Wednesday, 15 December 2010

The Indifference Engine: A Holographic Novel launches on PSN Today

“Being a science fiction fan, I sometimes ache for a comic that will challenge my perceptions of the world, of the universe, of my way of thinking...The Indifference Engine, written by Cy Dethan (Cancertown)with pencils by Robert Carey, scratches that itch spectacularly!" said Wayne Hall of Sci-Fi Pulse.

Happily, you can now find relief for all your own inter-dimensional itches as, with a little holiday magic, The Indifference Engine (Dethan, Carey, Cook, Wilkinson) has been bumped up Markosia Enterprises’ release schedule and has made its way to the Playstation Network Comic Store just in time for Christmas!

Responding to a strangely specific job advertisement, Alan Blake, a distinctly ordinary twenty-something suburban slacker finds himself in the middle of an inter-dimensional task force staffed entirely by superhuman alternate versions of himself. Struggling to fit in, he uncovers a conspiracy that strikes at the very heart of the organisation – a conspiracy that only he can stop.

"Cy Dethan's script is superb on this book", said John (Sci-Fi Art Now) Freeman on Down The Tubes "This [is a] tightly-written multi-universe-spanning adventure tale and it's...definitely a book to look out for."

My name is Alan Blake. I've got no resources, no skills and no friends. But if I were you, I'd be the very last person on Earth I'd want coming after me...

The Indifference Engine reunites the Cancertown team of Dethan, Cook and Wilkinson, joined this time around by penciller Rob Carey in his first full length graphic novel.

Harry Markos, publisher, speaking about the launch on the PSN forum said: “You’re going to be freaked out. I warned you , a while ago, that The Indifference Engine would blow your minds. Well, as promised, issue one is here to do just that!”

Meanwhile, over on the PSN blog, Pauline Martyn (Publishing Manager, PSN Digital Comics) posted: “Cancertown was one of the highlights of our early offerings – a great series which steadily grew a loyal cult following during its time on the store. Now, writer Cy Dethan is back with the superlative The Indifference Engine through Markosia.”

And a final word from Sci-Fi Pulse:

"I LOVED having to pay attention and taking my time to keep track of what was going on. I LOVED the pay-off at the end as well. It’s a great mental exercise–my brain was tired for a long time after reading it....In fact, I LOVED that, too! What a great comic!"

If you want to try before you buy then you can read a free preview of the first 14 pages over on the website along with a sneak peek at art from later episodes.

If you are a journalist, reviewer or podcaster and would like review copies, artwork samples, more information or to interview any of the team, please do get in touch.

For those who don't have a PSP, look out for other formats next year!

...and there is already a sequel in the works!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Southern Discomfort

Okay, first things first: Ultimate Congratulations are due to Cancertown/Slaughterman's Creed artist, Stephen Downey and noted comics model Aimee (whose likeness can be seen most prominently in Cancertown's Babyface character) on the announcement of their engagement. Full details of Stephen's awesome proposal can be seen on his blog, and the whole thing reads like a masterclass in doing this sort of thing right.

I first read about James Pearson's Bayou Arcana anthology on the Small Press Big Mouth website, and was surprised to find myself called out by name in the article. Never one to turn down an opportunity to get involved in something truly fascinating, I've pitched in a story with Nic Wilkinson signed on as artist. Nic and I have several writer/artist collaborations to our names already, ranging from the Layer Zero short, Remember This Moment to two years' worth of Starship Troopers: Extinction Protocol (a first professional comics gig for both of us), so I'm really looking forward to getting stuck into this.

The Bayou Arcana project has been described as a "horror-laced, adult faerie tale" which is a good fit for where my head is right now. Meanwhile, the ropey, aggressively organic swamp environment should play beautifully to Nic's style - so watch this space for further news of Swamp Pussy and the Hanged Man, in which a faithless lover is cursed to a hundred years of mourning in the shadow of a heartbroken tree.


Wednesday, 8 December 2010

...And the World Will Tremble at the Name: SPLINTFINGER!

Okay, this is for anyone who doesn't already know what's been going on with me for the last eight weeks. It's a Secret Origin of sorts - a tale of inexplicable happenstance triggering a double pendulum of chaos and transformation.

Well, not exactly - but it's a tale of something annoying happening to me and, consequently, me being inconvenienced over a long period.

So anyway, on the Saturday night of this year's BICS, I suffered an injury. It was a strange, unexpected and entirely trivial incident, with no definable cause or warning. I was in the process of demonstrating an uncanny ability to bend just the top joint of each of the fingers of both hands while keeping them otherwise entirely straight. Any coin magicians among my largely imaginary readers might recognise this physiological quirk as being the prerequisite for Stanley Collins' "The Jumping Sixpence" sleight variation, as described on p.338 of JB Bobo's "New Modern Coin Magic (1966)."

No? Nobody? Okay, then - moving on...

Anyway, this is the same, dumb stunt I've been showing people since I was five years old, and I have to say it's the first time I've ever snapped a fucking finger tendon doing it.

In fact, I've spent the last two months explaining to doctors and orthopaedists that there was no impact injury to the finger at all. The most strenuous activity I'd undertaken with the hand that day had been signing a set of contracts for Markosia. Still, the undeniable fact is that I snapped a tendon and the top section of my left (dominant) ring finger hooked over and refused to straighten.

Undeniable, that is, except by the retarded fuckhat at Accident & Emergency who kept me waiting four hours for a misdiagnosis of Trigger Finger. It took another two days and an angry phone call from my GP (about whom I have zero complaints in all this) to get that verdict overturned and to score me the Mallet Splint that I've worn for the last fifty days.

Anyway, the splint was a total joy, as you can imagine. At no point during the recovery period was I permitted to let the fingertip droop or bend, as to do so for even one second (as was made very clear to me) would set me back to square one with an increased chance of surgery.

One thing that this experience has taught me is that I have lived an entirely trouble-free life so far. I must have, for something so trivial to have annoyed me so deeply. Admittedly, as a magician, having a key finger out of action is a legitimate pisser. Even typing is fiddly and slow. Today, the splint finally came off, and I was informed that I'd never be able to form a tight fist with my left hand again.

Bollocks to that - I live to make fists with my left hand. They can't take that from me - they'll have to pry it out of... eh, fuck it - make your own joke. I'm too pissed off.

So, the bottom line right now is that the finger healed slightly too well. The new tendon is way too tight and I can't bend the joint past a painful, swollen 15 degree angle. Supposedly, there's some kind of rehab I can do (and by "rehab" I assume they mean "Rock Band 3"), so I'll get to that as soon as they set me up with the local hand specialist. As I always said, I'm more interested in making a complete recovery than a quick one. Until that happens, the horrifying legend of SPLINTFINGER will lumber on.

They say he only wears it at night...

(...and occasionally during strenuous activity)

Friday, 3 December 2010

Nic's Sticky Notes: Sláine the Horned God

Sláine The Horned God

Writer: Pat Mills
Artist: Simon Bisley

Sláine had his debut in 2000AD in 1983, and is still going as I write. 25 years under his belt now and I do not think it too many!

This review deals with the arc “Sláine the Horned God” from 1989, but I will include a bit of background first for those who haven’t encountered the character before.

Sláine charts the adventures of eponymous Sláine Mac Roth in an alternate European past based primarily around Celtic / Gaelic myths and legends with a sprinkling of Lovecraftian time bending elder gods and British historical figures. It also has discernible influences from Robert Graves and modern paganism, Moorcock, Robert E Howard and, being by Pat Mills, has one or two political points to make along the way.

