Monday, 29 June 2009

"A Rip-Roaring Mindfuck"

All in all, that was pretty cool.

One of the great things about stumbling blindly through the unmapped foothills of a career in comics is that pretty much every step offers you a "first" something. Last Saturday, by way of example, was my first bookshop signing. I'd seen a couple of these happening in the local Waterstones in the past, so I was slightly wary. There's something unutterably sad about the sight of an unknown author sitting alone at a signing table, that helpless, apologetic smile flickering up at anyone who happens to throw a disinterested glance in their direction. The potential for soul-chewing humiliation seemed rather high to me, but I figured that if the worst came to the worst I could simply add Chelmsford to the already impressive list of places I've no intention of showing my face again. Nothing ventured, right?

Turns out this particular venture was a lot of fun. I got to sign some books (and I'm finally starting to pin down my unruly signature to some level of consistency, so gigs like these are good practice for me), I chatted with the customers and staff and generally had a cool-to-awesome time of it. The two hours flashed by, and I emerged with some measure of my dignity intact. A particular high point was one customer, with whom I had a kind of surreal, wide-ranging dialogue that lasted for pretty much the whole time I was there, with him stepping aside whenever I was signing books but always ready to pick up the thread again. Seriously, that one phenomenally cool guy was worth the trip on his own.

Getting back home, I saw that the profoundly excellent John Freeman of Down The Tubes had posted the following Cancertown review on the site.

In Review: Cancertown

While regular downthetubes readers are well aware there are plenty of "graphic novels" on the market, they also know many are actually collections of monthly comics, better known as "trade paperbacks", perhaps complemented by additional material such as pin ups and background "extras". It's actually quite rare to pick up a graphic novel that truly exploits the opportunities afforded by the longform equivalent of a novel, slowly but surely delivering a story over many pages rather than in bite-sized, previously-published material.

Cancertown is one of those exceptions.

It's the story of Morley, a former mental patient with an inoperable brain tumour who conducts search-and-rescue missions into a monstrous, alternate version of London. Except that, if you're reading Cancertown without the advantage of press previews, even this nugget of information only becomes apparent as you read the story - and that carefully strung out, steadily-paced unfolding of the story is just one of the appeals of this horror tale, a book I described to someone asking me what it was about as a "rip-roaring mindf***".

Morley suffers from a rare mental disorder that causes him to believe a number of weird things about himself and his relationship to the outside world. The major upshot of this is that his delusions manifest themselves in a twisted alternate world he calls Cancertown. The real fun for Morley began when dispossessed people - those who were lost or who had a diminished sense of their own identity - started to fall into Cancertown and Morley decided that his purpose in life was to find those people and return them to the real world before they became permanent residents.

Cancertown is no easy read: you have to pay attention as Morley's adventure and encounters with warped characters such as Corpsegrinder and Piecemaker unfold, and what may be the truth of the origin of Cancertown is revealed. The overall feel of the book is distinctly unsettling but riveting -- a graphic novel you'll find yourself wanting to read in one sitting.

Speaking personally, I think I would rather have had a little more exposition than unanswered mysteries, but that isn't to denigrate Cy Dethan's script, which successfully delivers a powerful horror story, ably complemented by Stephen Downey's creepy otherworld art, the Cancertown elements juxtaposed by very realistic "real world" sequences the artist reveals in background notes are based on photo shoots and other reference. While this is still early days for Downey, with the right guidance I can easily see him making the jump to, say, drawing for Vertigo or other publishers. Good luck to him -- and Cy, too, whose potential as a writer is, frankly, enormous.

Considering that all the creators involved in this project are, for the most part, relative newcomers to the professional comics industry, and the opportunities to break into the mainstream these days are scarce, they can all can be proud of their work on this book. In his introduction, veteran comic creator Bryan Talbot, whose talent for creating longform graphic novels himself is well known, suggests we're seeing the first outing of creators who will make their mark in future on the wider comic industry: and I can fully agree with that sentiment.

