Planet of the Apes Visionaries was released last week and tells the story of Thomas, an astronaut lost in time and space, alone on a crazy, mixed up world. Just like Thomas, the reader will find this world both new and yet, strangely familiar.
Dana Gould adapts Serling’s screenplay for the comic book format, packing the pages with tension and intrigue; and only a small proportion of this is lost by knowing what’s round the corner. Everyone reading will know that Thomas is going to come face to face with talking Apes, be captured and all the rest. What Gould and the artists have managed to achieve here is depicting recognisable sequences in an enjoyable way and playing up to the actual differences between this version and the original.
The most surprising thing about this version is how little is actually different. Not to ruin anyone’s reading of this but the story is pretty much the same as the 60’s movie counterpart. The setting and tone are the major differences, with a much more advanced Ape world for Thomas to get lost in, but the plot moves along at about the same rate and pace.
Thomas, the central character, is a much more likable character than Taylor. He is compassionate and carries a sense of hope with him as he travels through the topsy turvy world. It’s clear from this adaption that Charleston Heston brought a lot of himself to the character of Taylor, making the astronaut cynical and full of rage. This works in the 60’s movie as he is a product of his time and an explanation for what ultimately happened to the Humans. In Dr Zaius’ eyes, Taylor reinforces everything he has come to understand about ‘Man’ which makes his actions understandable and, in a lot of ways, relatable.
Thomas, on the other hand, represents a contrasting example of ‘Man’ for the future rulers of the world. This has the effect of turning Dr Zaius and his fellow scientist’s into easier to recognise villains and easier to accept as such.
The change in character also makes the ending of both adaptions more intriguing. Everyone knows how the film ends, it is one of the most famous scenes in cinema history, however, the way that it plays out in Serling’s original concept is different enough still to provide a shock element at the end of the story. As a reader you wait for the big reveal but the twist will grab you and give you a good shaking. The entire final sequence of the book is touching and beautifully drawn.
Chad Lewis’ art work has cinematic scope and captures the essence of the scenes wonderfully. His attention to detail, especially in the backgrounds, gives the comic a believable and immersive setting. As a reader you are sucked into the world as much as Thomas and his cohorts. The composition of the panels help to make you feel trapped in an unknown world, even with large vistas spread across the page. When the astronauts first encounter the ‘Humans’ they become trapped between the slowly encroaching people and the vast ocean behind them. There is a series of panels illustrating the slow advancement of the wild people followed by a wide shot with the heroes trapped in the centre, lost and very much alone on an alien world. The tension is gripping.
There are three colourists working on the book but not that you can tell. There is a consistency to the colouring throughout and the contrast between the forbidden zones and Ape city is striking; with slightly too bright natural colours for the forests compared to the muted blues and yellows of the city. A certain unease has been created by the colourists because the natural world appears almost unnatural in its brightness whereas the city is dull in comparison; this is a switch from how we would expect the two setting to be coloured. The colour sets the tone, switching from the mysterious, to action, to intrigue all via altering the colour pallet.
Ed Dukeshire’s lettering is fits snuggly around the artwork, barely making an impression which is the way that it should be. Where the lettering especially stands out is with the sound effects. They boom out of the page and traverse the panels giving Serling’s world sound that you can almost hear. The powerful ‘Thup’ of helicopters rises above the landscape, each time preceding danger for the central character.
In adapting Serling’s script, Gould and co have taken on a mammoth task: not only do they have to make Rod Serling’s vision shine off the page, they have to present something new and entertaining to a readership who will, for the most part, know exactly what is going to happen in the plot. The creators on this book have successfully packed the pages with suspense and drama despite the familiarity of the plot; in some cases, they have used the readers expectations of what will happen to create a more dramatic, and sometimes shocking, scene.