As a great warrior, Sláine wields the mighty weapon, Brainbiter, shouts “kiss my axe!”, rides to battle on his dragon, The Knucker, and is subject to the Warpspasm. Based on the “riastrad” or “battle frenzy” of legendary heroes such as Cu Chulainn (Sláine’s closest literary cousin, I would say) and King Arthur (oh yes, if you read the older legends rather than the sanitized Victorian ones) where a warrior channels the energy of battle itself and warps into a terrifying, unstoppable monster. In many adventures he is accompanied by Ukko the dwarf, a filthy, lewd, degenerate, snivelling, untrustworthy creature who provides the framing device for The Horned God as he records the adventures of Sláine many years later.

The story is set in the land of Tir-Nan-Og (the land of the young) where many Irish myths take place. Pat Mills has described it himself as “the land of Celtic Twilight”. In several arcs, Sláine also travels through time (2000AD is a sci-fi comic, after all) to fight alongside key figures from British History and Legend such as Boudicca and King Arthur, but at the time of The Horned God all that is yet to come.

The Horned God is, I think, the first “grown up” comic I read, several years before I “got into” comics, as they say. With the thrill power turned up to eleven and eye-wateringly beautiful painted art by Simon Bisley, it is a perfect way to encounter the medium, and the character, for the first time.

The Horned God cycle follows the story of Sláine fighting various battles - political, religious, spiritual and physical – as he struggles to find the lost treasures of Ireland and unite the clans while suffering a personal apotheosis that will see him transformed into the latest incarnation of Carnun (the horned god of the title) and being crowned the first High King of Ireland.

The violence threshold is high and there is plenty of hewing and hurting and hacking and harming. No place for the squeamish here. The Nature Worship on show, and its Goddess, is as much about red-in-tooth-and-claw brutality as it is about love and laughter and romping in the meadows. Expect glistening gore and flying gibs a-plenty.

The Lord Weird Slough Feg, first encountered in earlier Sláine stories, returns to oppose Sláine in a brilliant take on growth and stagnation (good and evil being far too simplistic a stance for Pat Mills) and its personal and political implications. Being a Mills villain, there is enough of the hero in him to problematise the relationship between Slough Feg and Slaine – in fact, they are even more closely bound than Nemesis and Torquemada - but to go into that would be a huge spoiler so I will leave it there. Slough Feg is no mere foil to, or reflection of, Slaine – he is following his own dark dreams and desires and the story occurs because the paths of the hero and villain cross.

It is extremely hard to review the Horned God without giving away any of the story. As it builds on mythic patterns, a lot of the “what happens” is already familiar. “How it happens” is what gives this story its place in the Hall of Fame of British comics.

As a product of its time, there is a strong ecological message, threaded with mysticism, underlying the hacking and slashing. While it seems that Mills greatly enjoys writing Sláine, it is as much for the opportunity to slyly subvert the tropes of heroic fantasy as it is to celebrate it and use its best aspects to tell a heart-thumpingly good yarn. It is this playful and chaotic approach to his art that makes me such a big Mills fan.

The dance between freedom and control, society and individualism that informs much of Mills’ work raises its head once again. In this case the discussion really centres on “religion” vs “spirituality” and some sharp satire about church and state. There are more questions than answers, though, and the reader is really left to make up his own mind as to whether the choices made by the characters are the ones they themselves would have chosen and whether things could have turned out better.

There is rhythmic quality to the writing and the story construction that echoes the poetry of the ancient sagas. This builds to a great crescendo as the story thunders along, sweeping you up as it passes like the Wild Hunt itself. It will leave you hag-ridden, gasping and dishevelled in the morning – but you will be back for more.

The art is jaw-droppingly beautiful. Simon Bisley effortlessly captures the strutting, exultant, heroic arrogance of the world of the tribes in all its glory. His woman are strong and sexy and beautiful – easily the equals of the men in lust, laughter, loyalty and slaughter. The men themselves are iron-thewed fighting machines, glorious and magnificent, striding masterfully about the land. Lord Weird Slough Feg, inspired by “the sorcerer” from the Lascaux cave paintings is one of my favourite character designs in all of comics, sinister yet strangely sympathetic, compelling and revolting all at once and conveyed in all his ragged, shadowy sublimity. And as for monsters, well no one draws a monster like Bisley.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

It Helps to Talk About It...

So, it turns out it takes around thirty seconds for me to get genuinely sick of the sound of my own voice - and soon, through the magic of PSP, I'll be able to offer that exact same experience to you!

It actually seemed like a simple enough idea at first - just record a few thoughts about the development process, background and structure of Cancertown: An Inconvenient Tooth to run as an audio commentary in the Markosia edition of the book (coming soon to the Sony PlayStation Network). Even the technical side of things wasn't complicated to organise. I put down my take on the writing approach, the construction and influences of the characters and story, the book's launch and anything else that sprang to mind. Like I said - simple.

The thing is, we're talking about a project that took several months to plan and write, then a year to turn into a finished book (through the combined efforts of a four-strong creative team) - and even condensing my own thoughts down to 30-60 second soundbites, we're still looking at a couple of hours of material spread over the six chapters. Stephen Downey has also chipped in with a commentary of his own, and I'm pleased to confirm that he's managed to slow his hummingbird-like natural verbal rhythm to a level interpretable by normal humans. I learned a lot from listening to Stephen talking through his work on the book, and came away with much to think about for future projects.

Anyway, it's all finished now and will shortly be on its way to Sony. I enjoyed putting this together, and look forward to having the chance of doing more. I think I'll get Patrick Stewart to voice me in the next one...

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Unbelievable News: The Beast of Bryn Boncath Rehomed

A great piece of news this week. Unbelievable: The Man Who Ate Daffodils by Simon Wyatt (lettered by me, Nic Wilkinson) has been signed up by Markosia for a 2011 release.

Unbelievable: (Adjective: Not to be believed: inconceivable, incredible, unimaginable, unthinkable. Idioms: beyond belief, contrary to all reason).

The remote mining village of Bryn Boncath has its share of stories, of local legends, of half believed histories. It is a close knit community, with closely guarded secrets. It is home to the orphaned Ben Ellis and his grandfather, Emrys, and it has become the scene of a series of bizarre and mysterious deaths.

A new neighbour has moved in. A man long thought dead has returned. Livestock are missing. There are noises in the night. People are afraid to go into out after dark and sightings of a giant hound, or maybe a big cat are on the increase once again.

Suddenly it seems to Ben that what he took to be the tall tales of his grandfather may be more than just stories. It seems that something is stirring in the forests and the mountains around Bryn Boncath. It seems that ancient history is repeating and this time round Ben has an important part to play.

Unbelievable is a dark masterpiece that weaves strands of Welsh legend, modern murder mystery and horror with a dash of crytozoology that wonders: What if seeing isn’t always believing, but believing will allow you to see?

As for how I got involved, well, this is what I said when I was asked that question for the book...

My Unbelievable Adventure

Folk always tell you not to stray from the path, don’t they? Although they never quite tell you why, and they never quite tell you when, or what will happen if you do, and I’m not entirely certain I know where the path starts, anyway.

Anyone would think they did it on purpose. Anyone would think they wanted you off that path, quick as you like, over the streams and under the hills and deeper and deeper into the forest.