A tip of the hat too, to newcomer publisher Insomnia Publications for publishing Cancertown: they're nurturing some fine new talents that would otherwise find publishing opportunities in short supply, and if this first title is any evidence of intent, then we can expect further treats in coming months.

• Cancertown is written by Cy Dethan with art from Stephen Downey, with colour by Melanie Cook and lettering by Nic Wilkinson and is introduced by Bryan Talbot. It's available from specialist comic stores and the Insomnia Publications web site:

So, yeah - not a bad weekend. I'm now looking forward to hearing how Crawford and Stephen got on at the Dundee Literary Festival and Q-Con.

Friday, 26 June 2009


In the clearest possible announcement of the imminent end times, this weekend sees what can only be described as a harmonic convergence of Cancertown-related events - a promotional trident whose fiery prongs only the Welsh may hope to escape.

England: Saturday morning will find Nic and me at the Waterstones in Chelmsford for a Cancertown book signing from 11am to around 1pm.

Scotland: Insomnia founder Crawford Coutts will be speaking at the Dundee Literary Festival, along with David "Tharg" Bishop and Warren Ellis. Now, that's good company to be in. Crawford kicks off at 4.50pm, discussing the evolution of Insomnia, its readership and the ever-changing state of the industry.

Ireland: Stephen Downey will be hosting Insomnia's table as a guest at the Q Con (the annual Gaming Convention hosted by Dragonslayers, the Queen’s University Belfast Gaming and Anime Society). He'll be sketching and selling copies of Cancertown from 6pm on the Friday night and all day Saturday.

Stephen has even contributed a Cancertown-themed sketch as a competition prize. Check this puppy out:

...and just like that, I'm gone.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Frenetic Engineering

Well, a week goes by and nothing new appears on the blog. Long story short, I've had a week off to celebrate Nic's birthday. The last seven days have been a blizzard of Rock Band 2, amusement park rides and truly epic quantities of cake. I've done fuck-all work in all that time and I've loved it. At the same time, oddly, I've missed it. I've probably mentioned before that I have a hard time thinking of comics as work. I've done work in the past and I remember what it was like. Writing comics is something else entirely.

Anyway, I'm back on the clock now and I've got some news to break. My new book has just landed an art team, and it's strong!

The Indifference Engine is the story of a twenty-something suburban slacker who joins an interdimensional task force composed entirely of superhuman alternate versions of himself. It's the most overtly sci-fi book I've worked on since Starship Troopers, and I'm thoroughly enjoying the writing process. The art on this is going to need just the right combination of subtlety and power, so Insomnia have signed up the startlingly good Robert Carey. Feel free to stomp on over to his blog to see what he's capable of. As for colours, the awesome Mel Cook, who brought so much to the atmosphere and tone of Cancertown, will be back in business. If nothing else, this book is going to look gorgeous.

The first chapter script is in the bag, and I'm looking forward to seeing it take shape.


Friday, 12 June 2009

Insomnia News Round-up

As recently announced on the Insomnia blog, the publisher is about to launch a new line of "biographic novels" - essentially, books with a historical angle. The first of these, Burke and Hare by Martin Conaghan and Will Pickering, will be out later this year and is already looking excellent. With a foreword from Alan Grant and bonus artwork from the likes of Frank Quitely and Gary Erskine, I'm damn sure going to be looking into this.

Stephen Downey's well deserved transformation into a full-blown comics celebrity advanced yet again with an article in the Irish News. Click the image below to check it out.

As if Stephen weren't busy enough already, the idea has been floated of a sort of special edition "Rough Guide to Cancertown" art/background book. The details are still being discussed, but the book would include an exclusive story from Morley's past, most likely detailing his first experiences of "crossing over" and meeting the Cancertown residents. Should be fun.

Finally, Cancertown has received the following cool-as-fuck review from Simon over at

Cancertown: An Inconvenient Tooth
Insomnia Publications

Writer: Cy Dethan
Artist: Steven Downey
Reviewer: Simon

Insomnia Publications are gathering a reputation for investing in new writers and artists and producing groundbreaking work.
This year they have released Cancertown, Layer Zero: Choices and coming soon is Burke & Hare (which will be released under their new Vigil imprint).

