Dude! We is even more famous!

Well not only did we get another mention on Mombcomics but:

http://mombcomics.com/2012/05/18/mombcast-136/

UK comics creator Peter Rogers got in touch asking me to read his work The Interactives.

http://peter-rogers.com/

We got a mention on Com X’s Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Comx/17128542788

And my review of Fort was nicked and put on the hawaiifive0 message boards.

http://hawaiifive0online.net/2012/05/20/review-of-graphic-novel-fort-by-h50-exec-producer-peter-lenkov/

 

You can’t make this sh*t up!

Tootles!

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45 – Andi Ewington

This isn’t a graphic novel in the traditional sense. Not like all those I have read previously. It is however, absolutely brilliant. It’s kind of an illustrated epistolary novel.

Imagine our world, but where a rare gene can give people super powers. The kind of powers we read about in comics every day. A journalist is expecting his first child and there is a one in a million chance that his child will have that rare Super-S gene. He decides to interview people of different ages and backgrounds, from all over the world that have superpowers. This way he can get an idea of the life his family and child could expect.

What follows are forty-five interviews with super people, their parents, spouses, children and people with a professional interest in them. As this is set in our world all the problems, issues and trauma that accompany these powers pour forth. Examples are choosing a name which hasn’t been copyrighted, being bullied at school, managing a secret identity, raising children, and obviously saving people. It is like Astro City but in a much grittier, documentary style way.

Each person gets a page to respond to questions or speak their mind. Most of these stories are tragic, or at least complex, as it seems the Super-S gene brings at least as much detriment as it does benefit. We get to do a lot of reading between the lines as these interviews betray much more about the speaker than they realise. There are also recurring threads woven through these stories painting a very detailed picture of the world they live in. A name or event will crop up in a number of stories. The mysterious XoDOS corporation and its hidden agenda being the prime example.

These interviews, that appear in transcript form, are exceptionally well written and you do get the sense that each is really the words of a completely different character. Although there isn’t the traditional sense of narrative as in a novel there is a feeling of progression. As we learn more and more about the world, and the forces and politics within it, the tiny breadcrumbs dropped into story begin to mount up. They are placed in a particular order for a reason and there are key themes and clues we learn to look for like a literary Where’s Wally. As well as getting to know each interviewee we also learn about the journalist and his imminent child.

Each one page interview transcript is accompanied by a matching page of art. Sometimes this is a single image and sometimes a collage or montage of multiple illustrations of the person being interviewed. Each of these 45 images is done by a different artist making them all as distinct as the subject they depict.

This is bold and powerful work and really represents out of the box thinking. The deeper you dig and closer you study this work the more ideas and themes you unearth. It rewards you for not being a passive reader and going through a second time with the benefit of your experience feels very different. The author lists World War Z and Marvels as two works that influenced him and you can immediately see why. But this certainly isn’t a ripoff, it is a fresh take on the stagnant superhero subject matter.

It is innovation like this from first time authors that we need. It deserves a Double Thumbs Up!

83/282.

Tomorrow: Criminal: Coward – Ed Brubaker

Bram Stoker’s Death Ship – Gary Gerani

Some of the most compelling parts of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula are the brief quotes from the log of the ship Demeter. As it carries the stowaway vampire to England the crew disappear mysteriously leaving none but the captain aboard, lashed to the wheel. This story expands on this brief but terrifying outline to detail the whole voyage.

It begins abruptly with a sex scene, which, although has a twist and serves to illustrate the nature of two of the characters, is a very jarring beginning. Names and back stories are invented for crew and we see what happens as they are picked off Ten Little Indians style. There isn’t really much of a plot and we know the ending so all we can rely on is characterisation and atmosphere.

Dracula is an incredible piece of writing and unless Stoker was going to write this book then whoever ended up doing it wouldn’t be as good. You are taking a couple of paragraphs and spinning them out to four chapters after all. It does feel shallow and you do see the monster almost straight away. If this was a standalone tale then it wouldn’t be too bad but coming from such a rich legacy we can’t help but feel let down.

The art is very subdued indeed with fog, storm and ship interior providing very little daylight. A good effort is made with the lighting and shadows and there are some good dramatic poses every so often. The sailors’ faces are intentionally caricatured, as if the artist was one of their crew, incorporating their personalities into the drawing. There is an awful lot of dark blue and mud brown but with the odd flashback and ghostly apparition colour does make an occasional appearance.