As I sit, tangled in a heap of letters, with a large black dog at my feet it seems that I’ve been here all along. Was there another world I once belonged to? Let me see if I can retrace the steps of the dance.

I remember being warned that, should I chance to meet any creatures of worlds not our own, I must not eat their food, that I must not accept their gifts, but no one ever told me that I should not read their books.

One of the first books I can remember choosing, and then reading for myself, was a ladybird book called Legends of King Arthur: The Mysteries of Merlin. It was a hardback, filled with glorious pictures of swords of horses, of brave men and faery women, and stirring in some old dark way I couldn’t fully understand. That was that, then. I turned the page. The rune was cast. The trap was sprung.

The years wound on and my passion for northern mythology and folklore and the matter of Britain grew with me. So, really, you’d think I’d have been more wary, when on a day close to midsummer I thought I heard a distant howling, and glimpsing a black shape slipping away just on the edge of vision, I wandered from the safe and well signed path through the web. When I finally hurtled to a stop and looked around me the gods and heroes of the island of the mighty strode from the page before my eyes. Who had called them all to this place?

As sure as if 3 hot drops from a cauldron had landed on my thumb I understood everything at once. I had to be involved with this Unbelievable piece of work with its strong, sleek, powerful art and its playful, dangerous echoes of the very oldest tales.

I followed that black dog, and in the end he brought me to the great Welsh Dragon. Well, to Simon Wyatt, as you may know him, but how I tricked my way inside the book is a tale for another time.

Like all the best stories there were times when all seemed lost, the way was full of twists and turns, triumphs and setbacks, but we made it here, somewhat changed, in the end.

The black dog is in my house now.

There is no escaping him.

I wouldn’t even try.

Visit Simon Wyatt's blog for more art and updates as the launch approaches.

Keep a look out for news in the near future of some projects involving Cy and Si - and most likely me!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Pulling Focus

I've been a bit quiet and distant for the last week, I know. Don't worry, it's nothing you've done. I'm just really busy right now recording the commentary track for the upcoming re-release of Cancertown on PSP. It's been almost twenty years since I last spent any amount of time recording and cutting audio, and the technology has moved on a bit (like almost anything else worth doing in the 90s, sound editing actually involved razor blades and sticky tape the last time I had to do it). Anyway, my skill set has been updated and I'll hopefully be finished tinkering with the PSP files in the next week or so.

In the meantime, I should quickly point out that Cancertown co-conspirator, Stephen Downey, has opened up a shop on his website. He's got some cool prints on there already, so it's definitely work checking out.

So, on a recent trip to Canterbury, I made what I strongly suspect is a significant discovery. That discovery goes by the name of Aaron Moran, and I can honestly say that his art style is literally unlike anything I've seen before. I'm not alone in that assessment, either, as virtually identical words came out of Markosia Big Boss Harry Markos' mouth when I showed him a few samples at BICS this year. Take a look, and keep in mind that this is all hand drawn:

Aaron is currently working with me and two other writer/artist teams on Focal Point, a crime book that's in the works right now. I'm guessing that, once word about him gets out, he's suddenly going to find himself in great demand. Watch this space, and see some more of his samples on his website.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Nic's Sticky Notes: KillRaven

"...and now, brought to you by special request from the Lovely Mr Lee Grice himself..."

KillRaven – Warrior of the Worlds

Written by: Don McGregor, Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, Bill Mantlo, Marv Wolfman

Art by: P. Craig Russell, Neal Adams, Howard Chaykin, Herb Trimpe, Gene Colan, Rich Buckler, Sal Buscema

Published by: Marvel (beginning 1973)

Yes – all those people really did have a hand in it, even though this incarnation of the title was just 39 issues long. Most of these creators were involved for only one or two issues and the “golden age” of Killraven began when Don McGregor took over writing duties from issue 21 and P Craig Russell signed on as penciller a few issues later.

The initial idea was co-plotted and designed by Roy Thomas and Neal Adams (not, in fact, Freddie Mercury’s mum as far as I know, but I could be mistaken…)

The story follows Jonathan Raven (or KillRaven as he was dubbed in the arena), an escaped gladiator who now leads a band of rebels, fighting for freedom against the tyrannical Martian overlords, as they cross a ruined America in search of KillRaven’s missing brother.

The subtitle “Warrior of the Worlds” refers to this being a kind of sequel to H G Wells “War of The Worlds” set on an alternate future earth (Marvel’s Earth -691). So far, so generic science-fantasy (Killraven is a gladiator with a sword in a world of cyborgs) update of classic literature. It is also, as with lots of 70s sci-fi across different media, incredibly, heavily “over-written” by today’s standards.

The story begins as a kind of all action, fast talking, pulp adventure along the lines of “Conan versus the Martians”, but after Mcgregor and Russell took over the comic developed a brooding, melancholy air and becomes something more introspective. Interestingly the character of Killraven does not really change, rather it is his supporting cast and the adventures they find themselves in that have altered, leaving the hero almost at odds with his own story. This is even directly addressed a couple of times by the characters, so leads me to believe it is deliberate commentary on the form. It sometimes works well, and is sometimes forced and awkward, but it is a brave and innovative thing to have attempted. This tension between creative fearlessness and successful storytelling is an issue that will raise its head again and again with this title.

The first issue shows us a world where the Martians have returned, successfully this time, and now occupy earth. We learn that the humans initially attempted resistance, unleashing biological weapons against the invaders but the strategy backfired spectacularly as the lethal pathogens turned on their creators wiping out a significant portion of the population. Secure in their victory the Martians subjugate the remaining inhabitants of Earth, apart from a handful of collaborators, breeding them either for food and sacrifice or for entertainment in the arena if they are strong specimens.

Humans are a hardy breed though and not about to stand for this kind of thing. There is always a band of rag-tag rebels, you know how this works, right? Killraven’s band of Freemen includes M’Shulla Scott (KillRaven’s black lieutenant – yes, the colour of his skin is very important to the message, this was the 70s, remember), the “scientist with a secret” Carmilla Frost, the cynical, bitter native American Hawk, the faithful but slow-witted strongman Old Skull, and Grok - a sub-human creature fanatically devoted to Carmilla.

At various points their paths are crossed by an exotic variety of dangerous females such as Volcana Ash (whose origin sequence has to be seen to be believed!), the human/plant hybrid Mint Julep and the sense defying Mourning Prey who help them in various ways. I’m not sure if this was intentional and was trying to communicate any specific message, if so it is never really developed and I didn’t really notice it at first reading but it struck me just now, thinking back over the story.

The main antagonists are, of course, the Martians, but they do not often appear “on page.”, which actually works well as a means of amplifying their alien menace. The band is primarily pursued by a Martian agent, the cyborg assassin Skar, leading to some beautiful fight scenes. Of course just having to defeat or escape from Skar would be far too easy and the heroes run into conflict with other mutants, monsters, human collaborators and transhuman creatures amongst them the wonderfully named Pstun-Rage, the Death-Breeders, Atalon the Fear Master, the Sacrificer and Abraxas.

Probably as a result of having such a “revolving door for creators”, the whole thing is really a messy grab-bag of scraps and half finished ideas that really shouldn’t work at all. You get the impression of “kids in a sweetshop”, and so what we get is a mad, dizzy sugar-rush of a comic where every individual concept probably “seemed like a good idea at the time”. It is clearly one of the most ambitious comics ever put out, but to realise that ambition it would have needed an Alan Moore or Grant Morrison on the script. It is keen and excited, but not always quite up to the job. Strangely though, it rises above all of this and manages to make something quite astonishingly ground-breaking.