I was personally surprised how close to the original film this version was, with Ape city being different in visual aspects only, but this did not occur to me until after I had finished reading it. It is a gripping adaption, presented beautifully in a hard backed book format. The script and artwork presents us with characters we recognise but at the same time have to get to know them all over again; Thomas is refreshing in comparison to Taylor and the entire book has a more upbeat tone to it. Until the end where one of the biggest differences occurs. A change which will take your breath away as the familiar is subverted by the horrific.
Planet of the Apes Visionaries isn’t a wildly different take on the story and, fittingly, reads more like a Twilight Zone version of the concept. But it is enjoyable, fascinating and expertly crafted. It is an essential read for Apes fans and will fit in perfectly with any Ape franchise collection.
Planet of the Apes Visionaries
Printed by Boom! Studios
Original Screenplay by Rod Serling
Adapted by Dana Gould
Art by Chad Lewis
Inks Assist by David Wilson
Coulours by Darrin Moore, Miguel Muerto and Marcelo Costa
Letters by Ed Dukeshire
In this final issue of RoboCop Citizens Arrest, the creators delve into the production surrounding RoboCop and the battle between Old and New. Brian Wood has produced a script that is reminiscent of the original RoboCop movie in almost every way; minus the ED-209, which is a shame.
The story follows Leo Reza from his moments waking up as the next RoboCop through to his confrontation with Alex Murphy. Reza enters the Detroit streets under the command of O.C.P. and proves to be a hit with the populace and those in charge. Once more, a human-esq police office proves to be the reassuring protection that the city wants.
However, there is an aggressive streak within Reza’s actions; an anger that is bubbling just below the surface waiting for a moment to burst through to the surface.
Murphey, meanwhile, is protecting Reza’a family and waiting for the inevitable confrontation to occur. He is ready to fight whatever RoboCops O.C.P. throws at him.
The first half of this issue is all too familiar. The creation and awaking of the man within the machine bares more than a passing resemblance to the first movie. This isn’t just a nod to that story, an Easter egg for the reader, this is a retelling in short form. Reza waking, being sent on a mission and becoming the darling of the right wing news programs is a direct reference to the movie. There are, however, a few subtle differences which the Murphy RoboCop points out later in the issue and is the point that the creators are trying to make.
The original movie was a reaction to the time it was made; over the top, biased new casts; pushy advertising and inappropriate product placement; the rich being above the law. RoboCop was a clever satire of the world around it. Citizens Arrest follows that trend and its main point is ‘not much has changed’. The familiar opening attests to this fact by deliberately reminding the reader of a movie made in the 1980’s. The second act confrontation pits the old against the new but there is so little between them; how far have we come?
Despite the strengths of the narrative, the comic doesn’t pack the same kind of punch as previous incarnations of the character. This is partially down to the artwork. The close ups and a number of establishing shots are wonderful. They do exactly what they need to do. One in particular with Reza’s family hiding in their house is a clever, isolating panel surrounded by panels of action shots. It’s a smart layout and captures the essence of the scene brilliantly.
Unfortunately, not all of the art has this same impact. Sometimes the rendering of the characters is awkward or flat; lacking the impact that the moments deserve. This isn’t always the fault of Jorge Coelho, whose artwork gives the best pages of the comic their strength, but because the colour work by Doug Garbank doesn’t lend itself to some of the emotionally charged scenes. It feels inconsistent across some of the pages which makes the reader question the art and narrative unfavourably.
In one instance there is a scene with two characters running across two panels, the background has been dropped in favour of movement lines and colour only. These two panels work really well, with the starting point of the movement a bright yellow turning to a dark orange as the reader follows the characters. However, on other pages the background colours shift wildly with no discernible reason and on more than one occasion the background and foreground have uncomfortable meetings points.
There are some strong sequences in this comic, especially the lettering work on the sound effects which really stands out. The overall narrative has a point worth making and the referencing of the original film is a clever technique employed to make this point unfortunately some of this is lost in the inconsistent art work. This series overall has had strong and weak moments. I’m not sure if this would still be the case if a different artist worked on it because some of the stronger moments were down to Coelho’s layouts and composition. This is a satisfying conclusion to the story but it might not lend itself to a re-read.
