When the Wind Blows – Raymond Briggs

This is a fantastic work by Raymond Briggs who is better known for The Snowman, Father Christmas and Fungus the Bogeyman. This is a much darker tale however and probably not for children. It concerns an elderly couple and what happens to them when a nuclear war breaks out.

They take precautions, follow all the government advice and try to do what is expected of them. They soon discover this is nothing like the last war and blind faith and British pluck are no use to them.

This is a sad and moving tale and a very realistic portrayal of the fear of nuclear war that was palpable in the 1980’s. They are a doddery old couple, set in their ways and a bit fluffy in the head but they are so harmless that you love them. You can easily see your grandparents, aunts and uncles or your future self in them and want nothing bad to happen.

There is a bigger picture here. They are called Mr and Mrs Bloggs and are the ultimate everyman showing you the horrors that would befall you if the unthinkable came. What is most impressive is the introduction. There are quotes from newspapers, media personalities of the time and countless members of parliament (including Tony Benn), a couple of peers and a quote from the Hansard when it was raised in parliament. This shows you the impact it had at the time.

If you are under 30 you won’t know what it was like to live under the shadow of the bomb and may miss out on the resonance of this work. Thanks to the skill of the writer you will however experience the sense of growing dread that overtakes Jim and Hilda Bloggs. The art is excellent matching the author’s other books and embodies the twee and pastel quality of rural England. The panels are quite small for the most part with the odd full page drawing for impact. There are also some clever tricks to illustrate the bomb dropping.

A minute’s silent Thumbs Up.

24/341.

Tomorrow: Green Candles – Tom De Haven

303 – Garth Ennis

I always forget that Garth Ennis’ work has a slow start. This book is divided into two parts and I almost didn’t make it to the second. If you can wade through the comic book equivalent of EastEnders then there is gold at the end of this rainbow.

You could dismiss this work as an anti-American, anti-capitalist, anti-western polemic and it does come on strong but it is told in such a way you certainly see his point of view. You sympathise for those at the bottom of the heap crushed under the boot of our greed driven society. You also share more basic emotions such as grief and loss. All in all it’s not what I expected but Mr Ennis did not let me down so persevere.

The art and more notably the colouring is fantastic. Amazing skies, breathtaking sunsets, sultry nights and daunting landscapes are all here. I don’t think I have seen a more colourful book and it’s not gratuitous. Thumbs Up and double thumbs up for the colourists!

23/342.

Tomorrow: When the Wind Blows – Raymond Briggs

Cthulhu Tales – Boom Studios

Who writes the best Cthulhu tales? Lovecraft does, or did. It seems people are still jumping on the bandwagon a century later. Why not just write your own horror and be brave enough to let it stand on its own. It takes more than a few tentacles and New England place names to conjure up the mythos. There are some nice ideas and neat touches but nothing worthy of the master himself. Maybe we are all a bit too postmodern to be scared by the things that scared Lovecraft’s generation. Creeping dread just isn’t in our vocabulary it seems. Not a thumbs down but disappointing. Maybe volume two will be better.

22/343.

Tomorrow: 303 – Garth Ennis

The Pro – Garth Ennis

A short story about a foul mouthed prostitute who gets superpowers. It looks like a pretty base concept ripe for a procession of bum and fart gags. It is, but, with Garth Ennis at the helm it’s the most mature, intelligent series of bum and fart gags you could imagine. This isn’t a series of sexist cheap thrills but a thought-provoking and humorous parody of both superheroes and modern society. It is good humoured and genuinely laugh-out-loud funny all the way through with great pacing. You can see some of his early ideas for “The Boys” beginning to emerge here too. There is also a second mini-story once you have enjoyed the first. The artwork is superb with dazzling over-the-top spandex colours yet amazing characterisation using clean and sparing lines. A Double Thumbs Up!

21/344.

Tomorrow: Cthulhu Tales – Boom Studios

They walk among us.

Apparently you are never more than six feet away from a rat. How about a geek? You know they look just like us I hear. They can be at your workplace, crossing the street, behind you in a queue or sat across from you on the tube. And you would never know. Unless they are dressed in costume or reading something obviously geeky. Then just don’t make eye contact. I hear turning up the volume on Strictly or TOWIE will drive them away. For a while…

I just discovered that people who work in the same building as me; people who I see everyday that look like the most normal people you can imagine; are secretly geeks. And get this; they are even geekier than me. Sheesh!