Part of the mystery can be explained, I think, by the fact that this was a low selling book, constantly in danger of cancellation, and so was “beneath of the attention” of many people who would have been much stricter about what was allowed to be included in a higher profile title. This gave the creators a massive amount of freedom (in the end it gave them enough rope to hang themselves and it was cancelled and wrapped up quickly, as can be seen from the ending) and they used it to explore madness, love, violence, philosophy, justice, political satire, psychological trauma and the nature of “true freedom”.

The fact that the creators were open to experimentation and breaking boundaries means that Killraven is where we see the first inter-racial kiss in comics. The fact that you wouldn’t notice this as anything unusual when reading it now shows just what a different world this book was created in and you need to keep that in mind when reading it to understand just how dangerous it was to explore some of the concepts it did.

When this was published, of course, the Civil Rights movement in America was still very much a going concern - it was not quite five years since Martin Luther King had been assassinated when this came out. Imagine if you had read this in a small town in Alabama, by the light from the burning crosses, where everyone's daddy was a Klansman. Bear in mind that there was a recorded Klan lynching in 1981, for which the perpetrators were found guilty in 1987 and executed in 1997 - this stuff is not that far in the past.

McGregor looked to bring much more social commentary and psychological / emotional realism to the story than previous writers. This was accomplished mainly by means of a shift that puts the actual landscape much more at the centre of the story, rather than it just being “backgrounds” that fill in the white space of the panel. Much of the satire, though, relies on readers recognising the settings / locations in relation to what is happening in them. I will admit that much of this was lost on me, apart from the very obvious ones such as a slave market on the statue of Abraham Lincoln (nowhere did I say the script was subtle!), as I just didn’t know the places or their associations with American popular culture in the 1970s.

P Craig Russell’s art is beautiful, even on 30-odd year old cheap paper with the shocking colour repro available to printers then. In places he brings a fine art level of technical skill and his design sense is nothing short of incredible.

The best way to think of his art is “visual music” and it adds a lightness and subtlety to a script that can swing alarmingly from “sound and fury” to somewhat pretentious exposition and otherwise might have been heavy going. It is a very rare artist who has the ability to take a story so stuffed with concepts, dialogue and explanatory captions it is bursting the 32 pages allotted to it and deliver such graceful, seamless pages.

When it came to the idea of “location as character” McGregor was very lucky that in P Craig Russell he had an artist skilled enough to pull off recognisable “future ruined” real locations without them being intrusive. Similarly his “trippier” locations, such as the adventure that takes place inside a holographic dream world where we enter projected visualisations of the Freemen’s hopes and fears are in safe and capable hands.

The sheer imagination on display in the creature and concept design is some of the best I have seen in comics. I really want a purple serpent horse!

Whatever its flaws, though, it was trying to do something new and meaningful and adult with a medium that was elsewhere stuck in “monster of the week territory”, and it should be applauded for that. There are definite flashes of inspiration, but no-one had walked this way before, and so there is the impression that the creators were not always sure how to set about what they wanted to accomplish. To be honest, it does show its age a bit now, but this lends it a kind a eerie “retro-future” quality that has probably improved it.

All in all it is a flawed masterpiece, but it is a masterpiece none the less.

Oh - and if anyone wants to watch a special showing of the all naked version of the Dr Who Xmas special that's Lee's next request, so expect an emergency broadcast by the BBC in about 10 mins when he's had time to have a wee and make a cuppa!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Like Mine, but Better...

So, I was going to post a follow-up blog to the previous post, featuring some concept sketches to show the stages and processes that the cover went through. As it turns out, someone way more qualified to talk about that than I am has already done so. In light of this, I am forced into an act of plagiarism so great that I daren't even attempt to disguise it.

So, with Stephen's permission, here's what he has to say for himself.

Cover Story

You may have seen one of the Work-in-Progress Slaughterman's Creed covers slip out on the net this weekend while I was prancing around the MCMexpo. I finally have the chance to share the cover here along with the slightly unusual process behind it.

I had worked on another cover before with Ryan Brown and after seeing his digitally painted work over Simon Bisley's 13 coins comic pages, asked him if he would paint over my pencils/layout for the Slaughterman's Creed covers (Ryan's brother Andy is the co-founder of Beserker Comics, and inked the interior latter chapters of SC).

I had a rough idea for the cover and sketched out a quick layout (which I can't find at the minute, but I'll have found it by the time the cover is finished and post it then), set up my studio lights and took a few reference photos. Here's the one for Sidney himself:

Using the reference photos I sketched out the graphic novel cover layout below.

At this point (as those who were following my blog last year will know), I had planned to spend my Summer in Canada and continue drawing. Things fell through at the last minute and although we had a brilliant month in Belize instead, we did a lot more travelling and A3 scanners are few and far between.

Each digital chapter will feature an individual character so I had to draw each one separately and Ryan agreed to paint and compose them together for the GN. I had to wait to get to Seattle four weeks later to print out five blue lines copies of the sketch and pencil out the individual characters over it. Since Sidney was already in the foreground he needed the least done, but I did tidy him up a little.

By the time I'd finished drawing the characters we were on a plane to Las Vegas. I thought it would be easy to find a scanner there, but all I could find was slot machines and wedding chapels. I was sending my laptop back home the next day, so all I could do was take photos of the pencils on my camera (see above), load them into my dropbox, along with the original reference photos and some interior character shots and upload via the hotel wireless.

Yip, that WIP cover painting was actually painted over a photo sent from Las Vegas. I reckon Ryan did a bloody awesome job!

Expect another update, with more sketches and ref material when the cover is finished.

Friday, 29 October 2010

The Eyes of the Killer

Been waiting for the green light to show this for a while. When Slaughterman's Creed artist, Stephen Downey, told me he wanted to call in Berserker Comics' Ryan Brown to work on the covers for the book, I knew we were in for something special...

...and here it is: the first work-in-progress cover image from the series, featuring the book's... well, let's call him a "protagonist" for now. Meet Sidney:

See that man with the meathook, the electrical stun forceps and the bloody apron? That man right there is the closest thing this book has to a "good guy". Food for thought...

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Spot the Indifference...

Hot on the heels of last week's Indifference Engine preview from the mighty John Freeman over on Down The Tubes comes Wayne Hall's full review of the book on the SciFi Pulse Website. Here's what he made of it:

Comix Portal: Review: ‘The Indifference Engine’

Written by Wayne Hall on October 26, 2010 – 12:07 pm -

Being a science fiction fan, I sometimes ache for a comic that will challenge my perceptions of the world, of the universe, of my way of thinking. While I enjoy reading comics immensely, not many of them really fill my SF needs. Oh, occasionally one like Unique from Platinum Studios will come along and make me think about multiverses and ask my beloved question, “What if?” But not many really accomplish that.

The Indifference Engine, written by Cy Dethan (Cancertown) with pencils by Robert Carey, scratches that itch spectacularly, thank goodness! It is being produced by Markosia, and it is well worth accessing and reading.

Synopsis:’ “My name is Alan Blake. I’ve got no resources, no skills and no friends. But if I were you, I’d be the very last person on Earth I’d want coming after me…”

Responding to a strangely specific job advertisement, a distinctly ordinary twenty-something suburban slacker finds himself in the middle of an inter-dimensional task force staffed entirely by superhuman alternate versions of himself. Struggling to fit in, he uncovers a conspiracy that strikes at the very heart of the organisation–a conspiracy that only he can stop.