RoboCop Citizens Arrest is published by Boom! Studios
Written by Brian Wood
Illustrated by Jorge Coelho
Coloured by Doug Garbark
Lettered by Ed Dukeshire
Volume 1 of Days Of Hate from Image Comics is released this week.
And it is worth checking out if you’ve not been reading the monthlies.
Don’t believe me? Here’s why I think you should.
In a not too distant future, one that doesn’t look too dissimilar to our present, a run down, broken America struggles with its internal prejudices. On one coast gangs rule the streets and the other a more political game is being played; equally as deadly.
And so begins Ales Kot’s thriller which poses the question, how bad can the current situation get? The social and political climate that Kos depicts in Days of Hate aren’t that far removed from the world we live in. He gives us two, female, central characters who seem so different in their outlook but there is a connection between them; a link that is brilliantly illustrated early on in the comic by following the flight of a bird as it crosses a page transition.
Through these two characters the creators are able to establish the world that they live in while building an intriguing plot shrouded in mystery and inhabited by a number of fascinating characters.
Danijel Zezelj is creates atmosphere by packing his panels with extras and detailed interiors while in contrast the outdoor scenes are sparser, open spaces. This makes the reader feel trapped in this world, hidden away in the recesses of a scared country. Jordie Bellaire’s colours reinforce this point. She gives each scene its own tone simply by highlighting one particular colour throughout a given sequence. For instance, Amanda’s journey to the all American Diner in issue 1 is soaked in a pinkish red which reflects the gaudiness of the venue but is also an omen of things to come. And one chapter has three distinct time periods each with their own hue.
Every aspect of Days of Hate appears to have the same thoughtfulness applied to it which makes this a superb, if sometimes challenging, read. The story flows effortlessly through the page transitions, flicking back and forth between the central characters and their lives. Each section of the comic feeds off and responds to each other creating a single narrative unit. To take away any section of the comic would create a hole in the narrative which may not be obvious, but it would be there, niggling at the back of your mind like a fake news story ringing muffled bells of warning.
Elements of socially accepted racism, expressions of inner turmoil and opposing personal/professional beliefs make Days of Hate an insightful read. Kot does not make this easy for the reader and just like the real world, the simple good/evil dynamics of the superhero genre have no place here. Each character is multi-layered and the creators take time to portray the different aspects of each. There are twists and turns that build the characters as they move slowly forward through the narrative. It is difficult to tell what is going to happen next and this is another highlight of this comic. Its unpredictability makes it a refreshing read.
Days of Hate is an outstanding character driven narrative with some of my favourite comic book art from recent years. There are some pages that are beautiful, stand alone, works of Art. This is a comic that I would recommend to anyone. It has an engaging story and wonderfully designed layouts which allow the story to flow from panel to panel, page to page. There is a lot going on visually and narratively. For an immersive comic reading experience you can’t go wrong with Volume 1 of Days of Hate.
Days of Hate Act 1 (collecting issues 1 – 6)
Written by Ales Kot
Art by Danijel Zezelj
Colours by Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Aditya Bidikar
Published by Image Comics
(some of this may have been unashamedly plagiarised for some of my early reviews of the monthlies, please feel free to re-read everything I've written to find out which bits came from where)
After taking in an overview of Simon Bowland’s letter in Motherlands last week, I wanted to take a closer look at a few lettering techniques. To do this I have chosen the latest issue of The Dead Hand from Image Comics.
There are a number of very good reasons to be reading The Dead Hand, Jordie Bellaire’s colouring over Stephen Mooney’s Art for one but it’s Clayton Cowles lettering work that I’m focusing on today.