Our villain is a very psychological vampire. With the power to read the crew’s minds he uses guilt as well as fear to drive the sailors to madness. This unusual approach, coupled with the fleshing out of the sailors’ pasts, tries really hard to win you over. This is definitely an uphill struggle but for the most part it succeeds.

There is an extensive self-critique by the writer that sheds light into his themes and objectives. There is also a brief history of the Demeter on screen throughout Dracula’s film career. There is also a cover gallery featuring some truly quirky styles. Thumbs Up!

82/283.

Tomorrow: 45 – Andi Ewington

Kapow Comic Convention Report

The UK has quite a few comic conventions. Most of them resemble hippy communes or folk festivals with reams of quirky small press titles that wouldn’t make it into a comic shop let alone a Hollywood blockbuster. These are great affairs which I heartily recommend.

What we had never had were the grand spectacles of the San Diego Comic-Cons. That was until up stepped Mark Millar (you know, he wrote Kick-Ass, Wanted, The Authority, the Ultimates, Civil War, etc.) and decided to do something about it. Hence Kapow was born, a 2 day event based in London that seeks to cram all that American razzamatazz into as short a time and small a space as possible.

The event is actually run by his partner, Lucy, and her sister Sarah. Yet despite a female dynamic duo  at the helm the show has courted internet controversy for its lack of female guests; an issue which even spilled over into the national press.  In an industry dominated by male creators and fans there were certainly female faces to be seen throughout this year’s show from the guests to the fans (and not just the cosplayers) to the virtually Amazonian staff.

The convention is held in the Business Design Centre in Central London making it very convenient to get to by public transport. There is also a Hilton Hotel right next door if you can afford it too. The building itself is a quirky wrought iron and glass affair with lots of stairs and levels like an M. C. Escher painting. As well as keeping you fit you fit this makes the whole event seem much cosier than the massive zeppelin sized hangers of traditional convention halls. Despite the split levels I saw plenty of wheelchair users across the site.

At just over a day and a half in length there was more than you could cram into twice the length. During each hour you had two or three strong choices on how you could spend your time from panels and speakers, autograph signings (no one charged for autographs, ever), film screenings, shopping, or chatting with the dozens of artists and small press creators showing off their work.

The guests were top notch with the heads of Marvel, DC, and Image all flying over from the US and bringing such luminaries as Scott Snyder (American Vampire, Batman); Sara Pichelli (Runaways, Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man) and Terry Dodson (Harley Quinn, X-Men). The majority of the guests were British however and it was great to see how much home-grown talent has shaped the industry. Household names such as Dave Gibbons, Frank Quietly, Kieron Gillen, Andy Diggle, Mike Carey, Charlie Adlard, David Lloyd, Paul Cornell, John McCrea, Bryan Hitch, Gary Erskine and of course Warren Ellis. There were also lots of ways to see your heroes too with panels and talks, dedicated signing sessions, live video interviews hosted by SFX magazine and some even had their own tables set up where you could shop, chat and pay for commissions.

If the moving image was your bag there was lots of exclusive footage from Red Tails, House at the end of the Street, Lawless, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Storage 24, Total Recall, the Amazing Spiderman and a full length preview screening of Iron Sky. There were lots of guests from the world of film and TV including Rick McCallum, Gareth Evans, David Oyelowo, Rufus Sewell, Noel Clarke, Nick Frost, Gareth Edwards, Russell Tovey, Tom Macrae, Adam Garcia and Lucy Brown. For the smaller screen gamer the team at Rocksteady gave an hour-long presentation about the making of the smash hit Batman: Arkham City.

An unfortunate addition brought over from the US was the queuing. Panels, autographs, screenings all recommended you queue up early thus having to miss out on anything you wanted to see in the slot before. There was even a monster queue to get into the venue when the doors opened, which meant if you were at the back you didn’t get in until long after the start time. There were two lines for convention entry and panels; with those who paid five times the price for their ticket getting to go in first. Not so for the autographs unfortunately. Most of the panels that everybody queued up for you didn’t need to bother as everyone got in. Likewise with entry as the scheduled events started an hour after doors opened.