Alan Blake, by any credible standard, is a waste of good skin–a directionless and ambitionless slacker whose single most notable characteristic is that he makes other people feel good about themselves in comparison to him.

Alan considers himself a good listener, but it’s more complex than that. It’s almost like he absorbs other people’s problems and somehow unburdens them. If he weren’t such a loser, that one character trait alone could have made him immensely popular. Still, at least he serves a purpose of sorts. Whatever your own personal flaws or failings, hey–it could be worse. You could be Alan Blake.

Review: The four-issue series starts with two men who look very much alike falling from a skyscraper window. That’s important to remember as you read on.

Basically, the comic is about we influence each other as human beings, and how we look at ourselves. Alan Blake seems average enough, but he’s able to talk people into and out of things that he really shouldn’t be able to do. Looking for purpose in his life, he discovers that he is something special in the world–in fact, all of him are!

It comes down to two groups, the Infra-reds and the Ultraviolets, who are both after “our” Alan Blake for different reasons. But Alan gets to meet his maker, in a sense, who gives him a purpose and a destiny that he never expected.

The story is gripping, and the pacing of the storytelling is quick and fervent even during the explanations of what is going on. I couldn’t stop reading it! My impression of the art was that, while it fit the mood, was a little sketchier than I like. But my biggest quibble, since I’m a proofreader by profession, is that several words, including some two-letter ones, are actually divided into two! I hope someone will fix that for future versions.

I hear that Indifference Engine is something of a departure for Mr. Dethan, but I hope he continues to make trips like this on a regular basis. I LOVED having to pay attention and taking my time to keep track of what was going on. I LOVED the pay-off at the end as well. It’s a great mental exercise–my brain was tired for a long time after reading it. In fact, I LOVED that, too! What a great comic!

Want to download the digital version of the first issue of this comic? Click on the icon below:

Myebook - The Indifference Engine - click here to open my ebook

Score: 4.5 out of 5.

Monday, 18 October 2010

BICS Sticky Notes

Do you see what I did there?

This is Nic, by the way, Cy has hurt his hand and can't type much now, but more on that later...

Wow, then, a BICS blog? Where shall I start? There's a lot to say, and as a result of all of that I've got a LOT of emails to write, so I guess I'll get on with it.

Pictures to follow at a later date if the scanner can be appropriately propitiated!

First things first: a big change from Bristol was all the good news around the Sleepless Phoenix and a lot of the ex-Insomnia books finding new homes.

The Sleepless Phoenix anthology that was produced to raise funds for the CBA (Comic Book Alliance) was incredibly well received. It had 250 pre-orders and sold over 100 more copies at the weekend. This is in addition to it having smashed its Kickstarter funding project by over $1500!

Huge congratulations to Lauren Ann Sharpe, Michael Moreci, Adam R Grose, Andrew Croskery and Alex Wilmore for putting this together.

Special thanks from them also go to Harry Markos for all his help with the printing. More on him, and speculation on his true mission, later!

Great to hear that the Kronos City team (Andrew Croskery, Alex Wilmore, Lauren Anne Sharpe, and Jim Campbell) have found a new home for the book with TimeBomb Comics. That is really a match made in heaven.

Although announced just before BICS, we'll take the opportunity to congratulate the Babble boys (Lee Robson and Bryan Coyle) on their move to Com.X.

I also heard some good news about other books, but I am not sure how common the knowledge is yet - so I won't mention until I've checked!

It really is wonderful to see so much talent being recognised, though, and all that hard work being worth it in the end.

Dark Judgement from the twisted minds of Rich McAuliffe and Conor Boyle (published by Futurequake Press) made its thrill-powered début and sold really well. The Judge Fear story is my personal favourite, but you need to judge for yourselves.

The humorous heroics of Hero 9-5 by Ian Sharman, David Gray and Yel Zamor (with intro by Cy Dethan!) premièred in print with a special limited edition for the convention and is now on PSP - and we now have it in writing that Ian "luffs" us both, according to the signing plate.

The biggest news for us was that we signed all the physical contracts to move Cancertown, The Indifference Engine, and Ragged Man to Markosia. We also signed new, improved versions of contracts for the books that already had homes there. It only cost Cy the top joint of his left ring finger!

A shout out (blog out?) to Paul Richardson (also known by some of you as CrimsonArcher) for rescuing the poor, forlorn Cancertowns that had not escaped their imprisonment in The Works. The CBA and the Sleepless Phoenix guys kindly let us put them for sale on their tables and they have now found new and loving homes.

Thanks to everyone for all the good wishes about getting Cancertown resigned! It really meant a lot to both of us.

Talking to Harry about Markosia's plans for the digital future on Sunday was so inspiring. I really think he sees the way to go. Perhaps he has been sent back here by John Connor to make sure comics turn out the way they are supposed to and are not used to start the machine war by Skynet.

But this is not the place for my digital evangelism - I shall beg another post for that at some later date.

Speaking of Markosia, I saw a wonderful demonstration of publisher gratitude to a reader this weekend when Harry Markos gave Paul Convery (@Ravenblade86 if you want to follow him on twitter) copies of their comics that he had not already bought that will not be appearing on PSN, to thank him for all his support and personal promotion of Markosia's digital adventures.

As I heard Harry say to readers on a panel at Bristol, "We do it all for you."

Look out for Paul when he takes his place as as Lieutenant in Harry's Human Resistance!

It was lovely to meet John Freeman in person at last. We've been in touch a lot online over the last 18 months or so but always managed to be at different events. Strip Magazine and the new graphic albums he had on his table looked beautiful.

Exciting new projects are on the horizon. More news on these to follow in later posts, but there were conversations about collaborations the whole weekend. Simon Wyatt, Aaron Moran and Valia Kapadai will be joining Cy on new projects, and it looks like there will be more from old favourites Stephen Downey and Rob Carey in the future as well.

Speaking of Simon Wyatt (who drew me a mousey, a Day of the The Jack Rabbit, and an "inspirational" picture for Cy) I can cryptically and cryptozoologically say that there will be an Unbelievable announcement very shortly!

We secured the permission of a famously bad-ass ninja podcaster to use his likeness for the hero of an upcoming story. When you see who and why, you'll understand why this is so perfect and necessary - and what a Dangerous Idea it could turn out to be.

A couple of interesting opportunities were presented, including a reunion of the Starship Troopers team that never was... do you want to know more?

All in all, it was a great weekend and lovely to see everyone - even if very briefly in some cases.

Until we see you at the MCM...

Friday, 8 October 2010

Cancertown Announcement: Remission? Impossible!

Considering its ridiculously successful launch weekend at the 2009 Bristol Comic Expo, the string of bookshop signings that followed and its consistent top-ten status on the PSP download charts, Cancertown: An Inconvenient Tooth was always a book with a much higher profile than we had any right to expect. With the echoes of the apocalyptic Insomnia Incident still ringing in our ears, the Cancer Cell (that is, Nic, Stephen, Mel and I) started trying to work out precisely where the book now stood. It was at this point that Markosia stepped in and saved the day once again.

Right from my first steps in comics, Markosia has been nothing but good luck for me, so when Harry Markos signed Cancertown up it was a significant, even hazardous amount of joy to dump on me all at once. Right now we're looking at getting the book back up on the PSP store as soon as possible, with other formats to follow.