Lettering has an important function within any comic while at the same time has to be the one aspect that is the least noticeable on the page. A comic wouldn’t function without lettering but the reader doesn’t want it to distract from the action or the narrative. When done badly, the lettering breaks the momentum of a page and no matter how good your story is, or your art, once the reader is distanced from the narrative it can be difficult to get back into the flow.
However, when done right, the lettering can enhance everything else, as I illustrated in my previous post about Motherlands. And in The Dead Hand Cowles does an excellent job of using the lettering to add more than just information to the page; in fact, his lettering helps to highlight aspects of the art, the narrative and the flow of the panels.
The page below is a good example of Cowles ability to employ basic lettering techniques to make the page easy to read. The consistency of his word balloons and the balloon tales show off his understanding of ground floor lettering. Each of the balloon tales has the same width and lead directly to the mouth of the person speaking. On occasion the tale is short, such as in panel two, leaving a larger distance from the mouth to the balloon but this is so the art isn’t obscured and the positioning of the tale makes it obvious who is talking.
The balloons themselves exist within their own space, covering the background artwork so as not to detract away from the characters and their conversation; except on one occasion which I will come back to in a moment. The placement of the balloons helps to lead the conversation and show who is speaking when. A bonus touch is added when Cowles overlaps a couple of the balloons, in panel 4, highlighting the pace of the conversation and the fact the characters are almost talking over the top of each other.
The artist obviously has a part to play when it comes to balloon positioning. A good artist will leave enough space for the letter but this isn’t always the case. In this example it is as if the artist, Stephen Mooney, and Cowles are working very closely together to maximise the effect of the words and images.
There is one moment on this page that stands out, from a lettering point of view especially, and this is in panel 5.
Harriet is having an argument with her mother and the Sheriff, she feels as though she is being deliberately left out of something and treated like a child. The discussion reaches a point where both adults talk down to her with a condescending tone; she is better off not knowing something. It is at this moment that Harriet becomes aggressive and literally stands up for herself. In the first 4 panels Harriet has been seated, towered above by the adults but in panel 5 she stands up, she raises herself to their level and reaches out as if to tell her mother to back off.
And it is at this moment that Cowles' wonderful lettering becomes more than technique and enters the realm of storytelling. Renae tries to calm her daughter, to reach out by saying her name, but Cowles places this speech beneath Harriet’s hand and for the first time on this page the word balloon covers up part of a character. This helps to emphasis the fact the Harriet is distancing herself from Renae; she is putting up a barrier. Her outstretched arm indicated this and so does the word balloon hanging between mother and daughter.
Cowles also adds an extra dimension to this barrier building. Instead of using a straight balloon tale and ending it a great distance from Renae’s mouth, as he did in panel two with the Sheriff, he bends the tale around Harriet’s hand. This illustrates how hard it is for Renae’s words to reach her daughter, the speech has to curl around her out stretched hand.
This also highlights Harriet’s movement, like underlining a piece of text. This one speech balloon adds so much to the panel; emphasising the character relationships and enforcing physical movements.
The placement and design of the Speech Balloon’s are as important to a narrative as the artwork. They are more than a ‘necessary evil’ and when used correctly, as with Cowles work in The Dead Hand, lettering enhances the story telling. Everything on the page can be used to highlight, define or express character and plot: the creators of The Dead Hand know this and use everything at their disposal to tell the best story they can.
Issue 4 of The Dead Hand is published this week by Image Comics
Written by Kyle Higgins
Art by Stephen Mooney
Colours by Jordie Bellaire
Letters by Clayton Cowles
So I finally finished reading Motherlands from DC-Vertigo.
I know, it’s took me ages, the collected edition is probably nearly out but it has definitely been worth the wait. I picked up the last issue last week and sat down with all six issues for a read through. And I was enraptured from beginning to end.