There were generally two sorts of panels. There were the quiet and thoughtful ones that had, optimistically, a dozen people turn up.  Alternatively there were big budget marketing hours that were tightly scripted and whipped people into a frenzy over DC’s New 52, Avengers Vs X-Men, and Before Watchmen. These had hundreds of people and it was their cheering you could hear in the deathly silence of the smaller rooms. There were also Celebrity panels featuring British TV Icon Jonathan Ross, actor Nick Frost, acerbic comedians Jimmy Carr & Frankie Boyle and the reclusive legend Warren Ellis, which were packed with the devoted hanging on their every word.

Throughout both days there was a signing timetable with most of the big names doing an hour or two each day. For these you really needed to start queuing before the start time particularly in Mark Millar’s case. Improving on last year (so I am told) they had cut off signs they gave to the person they thought would get the last signature. You could join after the sign but weren’t guaranteed a signature. This is definitely to be applauded but queues are dynamic things with people dropping out and people pulling the entire run of X-Men out of their bag and wanting them all signed. Being British and not wanting anyone to be left out the signs were occasionally passed back earning rebukes from the angry angels on the staff who would move them forward again. All the signers were generally good natured answering questions, posing for photographs and chatting away. You could tell which people were jetlagged or hung-over however. If you started early enough you could maybe get two or three signatures out of a two hour slot.

A whole floor was dedicated to traders selling everything from current trades to vintage issues with all sorts of T-shirts, trading cards and weird candy. There were a couple of the better known small press people with stalls too. Above this was the Artist’s Alley where the even smaller press people rubbed shoulders with artists of all genres including big names such as Barry Kitson, John McCrea, Gary Erskine, Chris Weston and Adi Granov. All of these people were happy to chat to you, pimp their latest projects and, for a small fee, draw you a commission.

For some reason there was live wrestling taking place with Lucha Britannia’s masked Lucha Libre Mexican wrestling with a superhero/ cabaret twist. This along with video screens blasting out upcoming movie adverts and live interviews made quite a spectacle as you entered. There were a lot of cosplayers wandering around too. All good natured and happy to stop for pictures. There were even some professional ones with VIP badges.

There was a cloakroom where you could check your stuff for £1 per item, lots of toilets (which did seem to all have queues), and one food outlet that had a variety of reasonably priced food. There were ATM’s in the foyer which charged you a fee but just across the road were free ones and the neighbourhood was filled with lots of pubs doing good cheap food. If you filled up on a full English Breakfast in the morning you wouldn’t need to stop for the rest of the day. Just munch quietly on a few cereal bars while you are queuing or sitting in a panel.

The staff were easy to identify and there seemed to be plenty of them. The convention program was really good with only three adverts. A clear visual timetable showed you what was happening when. There were descriptions of each of the events and who was scheduled to appear at them. There were good tips on where and when to queue and a map showing the general layout of the hall. It was also small enough to carry around with you.

This being a new convention you have to expect teething troubles and there were a few. The staff weren’t as knowledgeable as you hoped they would be and you had to find some things out for yourself. Despite stalls and booths having numbers in the program there was no key for the majority of them. If you wanted to find a particular artist you had to embarrassingly work your way through the whole alley saying “excuse me, who are you?” Even going to the organiser’s office and asking the people there they had no list and no clue. Some of the big names cancelled their signing sessions and Jonathan Ross and Bryan Hitch moved theirs to the morning. There was no big sign in the foyer letting you know this just a few handwritten scraps of paper pinned to the walls in odd places. There was also the fact that Saturday’s schedule lasted for ten full hours and Sunday lasted for six hours yet both were the same price. The cosplay competition was won by two small children in shop bought costumes. Anyone who had spent months and a fortune on making a costume, not to mention spending the entire day in makeup might feel a little disappointed.

Would I go back again? Absolutely. As soon as tickets go on sale I will book. Would I pay VIP prices? If they had VIP lines for autographs yes, otherwise the standard ticket will do just fine. Now I know the layout and how it works next year I will be able to cram in twice as much. Would I recommend it? Even with London Super Comic Con appearing this year Kapow is a must visit. It combines that old town hall con feel with Yankee style and spectacle. What’s not to love?

You can read more about what I did on the MOMB Comics site!