So, yeah - I'm happy.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Werewolves of Canterbury

Last Saturday was the official launch of AccentUK's long-awaited Fall of the Wolfmen, by Dave West and Andy Bloor. As always, Whatever Comics threw a full-blooded event and packed the place out for the whole day. There were even guest appearances by a couple of the book's more carnivorous characters.

From what we saw, the signing table was swamped the entire time, with Andy barely getting a moment to look up from his sketchbook. The book itself is every bit as polished and gorgeous as the first volume, and the whole event was a huge success.

Nic and I spent a long time talking with Laurence Campbell, unquestionably one of the nicest people we've met in the industry so far, and I was lucky enough to meet three new artists and scan through their portfolios. Just a few days later, I'm already in talks with one of them, Aaron Moran, about collaborating on a six-man, three-team crime book that's currently in the works. The two other guys I talked to, on the off-chance they read this, need to get in touch with me if they can, because my damn phone never received the details they sent.

Anyway, congratulations are due to Dave and Andy. I'll be back soon with the latest on the future of Cancertown.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Nic's Sticky Notes: The Adventures of Luther Arkwright

The Adventures of Luther Arkwright

Script and Art: Bryan Talbot

Let’s get one thing out of the way up front: Bryan Talbot is a god among comics creators. In complete control of both script and art his visionary work has a pure an uncompromising brilliance. He is also a really nice guy. He drew me a Nemesis, you know, and a bad rat.

So what can I say about Luther Arkwright that has not already been said? Superstars of the comics world have already lined up to pay tribute to this astonishing work. I’ll show you what they said first:

“Luther Arkwright is probably the single most influential graphic novel to have come out of Britain to date”


“It's probably Anglophone comics' single most important experimental work.”
Warren Ellis

"A work ambitious in scope and complexity that still stands unique upon the comics landscape ... stunning"
Alan Moore

“From riveting action scenes to beautiful silent sequences, from studies in hateful obsession to humour both ribald and gentle ... surely one of the all-time great epics of the medium.”
Garth Ennis

"I love the illustrative style. Talent is profoundly international and Luther Arkwright should sell on a universal scale. I get a great joy out of it."
Jack Kirby

"The stunning amount of work and commitment that goes into "The Adventures of Luther Arkwright" makes me weak at the knees. It's phenomenal.”
Pat Mills

You see what I mean? These are important people. Why don’t you just go away and read it? Alright then, I’ll tell you what I think about it as well, and some more about the story.

The book is set in a “multiverse”, similar in some ways to that in Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius stories. There are many parallel universes with parallel Earths, inhabited by parallel versions of the same characters. Well, that is apart from Luther Arkwright. There is only one Luther Arkwright.

Luther exists in the one parallel that is aware of the existence of the others. He can travel between the parallels and this, coupled with extensive psychic powers, makes him a key player in the battle against The Disruptors – a shadowy organisation looking to destabilize the realities and cause the ends of the worlds.

While Luther is unique, though, he is not alone in his struggle. He is assisted by "agents" who can communicate with their parallel selves, telepathically, and an intriguing supporting cast, including Rose Wylde an agent whose relationship with Luther is constant across all parallels. The (main) villain of the piece is Nathaniel Cromwell, leader of the Puritan British Government.

Most of the action is set on a parallel where the English civil war is happening in what most closely approximates the 1930s. The original series takes place over 9 complex, sprawling issues (now collected as a TPB). The action is epic in scope and hops effortlessly between multi-dimensional battles happening in simultaneous timelines, philosophical speculations, sly humour , sex, political satire, and fart jokes – a rich tapestry of all that is human from the highest to the lowest, the angelic to the apish.

The book starts out as pretty much an adventure story, but that is only “what happens”, it’s not “what it’s about”. The real heart of the story is a discussion about change, development and evolution. It is about perspective and truth, history and time. It is a story of transformation, following the progress of Luther as he accepts the truth behind his own insanity and embraces a different conceptual framework and emerges as a new kind of superbeing.

As you might expect with this kind of story, it is not told sequentially. There are multiple story-lines running at different speeds and told in different styles that only all pull together, in a feat of superhuman plotting genius, towards the end. Amazingly, though, this does not make the story hard to follow, the flashbacks and forwards are handled so artfully that they add to the flickering instability of the world perfectly. To have told this as linear plot would not have worked nearly so well.

The art is black and white, dense and beautiful. There is an obsessional glee about the detail that shines out of the page. There can be no doubt that this is a very personal story and a labour of love. Once you have seen the “page with the skull” and the “transformation of Luther” you will realise that Bryan Talbot probably does have otherworldly powers himself.

There is a delicate, ephemeral unreality that seems to shimmer as you look at it. You know that behind every panel you look at there are multiple panels from different comics in different worlds stretching off to infinity. The influences displayed in the visuals are extremely rich. For those who enjoy the “spot the reference” game in Alan Moore’s work Luther Arkwright is a wildly indulgent treat. The beauty of Bryan Talbot’s work (here and elsewhere) though is that he doesn’t just reproduce a multitude of styles but uses them to create a perfect fusion that would not work anywhere else but a comic book. It is an example of the form and the content in perfect alignment.

Buy this and you’ll be reading it over and over again for many years to come, though, so don’t worry if it seems a lot to take in.

There is also a sequel “Heart of Empire” that came out in the late 90s and follows the adventures of Luther’s daughter, Victoria in an alternate restoration court. As well as a collected paperback edition, Heart of Empire is available on CD containing scans of the pencil roughs, black-and-white inks, final colour pages and high resolution versions and a great deal of annotation and supplementary material from Bryan Talbot. It also includes scans of the whole of The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, from the recently created digital remastered version at the best resolution that it has ever been seen in. The CD is in some ways the "Directors cut" of the comic and was created to answer the perennial "where do you get your ideas from?" question asked by fans.

And finally a huge thanks to Bryan for writing the foreword to Cancertown Volume One: An Inconvenient Tooth.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Wolfmen Sequel Finally Unleashed!

It's been a long and breathless wait, but Dave West and Andy Bloor's supernatural gangster sequel, Fall of the Wolfmen, is now a heartbeat from hitting the shelves. To mark the occasion, an official launch event will be held on Saturday the 2nd of October at the centre of my personal comic book world, Whatever Comics in Canterbury. I highly recommend showing up to this if you're even slightly local. It's a terrific shop and, as the huge response to the first volume demonstrated, the book and its creators are well worth supporting. Both Dave and Andy will be making an appearance, so Nic and I'll be taking our copy of the first book to finally get it signed and to pick up the new one.

If you miss them in Canterbury, you'll get a second chance to meet the Wolfmen themselves at the Birmingham International Comic Show next month - but why wait?

Hope to see you there...

Friday, 24 September 2010

Nic's Sticky Notes: The Ballad of Halo Jones

The Complete Ballad of Halo Jones: Books 1 -3

Script: Alan Moore
Art: Ian Gibson

“Where did she go? OUT. What did she do? EVERYTHING…”

The Ballad of Halo Jones began in 2000AD in the mid-eighties. At first it tries to have you believe it is just another light-hearted, semi-satirical future romp of the kind 2000AD excelled at. There are the usual trappings, stylish punky clothes, future-speak, invasive media (well, that was still a fiction back then), in-jokes about mass unemployment and other British eighties concerns …don’t believe it…it is a trick!! I mean, if someone had asked you if wanted to read the “first feminist space opera” what would you have said?