The story is compelling, packed with outstanding characters, narrative twists and so much humour. This is a comic that will make you laugh out loud on several occasions. But for each LOL moment there is a scene which gets you in the gut or pulls at your heartstrings. It’s a surprisingly moving tale of a dysfunctional family hell bent on redemption through self-destruction.
However, the aspect of Motherlands I want to talk about here is not the brilliant scripting by Simon Spurrier or the energetic art or bold colour choices by Rachael Stott and Felipe Sobreiro; no, it’s Simon Bowland’s exceptional lettering.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have a lot to learn about the art of Lettering but thanks to numerous sources I’m beginning to appreciate the skills involved much more. This learning process is greatly enhanced when faced with such wonderful examples of the craft available in comics like Motherlands.
Page 1, issue 1 and straight away Bowland is using a very simple lettering technique to differentiate between people and machines: different coloured text. It may seem like an obvious thing to say, but making the text different colours helps the reader negotiate through the first page very easily. The blue text, belonging to the robotic teachers, are scene setters, informing the reader about the larger world that the story is set in while the standard black text forms the start of the human drama. Throughout this series the human drama and outlandish World building evolve side by side but never get in each other’s way. And this is illustrated on the very first page of the very first issue thanks to the lettering.
A few pages later and there is another instance of the lettering helping to illustrate aspects of the narrative. As two character’s leap from one String (dimension) to another they continue their abuse riddled conversation. The changing backgrounds drawn by Rachael Stott help to set each scene but it is the lettering that gives the reader the sense of pacing. Bowland chooses to use diagonal slashes in his speech balloons to literally slice through the conversation. It gives the impression that the speech has been cut off put also that it is picked up directly in the next balloon. The actual text shows that there is a bit missing as the sentences don’t make sense however the ‘slash’ effect on the balloons indicate that it is all part of the same speech, therefore the jumps from one panel to another are in quick succession.
Bowland often plays with the speech balloons to create emphasis for the text. One notable technique he adopts is to give the balloon a thick, red filled boarder. He uses this mostly to highlight emotional outbursts but occasionally these types of balloons are used to make part of the narrative stand out as being of particular importance.
One of my favourite, and subtler, effects Bowland uses on his balloons is to make the edge uneven, almost shaky. This often reflects the implied hurt feelings of certain characters and these are used during a character’s moment of weakness. As a rule, this creates a sense of empathy for a particular character which in turn forces the reader to question the following interactions between the cast. It casts a new light onto the situation.
Add to this changes in text size when characters are under particular types of stress, bold speech within balloons, split and linked speech balloons, captions, and sound effects; and you have a multitude of lettering techniques all of which assist the narrative in one way or another. In a number of comics, and I’ll hold my hand up and admit it, I barely notice the lettering unless it has a negative effect on my reading but in Motherlands Simon Bowland’s lettering standouts and adds so much to the reading experience it’s almost impossible not to notice his mark on the pages.
The rest of the creators do a good job as well.
You might still be able to pick up some of the individual issues but if not, the collection can’t be too far away.
Published by DC-Vertigo
Written by Simon Spurrier
Artist Rachael Stott
Colours by Felipe Sobreiro
Letters by Simon Bowland
Boom! Studios is currently invested in sports centric comics. They have a number of titles covering a wide range of fringe sports. Each title has a different creative team, obviously passionate about the sport featured in their narratives, and each title appeals to a slightly different audience: some younger readers, some teens, some more mature wrestling fans. The one aspect that links all of them, however, is the emphasis on the characters; these are comics about personal experiences and surviving in the world, the sport is a way of relaying the character’s struggles via metaphor, allegory or a bit of both.
That’s not to say the depicted sport is insubstantial, quite the contrary. The chosen sport is representative of the greater narrative. Each sport has been chosen as it best defines the characters within the story, or perhaps it’s the other way around; the sport dictates the types of characters that fuel the narrative. Either way, the sport is integral to the characters. Think of Rocky, the narrative would have been quite different if the film was about Lacrosse.