Cancertown: An Inconvenient Tooth is one of those rare treasures in its originality, well written and beautifully drawn.
The front cover, by Paul Cartwright, lets you know you are in for a surreal ride as you are transported with Vince Morley to Cancertown. The story is well put together and you feel like you are in a book by Jamie Delano, it has the freshness that he brought to Hellblazer.

"Vince Morley is a man with big problems and a brain tumour like a baby's fist, living with one foot in a monstrous alternate world he calls Cancertown. When the lost and dispossessed of London start tripping over the same cracks in reality he spends his life avoiding, Morley realises he must confront the residents of Cancertown - and risk finding his place among them."

Cy Dethan has scripted an exceptional story and Stephen Downey's pencils are a joy, whilst colourist Melanie Cook captures the tone brilliantly. If you like horror stories mixed with detective novels you are going to love it, I kept expecting Mickey Spillane to cameo somewhere along the way.

This is not a book you are going to put down once you start reading so sit back, relax and enjoy it when you have a lot of time to absorb it, THEN re-read it. Unlike so many other independent publications, Insomnia have given their writers and artists time to get the end product right and then produced a printed edition that has quality and is a pleasure to own. If all small publishers produced work on this scale then the big boys (Marvel, DC etc.) would definitely have a fight on their hands and their dominance would slip away. Already, Insomnia are proving they have the capability to produce work of a superior quality and the future should, hopefully, be very bright.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Autographic Memories

Well, now - that was just fun!

Whatever Comics being such a prominent landmark on the map of my adventures in comics, it was unbelievably cool to be able to do my first non-convention signing session there. Better yet, the book I was signing was my first creator-owned title. All in all, this was kind of a big deal for me.

The new location of the store, right in the middle of Canterbury's main shopping area, seems to have drastically increased its flow of customers. Owner and Cancertown sponsor, Manny Amario, had done a great job of promoting the event, so by the time we had the table and banner set up, there were already people waiting to get their books signed. All in all, we did pretty well, emptying the box of books we'd had for the gig and signing an additional dozen or so copies brought in by people who had bought them at launch.

Ollie Masters, writer of upcoming Insomnia graphic novel, Dead Goats showed up for moral support, and I finally got to hear some details about his story. I won't spoilerise it here, but I will just say that it's precisely my kind of thing and I'll definitely be picking up a copy when it comes out.

Another highlight of my day came about when Punisher artist, Laurence Campbell turned up to get a copy of Cancertown. I'm a big fan of Laurence's work (I have only ever bought a handful of comics specifically for their artwork, and all of them were drawn by Laurence), so it was a particular kick to sign Cancertown for him.

Also, Vic Reeves showed up in a blazer resembling a dirty spearmint Pacer. Nothing to do with the signing, but noteworthy nonetheless.

Rounded off the day in the pub with an eclectic mix of old and new friends. Grabbed some photo reference of the Westgate for my recently completed Focal Point script on the Sunday morning and spent six fucking hours trying to get back to London. Two out of three legs of the journey involved rail-replacement bus services.

Good times...

Friday, 5 June 2009

Cancerbury Tales

So, I'm off to Canterbury this weekend for a Cancertown signing at the home of the book's sponsor (and my own spiritual homeland), Whatever Comics. A large chunk of my family lives fairly near to the city, so it'll be a dual-purpose visit for me. In any case, it's always fun to head back to Canterbury and Nic and I rarely take much convincing to hop the train down there. I'll be at the store on Saturday, from around 11am to 4pm.

As far as the signing goes, I honestly don't know what to expect. The last gig I attended down there was very well attended, but then they had Laurence Campbell and Rob Williams signing for that one. Still, Stephen's recent success at the Forbidden Planet signing in Belfast was nothing short of spectacular, so who knows?