But, like with all good misdirection, by the time you realise you’ve been had it’s far too late. There is no way to back out now, but you’ll find, in fact, that you don’t want to leave. We should have looked at the title. How many run of the mill comics can you think of that have “ballad” in the name? Even though this is quite early work for him Alan Moore already has a very large bag of tricks. He gets to use most of them.

Once past the first 50 pages or so of, albeit well written, standard “sci-fi chick goes future shopping with a grenade launcher, ha ha” Moore launches into a sweeping story of an ordinary girl thrust into extraordinary circumstances, and in doing so slyly offers a treatise on rebellion, promises, friendship, loyalty, war, experience and innocence, humanity, love and morality that is a fantastic and beautiful read.

“Halo Jones left earth with a robot dog for company…and never came back. That’s the whole story.”

We follow Halo from her existence as a bored teenager living in “the hoop” with her flatmates, out across the stars and in to the depths of her soul. When we leave her, or should that really be when she leaves us, it is as a damaged, desensitised and yet strangely hopeful woman in her thirties. Actually she may be much older than that, technically, as there are odd things done with space, time and gravity, but we’ll get to them in a minute.

The whole thing has a haunting, bittersweet note, and I would be tempted to call it a tragedy, but that’s not quite right. Things can, and do, go catastrophically wrong, there can be unendurable pain and loss, but there is no sense of predestination, no hurtling towards an unavoidable doom. The very terrifying randomness of the world is what allows for the possibility of miracles, and often it makes it worse that there can always be hope.

That sounds so sad though, and it’s not the whole picture. The story is so multi-layered, and the layering so subtle, and the story and character development so clever, that it’s difficult to really give the right impression. This is, after all, a story that ran in an action comic for boys. There are gangs, heavy weaponry, robot dogs, Rat Kings, speaking dolphins, invisible women, amazons, murder, warfare – it’s an exciting ride. There is no shortage of Tharg’s Thrill Power here.

Speaking of the warfare there is a combat in this book that is one of the most innovative things I have seen in any fiction, in any medium. I won’t describe it as it needs to be read, and is quite a major spoiler, but it has to do with time passing differently on a high gravity battlefield to the “standard” gravity base and what this means for the officers planning the war and the soldiers fighting it.

There is often criticism of how women are portrayed in comics, particularly when they are written by men. In fact there is lovely flash forward to the future when Halo has become a legend and her story is being discussed in a college class studying “The Halo Jones myth in modern Concordian folklore”. The students learn “that at one time it was even claimed she was a man”.

Halo is no gun-toting sex-object of any stripe. She is not a Barbarella or a Vasquez. You will fall in love with her though. She is adventurous and fascinating. Sometimes she is brave, sometimes she is kind, sometimes she is selfish or gullible or weak. Mostly though, she is real. One of my favourite lines is her explanation of why she fell for a murderous alien general: “Because you scare me…because you have nice hands…because I knew you were going to be bad news and I wanted to be with you anyway. You think that means I've got an unhealthy attitude?…” But then she wasn’t written by a man so much as created by a comics god!

Ian Gibson is one of my favourite artists. His work is simultaneously very stylised and very realistic. That is, the accentuated nature of his character design allows him to express a “realism” in their attitudes and poses. It is very “pouty” art, everyone has killer cheekbones and beautiful eyelashes and strikes just the right poses with their jutting hips and aggressive shoulders to throw the perfect stark shadows. There is a strutting confidence that gets across a lot about the hardness of the world and the characters that live there.

Halo Jones is a masterpiece. Writing a character of his own invention Moore’s work is vivid, witty, daring and heart-breakingly brilliant. The way that plot threads come together books later than when the seeds were first sown is nothing short of amazing. The structure is intricate, but not confusing. I can’t really think why this is not listed alongside V for Vendetta and Watchmen as some of his best work - probably only because it was never picked up by a big American publisher. It deserves to be as widely read.

Halo is not a hero in the traditional sense. She didn’t try to change the world, she left it behind. Instead she changes herself, and this is the message of the book as I read it – the most important revolutions are on the inside.

“She wasn’t anyone special. She wasn’t brave or clever or strong. She was just somebody who felt crammed by the confines of her life. She was just somebody who had to get out. And she did it. She went out past Vega, and past Moulquet and Lambard. She saw places that aren’t even there anymore. And do you know what she said? Her most famous quotation? “Anybody could have done it.”.”

The only downside is that we don’t get to the end. This may be called the “complete” Ballad of Halo Jones, but it is only 3 volumes out a planned 10. The idea was that the books would follow Halo right up to old age but “differences of opinion” between Alan Moore and the 2000AD editorial staff over copyright ownership mean that it was never finished. That is not to say the story does not come to a satisfying conclusion. Moore is too great a craftsman for that. It is open enough that more could be written. Hoping against hope, keeping my fingers crossed.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

No Sleep Till Brumcon (2010 Remix)

With a few weeks still to go, I'm starting to think about BICS.

The UK convention circuit is where I've landed most of the gigs I've had in comics - virtually all of them, in fact. Right now, I've got one graphic novel in print*, four more in production and a number of other credits to my name, so by and large I'd have to say that cons have been good for me.

Depending on how the timing goes on the production side, I may have some digital releases to shout about - and believe me, given the slightest provocation I will most definitely be shouting about them. I'll also be taking along about half a dozen new story treatments I've been putting together this month, and I'll be hooking up with various artists to talk them over. I'm going to talk Cancertown Volume 2 with Stephen Downey and attack guys like Simon Wyatt with ideas at every opportunity, and I'll be looking to meet new artists wherever possible.

In terms of what I'll actually be taking, I've got a heist/revenge story featuring a man who knows exactly what he'd owed and who has to pay, a postmodern punk spy thriller, a dual-reality/magic-realist paranormal fantasy, a deeply bizarre take on the retired gunslinger motif, a completely plausible scheme for setting up your own assassination bureau and the tale of a physical disease contracted via non-physical means. With most of these, this will be the first time I'll have spoken to anyone about them, so I'm looking forward to getting some critical feedback.

Primarily, though, BICS is about plugging back into the comics community for me. I tend to lock myself away from the internet while I'm writing. I'm an infrequent Twitterer at best, tend to keep Skype offline a lot and rarely even answer the phone during work hours. Basically, I'm just not that sociable when I'm writing - or rather, I'm far too easily drawn into distraction. Consequently, conventions are where I do the majority of my meeting and greeting in comics.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that if you're going, I'll see you there!

*Well, technically out of print at the moment, but I'll keep you posted on developments there.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Nic's Sticky Notes: The Complete Nemesis The Warlock

The Complete Nemesis The Warlock Books 1-3

Writer: Pat Mills
Artists: Kev O’Neill, Bryan Talbot, John Hicklenton, Henry Flint, Jesus Redondo, Clint Langley, David Roach, Carl Critchlow, Tony Luke, Chris Weston (I think that’s everyone)

"Darkness has a new Champion."

Ripped lashing and screaming from the pages of 2000AD is Nemesis the Warlock, an ambiguous alien anarchist, leader of the rebellion against the imperial tyranny of Torquemada, Lord of Termight.

From a “one-shot” beginning inspired by a punk song (Going Underground by The Jam) Nemesis The Warlock grew into a complex, dark, funny, moving, grotesque satire on power and control in Thatcher’s Britain. Like most of 2000AD it is unmistakably British.