In both Dodge City and Fence, the central characters are underdogs who have something to prove through their chosen sports and as such are determined, strong willed characters. How the creators deal with this is surprisingly similar despite the very different sports; one being a team game with a lot of movement and the other involving individuals in a super-fast technical sport.
To highlight the similarities between the two I’ve chosen to compare an action sequence from last month’s Dodge City (issue 4 is out this week) and another from last week’s Fence #7.
Side by side you can instantly see that they have been drawn with different styles but also that these two scenes look very similar. The choices that the artists have made in layout have the same function. The panels are all irregular shapes drawing your eye in different directions across the pages. Dodge City has a more erratic layout representing the more chaotic sport depicted inside the panels. Fence uses the shape of the panels as well as the fencing swords to lead the reader from one point to another. In other examples, Dodge City does something similar with the ball and movement lines.
Each layout reflects the style of the sport. Fence is ordered, subtler, and has a finesse about it. Despite being a very fast sport, fencing has a pin point precision to it which is illustrated here. Dodgeball has more players, more to follow across the playing field and Cara McGee fills the panels deliberately making part of the game hard to follow. However, these two pages serve the same function within their respective comics. These two action packed pages are not actually about the sports they depict but about the character featured in them.
Each page is about one specific character within the comic. In Dodge City it is Elsie and her determination to stay in the completion. The entire page is centred around her and her reactions to the game. The drama is created by Elsie acting within each panel. She is shown to be impatient and angry; the colouring on her face in panel two and then the lettering on panel three where Elsie’s “Raarh!” exclamation is larger than the “wait for…!” behind her. It’s as if she is drowning out the other players, lost in the moment.
Of course this nearly backfires towards the end of the page where the panel opens up with a long shot passed Elsie to a full figure of an opposing team member and the blurred ball between them. The shape of the ball and the directional lines indicate how fast the ball is travelling and it all seems over for Elsie.
One of the things that Cara McGee and Brittany Peer do to focus the reader on Elsie is to make her the most prominent figure in most of the panels and push the other characters into the background. The panels also have no background detail, just vivid colours that reflect the thought process of Elsie: a strong green when she is determined in the first, third and seventh panels but the colour changes when she is unsure of what to do or she is in danger of being knocked out.
Johanna The Mad and Joana Lafuente do something very similar in Fence however their approach is starker, cleaner, to better represent the refined image of the sport. On this page Nicholas is as determined to beat his opponent but this determination is shown in the captions. Nicholas is almost distracted by his obsession to beat Seji but somehow his natural instinct takes over.
Johanna The Mad keeps Nicholas the central figure in each panel, in the same way McGee did in Dodge City, but very little emotion is given away by the character visually. It’s like a stoic determination, straight faced and poised.
For an exterior perspective Nicholas is simply going through the motions of Fencing. However, the final panel of the page belies this and gives the reader an insight into Nicholas’ emotional state. By changing the background colour from off white to crimson the panel radiates a much stronger emotional hit. The entire panel is an exclamation mark for the page, with the captions and movements all leading to this point. The positioning of Nicholas and his Epee, bent down towards the bottom of the page, emphasises his thought process and draws the reader to the rivalry between Nicholas and Seji. All Nicholas can think about is beating Seji, even during a match with someone else. No matter what, he can make each situation about his obsession with Seji.
These two pages look quite different at a quick glance, Dodge City is colourful and chaotic whereas Fence is orderly and clean but the narrative on each page is the same. Each focuses on a single character and, through the sporting actions depicted, they emphasis the emotional state of that character. The determination and obsession is illustrated in a slightly different way but it is very clear on the page what drives each of them.