Speaking of Stephen, he's currently a guest at the 2D Northern Irish Comics Festival, which runs until Saturday the 6th. He's in good company for this one, as the festival also boasts Bryan Talbot, Glenn Fabry and David Lloyd (among many others) on its guest list. I'm looking forward to hearing how the event goes down.

That's about it for now. Back after the weekend with updates.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

This Just In: Cancertown Reviewed on SciFi Pulse

Ian Cullen of the SciFi Pulse news site and radio show email has just emailed to let me know that he's posted a review of Cancertown on the site. Here's what he made of it:

Graphic Novel Review: Cancertown

Written by Ian Cullen on June 4, 2009 – 3:45 pm -

Synopsis: Vincent Morley is a barely functional former mental patient with an inoperable tumour nestling in his brain. See that? That’s our hero. Morley suffers from a rare mental disorder that causes him to believe a number of unlikely things about himself and his relationship to his environment. Chief among these delusions is the idea that he has the ability to step out of reality and into a monstrous alternate world he calls Cancertown.

Now, that’s all very well as a personal, private little Hell – but when normal people start tripping over the cracks in reality and falling into Cancertown, Morley decides that his role in life is to find them and ferry them back out again.

(Synopsis Excerpt taken from

The Review: Cancertown is one of those few books that I’ve been waiting a while to check out - mostly because Cy Dethan, who wrote the book, really did a great job of selling me the book last summer when I interviewed him for scifipulse, and again more recently when we had him live on the SciFiPulse Radio show, along with his creative team.

So after hearing the premise, which as far as I’m concerned is somewhat unique for a comic, and also very British in the way it explores a somewhat dark and flawed character who has the best of intentions. I thought I better check this out.

Cancertown leaps out of the page at you, grabs you by the jugular and doesn’t let you go. Simply put, it’s weird, disturbing and any number of other words that you’d associate with horror. It is also compelling and, in the tradition of the best horror comics, has just the right mix of action, adventure and mystery thrown in to keep you guessing.

This is the first work of Cy Dethan's that I have read, and probably will not be the last. One thing that grabs you right away about Cy’s writing style is that he is the absolute prince of darkness when it comes to one-liners and interesting combinations of some of our all-time favourite slang terms. In short, it’s a bit sweary. So, not a kid's book.

What we have, in essence, is a very unusual hero in Morley who seems to be dealing with an ensemble of characters that you’d probably see in a Clive Barker movie. The characterizations all seem very strong, especially the Piecemaker and Corpsegrinder, who both enjoy quite a lot of panel time due to the fact that Morley has numerous interactions with them throughout.

The story is helped immensely by some great artwork from Steven Downey, and I especially enjoyed Downey’s black and white art work, which was used for some of the flashback sequences throughout the book. In fact, the teaming of Steven Downey with colourist Melanie Cook and letterer Nic Wilkinson really works well.

If you're a fan of horror comics then I feel you can’t go wrong by giving Insomnia’s Cancertown a try. It tells an often weird, funny and strange compelling story. I couldn’t put it down.

Score 9/10

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Stephen Downey Sets the Bar High, Then Drinks It Dry...

As mentioned previously, Cancertown had its official Irish launch on Saturday, with a signing session from Stephen Downey at the Belfast Forbidden Planet. The event had been given some local news coverage, and by all accounts the turnout was way beyond expectations. Stephen had promised free, personalised sketches to everyone who bought a copy, and I can only imagine the look on his face when he turned up at the store to find the queue already forming. Furthermore, rather than churning out a conveyor belt of identical thumbnails, he was giving out full-on pieces like this:

Check out Stephen's own report of the event for more examples.

In total, a ridiculous fifty-six copies of Cancertown were sold over the two and a half hour signing. That's one every couple of minutes, non-stop! Gobsmacked doesn't begin to describe it. Congratulations are most definitely due to Stephen. I hope he hasn't picked up any permanent sketching injuries, and that the after-signing drinking session was suitably apocalyptic.

In other news, Stephen's Cancertown work has been showcased in an excellent ImagineFX magazine article. There's even a word or two from me in there somewhere. Click on the image below to read the article.

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