It is pretty amazing that people out there – people you would never suspect – are into the same cool stuff as you are. Soon we will be taking over the world…

Another Suburban Romance – Alan Moore

I didn’t read the back of this book before reading it. I should have. What you have here are three “performance works” (or poems as I like to call them) from celebrated writer Alan Moore. They have been illustrated and placed in the traditional comics format which as they have no real narrative they make no sense when you to read them as a story. If you take just the text you have a sublime literary spectacle from a confident, flourishing author. If you look at the illustration you have a huge collection of mini-masterpieces. Each is an exquisitely detailed black and white line drawing with so much depth packed in you could drink in each one for ages and still keep seeing new details. Put them both together and try and read it in a way that it is not intended and you end up with a mental train wreck. But that’s my fault for not looking at the instructions. Thumbs Up for outsmarting the reader!

20/345.

Tomorrow: The Pro – Garth Ennis

Where will it all begin?

I mentioned previously I try not to read stories that don’t yet have an end. Well I also don’t like to read stories whose beginning I can’t get hold of. Things that began last century. Technically last millennium. Which pretty much rules out all superhero comics. I know things have been rebooted and rebranded and relaunched but if they are going to reference previous events and people and stop me seeing the whole picture then I am not interested.

A lot has been done to help those new to the party. Stories are generally written in six issue blocks that, like a TV episode, try to be self-contained. Trade paperbacks collect these into easily purchasable chunks. But many of these characters will be 100 years old in my lifetime, having started in the 1930’s and 40’s. If I like these characters I will want to know where they came from, what choices they have made and how they became the people I am reading about are today.

Now that publishing has become cheaper, prompting omnibus editions, and that truly digital comics are on the horizon you won’t have to trawl through boxes of back issues to have access to a character’s complete history. Things will become more accessible. Also Wikipedia has managed to provide a constructive outlet for the fervour of diehard fans allowing them to provide detailed summaries of what has gone before.

In short I am looking forward to reading some of the superhero classics, but probably not for this blog. Hey you had some Batman and there was that Avengers spinoff. Quit your whining.

Wonderland: Children of the Future Age – Derek Watson & Kit Wallis

This is a charming tale of two children surviving in post-apocalyptic London. It is definitely about children and would be a great read for children as well as adults. The story is compact and well paced but gives you enough background to want another helping. It’s not a new premise but it is peppered with enough fresh ideas to raise an eyebrow. When was the last time you saw post-apocalyptic elephants?

The art is kind of a Western Manga, not quite cartoony, not quite flash animation, but perfect to convey the children’s world. The colours are strong but not bright building the desolate atmosphere perfectly. It’s interesting to see the odd familiar landmark crop up, and it being London there is the obligatory “south of the river” joke. A really nice surprise. Thumbs Up!

19/346.

Tomorrow: Another Suburban Romance – Alan Moore

Look at the size of that thing.

Following on from yesterday: just as a graphic novel or more specifically a trade paperback collects single issues into one larger work what about an omnibus or absolute edition. These collect several trade paperbacks into one massive volume? How are they going to be counted?

Let this be a lesson to you fine folks. Everything is usually only simple on paper. It’s all about the meta.

The Ballad of Doctor Richardson – Paul Pope

This is a superb book that really makes the most of the medium using illustration as well as words to reveal its story to the reader. Many mainstream titles forget that comics are a visual medium that work best by showing not telling the story. Not so with The Ballad as two or three pages will regularly pass without a speech bubble or a word of any kind. You feel a kind of guilty secret as you eavesdrop on the life of Dr Richardson and develop a real friendship for him as his tale unfolds.

This is a very mature (in the proper sense of the word) work which is surprising as it was published when the creator was only 22. He also did the whole thing himself from art to scripting which is no mean feat and was deservedly nominated for two Eisner awards. Both he and Dr Richardson are inspirations to us all.

The art is true black and white (no greys or cross-hatching) and so takes real skill to convey the realism we see on the page. It’s not a style I prefer but I have never seen it used better and was impressed by the amount I was able to perceive in only two colours. This is a great story that really uses the medium to its fullest and I really hope to read some more of the authors work. Definitely a Thumbs Up!

18/347.

Tomorrow: Wonderland: Children of the Future Age – Derek Watson & Kit Wallis