Fence #7 Out now
Written by C.S. Pacat
Illustrated by Johanna the Mad
Coloured by Joana Lafuente
Lettered by Jim Campbell
Dodge City #4 Out on 27 June 2018
(images used from issue 3)
Written by Josh Trujillo
Illustrated by Cara McGee
Coloured by Brittany Peer
Lettered by Aubrey Aiese
After being shanghaied and forced to work aboard the sail ship Bellwood for two years, sailor Jack decides to take revenge on those who imprisoned him. He starts with Captain Schork and the crew of the Bellwood. After taking the ship he sails it for home to Portland, to find his family and make those responsible for his absence pay.
The remaining prisoners on the ship are offered the chance to join Jack but first they are in for a shock becasue Jack is in fact Molly, a hard working frontiers woman who isn’t afraid of a little violence if it means she gets what she needs.
And so begins Shanghai Red, a new series from Image Comics, released this week.
Issue one of Shanghai Red is set mostly on the ship Bellwood, with a few flashback sequences to establish the central character. It revolves mostly around the night that Jack, aka Molly or Red as she likes to be known, decides that enough is enough and she unleashes a wave of violence on the deck of the ship.
The opening pages are beautifully drawn with an initial sombre mood exploding into a series of violent actions. Joshua Hixson creates an unsafe environment on board the Bellwood by casting a large amount of the panels in shadow and using a number of long, often tilted angled, viewpoints. This gives the reader the impression of a ship in motion but also the sense that something is not quite right. This is then escalated when Red begins her series of attacks.
Hixson brings his colour work into play and coats the grey/blue lighting of the ship with vivid red for the flowing blood and vibrant yellows for the flames Red unleashes. This gives the opening a really strong visual impact that draws you into the comic immediately. It gives the reader a sense of tone for the following narrative as well as illustrating the central character’s determination and cruel intents.
The fine line work, vast backgrounds and coloured caption balloons all work together to give the comic a cohesion that makes it effortless to read. Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou’s lettering works in much the same way as Hixson’s colouring does. It differentiates the characters and their moods either through the colouring of the word balloons or the separation of the characters’ speech.
For example, on a number of occasions the speech is split into two speech balloons although it could all have been placed into one. This emphasises the different parts of the speech so that the reader is drawn to a specific word or phrase giving it more weight. So when Red says “It’s not you. I don’t deserve it. I’m damned.” There is a break before ‘I’m damned’ which gives her final words emphasis, they are not just a throwaway comment to distance herself from Boston. They relate to something more, something which obviously plays on Red’s mind.
Subtleties like this are spread throughout Shanghai Red and reward the reader for paying attention. They are even more important early on because initially Red is not a likable character, her actions are seemingly cruel and heartless but there is something in the way that she is portrayed that makes the you want to find out why she is the way she is. Some of this information is slowly revealed over the course of the comic as Christopher Sebela explores Red’s character via interactions with her new crew.
After the initial gut punch, the narrative becomes a sterling character piece mixed with narrative history and allegorical imagery. Sebela allows two narratives to unfold, each giving a different insight into the central character. The first is Red’s own story as she tells it: this is biased and for a large part emotionless because this is how she has learnt to survive. The second is through Red’s waking dreams: these are fuelled by pure emotion and are nightmarish in nature. Together they build a magnificent central character and sets up the story for future issues.
This comic works as a first chapter in a story by introducing the central character and the themes which surround her life. It also works as self-contained story as it contains everything you need to know to understand the events on board the Bellwood.
Shanghai Red is an outstanding first issue. It draws you in over the first few pages and then focuses the narrative to create interest and intrigue. The artwork fits the tone and setting of the story and gives the entire comic an eerie claustrophobic feel; a visual representation of Red’s emotional state having being trapped on the ship for so long. It is an emotional story infused with pain and suffering but there is a glimmer of hope threaded throughout which gives the reader a reason to continue to read: the relationship between Red and Boston represents that hope.
Full of amazing character work, a strong narrative and eye catching artwork, Shanghai Red is a must read.