Defoe 1666 – Pat Mills

Like much of Britain’s great comic literature this first appeared in the pages of 2000AD and was written by one of its most prolific and well respected writers Pat Mills. Its premise is that in 1666 there was a zombie uprising in England. The great people of the age such as Sir Issac Newton, King Charles II, Robert Hooke and many more familiar names put their heads together to save the day. Science, Alchemy, Devilry, Popery and the drawings of Leonardo Da Vinci are all pressed into service together with a lot of gunpowder. It’s like steampunk but without the steam.

Period London isn’t the background for this story it is the star. The language is a real delight to behold with familiar but long dormant words, phrases, titles and curses all resurrected to breathe life into a truly authentic setting. This is in fact the “Sandman” of zombie comics. You keep wishing you paid more attention at school so that so much of the detail isn’t going over your head. Like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings these pages contain a living, breathing world not just a two-dimensional stage. At the least this will give you a gripping action story, at the most this will have you jumping on Wikipedia or heaven forbid going to the library to look up Levellers, Papists, Linkboys and the Invisible College. As it is written by a Brit there are no jarring Mary Poppins manglings of the language

The art is black and white line that 2000AD is well known for. It is used to great effect here to portray the murk, squalor and grime of 17th Century London. The darkness, rain, fog, underground crypts and oppression of the settings are realised superbly. This is an age before electricity or even gas lighting so all that stands between you and the darkness is your hearth or candle. It is hard to imagine this work functioning as well if it were in colour.

This volume contains the first two of four stories. The second introduces a bigger troupe of zombie hunters and so there isn’t as much time to flesh out the characters. It feels like the ABC Warriors (another Pat Mills creation) with too many faces unnecessarily competing for screen time. You definitely want to know more however and I am looking forward to the next trade paperback. Absolutely Thumbs Up!

81/284.

Tomorrow:  Bram Stoker’s Death Ship – Gary Gerani

BONUS REVIEW: Temporary (Cubes and Ladders) – Damon Hurd & Rick Smith

To say this is different from the norm would be an understatement. This might actually be the reason for undertaking this task, to see how diverse graphic novels can be. This however is a single issue as it is very short but contains a complete storyline. Where does one start on this thoroughly perplexing read?

The premise is a girl called Envy Saint-Claire who works for a temp agency. Each day she gets given a new job and takes over someone else’s working life for the day. She sits at their desk, drinks their coffee and chats to their friends. For a single day she gets to be someone else. This is such an interesting idea and is in effect the ultimate in people watching.

The office she arrives in is unlike anything imaginable. Everyone’s name badge says “Worker,” the computers are hollow, email is actually a person who delivers post-it-notes for you and the fax machine is a guy hiding in a cupboard saying beep. Her job is data entry but this consists of putting files into the shredder. What is going on? Is this some clever metaphor for how ridiculous our working lives are? Is it a depiction of hell in some form or another? The reveal is a masterstroke as all your questions are answered perfectly.

After her day’s work she goes home to see her sister Sympathy which presents such a dramatic twist you will be compelled to hunt out the next part. I have enjoyed many great stories which have left me wanting more. Like doughnuts I need another rush of literary sugar. But the conclusion here is so jaw dropping that you have to know what comes next.

The art appears incredibly basic like an old newspaper strip. Just 2D black and white with no depth or shading; yet the framing, composition and some of the tiny details hidden about the office are inspired. The dramatic twist at the end relies almost solely on the art making a bold statement. For most people it will be a case of Emperor’s-new-clothes, a vanity project or a lot of fuss about nothing. For many, like me, this will be a comic epiphany. The closest example I can give would be the film “Being John Malkovich.” You might not agree but personally this is a Double Thumbs Up!

I am going to try and track down the full length work for a proper review.

Bonus Review

Kick Ass – Mark Millar

This is a pleasing tale that explores the concept of why people don’t put on masks and become super heroes. A high school kid does just that and has to deal with the consequences as well as dealing with school, friends, family and relationships. This isn’t a sugar-coated fantasy. This explores the real truth of our violent world and why people are too afraid to stand up for themselves and others.