Shanghai Red #1
Published by Image Comics
Written by Christopher Sebela
Art by Joshua Hixson
Letters by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
There were some comics out this week. I know, came as a surprise to me. I’ve been so wrapped up in the Doctor Who Twitch marathon that I forgot everything else that might be happening. Although I did manage to catch the trailer for Bumblebee and I must admit, it looks exactly like the kind of Transformer film I wanted. It all looks very Generation 1 and Starscream is my favourite Decepticon so the lack of Michael Bay may prove to be the franchise’s saving grace.
First up, the final issue of Shipwreck from Aftershock was out this week. The first issue came out sometime in 2016, so it has been a long time coming. However, this series has been excellent so far and I can’t wait to actually read the final issue. From a quick flick through I can tell it’s full of action, suspense, shock and heartbreak. The artwork by Phil Hester and Eric Gapstur jumps out of the page thanks to the heavy line work and bold use of vast, black shadows. The colour work by Mark Englert is equally as bold; he is not afraid to use vibrant colours to the excess to create an overpowering mood for each set piece.
As to Warren Ellis’ script, I won’t know how well the story comes together until I’ve read it in it's entirety but Ellis barely steers me wrong, hence I’ve happily waited, patiently, for the series conclusion.
Next we have Dazzler: One Shot from Marvel. Written by Magdalene Visaggio and illustrated by Laura Braga, this one shot is a re-introduction to the mutant character. The story itself is nothing out of the ordinary; it’s not exceptional in any way however it is very well paced and mixes humour with a very modern commentary on social bullying. The basic narrative may seem straight forward and as such the message behind it is very clear: Visaggio is shining a light on a certain element of toxic fandom that circulates the comic book (and it would seem almost any) fan base. The conflict between the few outspoken mutants and their hatred of the Inhumans reflects perfectly the self-righteous, angry fan who attacks other fans just because they have a different view point. Dazzler is used as a uniting force against such hatred and is a shining light for inclusivity and diversity.
I have always been a fan of Dazzler, even though she has never really been a major player in the comics, and it’s pleasing to see her written in such a positive way. One the one hand I would like to have seen a much grander story line for this one shot but on the other, I love the boldness and simplicity of the message this comic is sending out.
It looks like I may be picking up Astonishing X-Men #14 which is where Dazzler is set to return.
Boom! Studios have released a Planet of the Apes Colouring Book. I’m not sure what to do with that information. I have seen the book and there is some very fine art work in there, what with it being a collection of black and white pages from the history of Planet of the Apes comics. If you have to own every bit of merchandise they release or you really want to colour in an angry, netted Taylor then I guess this is just the book for you. I tried a spot of digital colouring but I guess I should leave it to those who know what they are doing...
Finally this week, Doctor Who, and not the classic series current showing on Twitch (Have I mentioned the marathon currently taking place? Trust me, it’s the place to be for any Whovian). Titan Comics have reached the Seventh Doctor in their line of Who related comics. This means only 1, 2, 5, and 6 to go. I’m hanging on for 5, as he’s my favourite incantation so far but I digress.
Operation Volcano part 1 is written by Andrew Cartmel and drawn by Christopher Jones. The story sees the Doctor travel to Australia in the 60’s to the site of a crashed space ship. The comic relies heavily on characters from the extended Doctor Who universe with the ‘Counter Measures’ group and Group Captain Gilmore playing pivotal roles. I’m not overly familiar with this lot but that doesn’t affect the story telling one bit. It’s a mysterious, fast paced adventure with a lot going on: a good representation of a 7th Doctor adventure. My only gripe with this issue is that the Doctor and Ace are not in it enough, especially as this is an oversized first issue. However, Cartmel does capture the character’s voices very well even if they don’t play a big enough part.
I think this title will appeal to more ardent fans of the Doctor Who franchise, especially those who follow the audio adventures, but there is an overwhelming love for Sylvester McCoy's interpretation of the character which makes this a joy, if somewhat confusing, read.