The storytelling switches between narration and action and starts with a cool flashback. There are some great setups and payoffs and it is an excellent piece of writing. The art is great and very appropriate having a real teen feeling that captures life surrounding kids today. There is a lot of gore however and the cartoony feel helps defuse this. The lettering actually stood out with an unusual but highly readable font selected for the narration. There are little touches like turning narration boxes into diary entries to help differentiate who is speaking.

There are an awful lot of pop culture and comics literature references and if you get them you will smile and if you don’t they should just slip over your head unnoticed. It is very refreshing to read such a grounded examination of the superhero mythos and of our current society. Millar does nail his politics to the flagpole and also promotes his other comics within the story which feels a little jarring but not often enough to spoil the immersion. One of the protagonists has an unusual motivation (very different from the film version) that, whilst striking, didn’t feel right to me. There is an obvious setup for a sequel in an “Unbreakable” style.

Definitely a Thumbs Up!

80/285.

Tomorrow: Defoe 1666 – Pat Mills. PLUS bonus review: Temporary (Cubes and Ladders) – Damon Hurd & Rick Smith

7 Brothers: Volume 2 – John Woo & Benjamin Raab

Hollywood has a nasty trick of taking a successful movie, jettisoning all the good people that made it, and chucking out something that bears little resemblance to the great experience you enjoyed before. Well, gone is the fantastic Garth Ennis and the original artist Jeevan Kang to be replaced by unknowns. This is not a great start.

But to be fair they don’t do a bad job. I was all set to write this off but the story engages you and the characters grow, develop and reveal more about their past. The smartest thing the new writers do is focus on a select few of the seven brothers giving more room for emotional attachment. The story and new antagonist is a compelling one. Where do you go after you have saved the world?

The art isn’t bad but it lacks the rich saturation and distinctive style of the original. You get the sense that things were a little rushed. While the art isn’t bad and there are some nice touches and panel layouts maybe they should have made more of an effort to keep the original artist or retain his style. Despite my reservations this turned out to be a Thumbs Up!

79/286.

Tomorrow: Kick Ass – Mark Millar

7 Brothers – John Woo & Garth Ennis

The short lived Virgin Comics came up with the idea of giving creative people their own comic to design. This issue sees the director John Woo re-imagine an ancient Chinese legend. It was a surprise to see that Garth Ennis was his ghost-writer. I have never seen any of John Woo’s films but this certainly has a filmic quality to it and some excellent pacing. This is an incredibly rich tale that blends oriental mythology with western storytelling and is much more than the sum of two cultures.

The art is a murky watercolour that seems to have a quality all of its own and is perfect for conveying this ancient and mystical tale. It isn’t as clear and crisp as many comics are but it has no trouble conveying the action. This has an ensemble cast – seven brothers plus extras – so many of the characters aren’t given an opportunity to develop. It could have been five brothers just as easily.

The whole piece seems very worldly. All the brothers are different nationalities and much of the story concerns ancient China so you do get a sense of being a literary tourist. There is enough of Ennis’ trademark black humour and some outstanding dialogue for it to seem familiar and friendly. But you also get the feeling he is being stretched and is exploring new territory. It is really great to see such a distinctive and enriching collaboration. Thumbs Up!

78/287.

Tomorrow: 7 Brothers Volume 2 – John Woo & Benjamin Raab

Fort – Peter Lenkov

This is a charming, self-contained tale reminiscent of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. It stars and is narrated by Charles Fort, amateur paranormal investigator and a librarian in the New York City of 1899. Fort is a dapper chap with well groomed moustache and terribly English manners. Although there is a great deal of physical peril he never comes across as a James Bond type and seems to be carried through solely by his stiff upper lip and reckless curiosity. It makes very good use of the time period with locations and characters from history used wisely.

The art is black and white line drawing that reflects the shadowy nature of the story and the grimness of the period. The lines are crisp and clean and the use of shading is masterful creating some excellent lighting effects. There are some great angles and well composed frames with a real feeling of depth on the page.

Although the story has a Lovecraft feel it does not use any of the Mythos characters. There is a young urchin that is called H.P. which I thought was a masterful touch. Unfortunately he is later addressed as Master Lovecraft and is revealed to have a passion for short stories. This is too much and really derails the immersion that the reader was feeling. There is scope for a sequel but no sense that anything was unfinished. This is a Thumbs Up!

77/288.

Tomorrow: 7 Brothers – John Woo & Garth Ennis