Pat Mills has never been shy about his politics, and many of his stories are explorations of those beliefs. Nowhere has this worked as well as in Nemesis where his brilliant, bristling hatred for all forms of intolerance and repression drives the narrative onwards at an amazing pace through a timeline twistier than the Terrortubes themselves. It’s a dimension-spanning, head-spinning shoot around terrorism, freedom, divine right, religion, racism, freewill and predestination – and believe me you won’t feel any better once the ride has stopped.

The over-arching story covers the running battle between the “arch-deviant” demon Nemesis, often aided by his human side-kick Purity Brown, and Torquemada, one of the best (and pointiest) villains in comics history.

The motivations of all the major players are complicated, sometimes confusing and often conflicted. We are given as much insight into the character development and workings of the villain as the hero, with Torquemada often taking centre stage for long periods. This means that, given the alien nature of Nemesis, readers are actually forced to a better, if uncomfortable, understanding of the villain, in all his awful humanity, than the hero. A neat trick and very well accomplished. The concerns of the story are beyond good and evil and as time passes the idea of any kind of simple line between “right” and “wrong” is erased in the kind of swirling chaos at which Pat Mills excels.

The art (whichever artist is drawing) is really a thing of beauty. A vicious, disturbing beauty, it’s true, but there is nothing like it. From the original sleek design of Kev O’Neill, through the more sensuous, softer lines of the classic Bryan Talbot era, to the scratchy, almost depraved, visceral contortions of John Hicklenton (which many people did not like, but I think are fantastic) this is comics art really pushing right to experimental edges of the form. There is a dizzying sense of vertigo, and, well, sheer “alien-ness” about it. You know how a roller coaster can make you queasy, but in a good, excited way..? Some of the artwork in Nemesis is closest you will get to “punk on a page”.

“I am the Nemesis, I am the Warlock, the Shape Of Things To Come, the Lord of the Flies, Holder Of The Sword Sinister… The Death-Bringer… I am the one who waits on the edge of your dreams… I am all these things and many more…"

Most of the material is black and white, although book three goes into colour towards the end. As well as the core story there is also “extra material” included, collecting stories from annuals, specials and so on. There is even a mystifying photostory of Nemesis meeting Torquemada in the original Forbidden Planet which really defies any explanation. In addition there are also some little essays by Mills, Talbot, and O’Neill.

If you feel like a few hours gazing into the abyss, put on some proper 70s punk, and give this a try.

Above all though remember, “Be Pure, Be Vigilant, Behave!”

Volume one collects books 1 -4 with intro by Pat Mills and afterword by Kev O’Neill, a covers gallery and pin-up art

Volume two collects books 5 -7 with intro by Pat Mills, afterword by Bryan Talbot and over 40 pages of extra materials including 2 “choose your own adventure” style games where you play as either Nemesis or Torquemada.

Volume three collects books 8-10 with a foreword by Pat Mills and is partly in colour.

Also, be sure to check out The Meknificent Seven and The Black Hole collections of ABC Warriors as they are crossovers and you really need them to make sense of the plot in book 2.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

...Because Other People Write Books Too

Myebook - Hero 9 to 5 - click here to open my ebook

So, a little while back, I was asked by Ian Sharman to write a foreword for Hero 9-5, a superhero comedy he's written for Markosia (with art by David Gray). This is the first time I've done something like this. Well, actually, I did write an introduction to Scott James' art portfolio, but that was really more like therapy for me, because I've been working with Scott for a while now and staring too long at his supremely mental artwork...does things to your brain. I still get twitchy sometimes. Talking about it helps.

Anyway, Hero 9-5 is released pretty soon so you can try it out for yourselves. For my money, it sits somewhere between a muscular soap opera and a pro-wrestling spectacular, with enough bite and wit to keep the pace up. I'll be buying a copy. You may also wish to do so. Here's the blurb:

Welcome to a world where being a super hero is just another job.

A world where the rich can afford comprehensive hero protection policies that ensure that the best heroes will come to their aid in an emergency. The poor, however, have to make-do with protection from government sponsored agencies with limited resources whose staff are…shall we say…a little less heroic.

Jacob Reilly, aka Flame-O, is just one such hero, an everyday guy who just happens to be able to shoot flames from his hands. He didn’t want to be a super hero, he wanted to be a musician, but he wasn’t good enough to make a living at it. So he ended up getting a job at “Heroes For Zeros,” a government sponsored hero agency. So, Jacob clocks on, works nine to five (unless he’s short on cash and does overtime or, worse, a night shift) and fights z-list villains for a pathetic pay cheque.

Despite being a super hero, Jacob has all the problems of regular folk – an irritating boss, bills to pay, professional jealousy, and also certain problems that are unique to his profession…like the fact that his girlfriend is also his alter-ego’s nemesis, Frostica (and she’s insanely jealous of his teenaged sidekick, Pink Girl).

Hero: 9 to 5 is a fresh, funny take on the idea of real world super heroes.

Released in October from AAM/Markosia you can order Hero: 9 to 5 from your local comic shop NOW! Diamond Previews order no: AUG10 0726

Friday, 10 September 2010

Nic's Sticky Notes: Warlock


Art and Script: Jim Starlin

This review covers the Magus Saga (begun in Strange Tales 178-181) and continued into Warlock, (revived for issues 9-15).

I don’t know that I have the words to try and express the mad immensity of this book, which could be a bad start for a review!

Top line is that this is one of the most stunningly audacious comics I have ever read. They must have had some very good drugs in the 1970s. This is mind-bendingly groovy, baby, it’s drawn in liquid LSD and licking the pages will probably get you tripping.

The epic story begins by following Adam Warlock in his war against The Universal Church Of Truth - a corrupt, religious space empire.

Deep breath.

As if this wasn’t bad enough he is also fighting his own destiny as he tries to avoid becoming his tyrannical future incarnation, The Magus (sporting a fetching purple afro), who is himself working backwards through time to effect Warlock’s transformation to evil so as to assure his own existence as a god (arrgh paradoxes!). Oh, and he’s also got to defeat the super villain Titan, Thanos , as well taking time to battle the Star Thief in a creepy little episode involving a comatose human whose mind is able to roam free in time and space and is trying to unmake reality. Along the way he is joined by Pip, the filthy troll “this is more fun than brown-eyeing”!? and Gamora, “the deadliest woman in the universe” a beautiful, green skinned, alien assassin. Phew!

As in other works by Jim Starlin there are recurrent themes about the purpose of existence, reality, identity, freedom, the nature of time, the horrors of madness and powerlessness and musings on destiny, futility and ambition.

There is enough metaphysics here to get you through the first year of most philosophy degrees – although it is much more interesting, being mostly expressed by means of cosmically powered creatures punching each other and brooding.

Boldly displaying its “code approved” badge, I expected something pretty tame and flat and maybe with some sort of mealy mouthed moral message. However, hardly has the cover been turned before the story is happy splashing about in murder, necromancy, suicide, madness, obsession, injustice and violation (of several kinds). Seduction of The Innocent, indeed.

This is not to mention the powers of the sinister Soul Gem or the multi-dimensional, fractured timelines and alternate futures that would give Stephen Hawking a headache.

The writing is certainly of the “MIGHTY” style – don’t ever mutter “nothing” when there is the opportunity to bellow “naught” for example – but that has a charm of its own when done well, and it is done very well here. The language is very high-blown and theatrical but it all adds to the sense of drama and magnificence – and strangely enough it works – but that is partly a function of how the art style so perfectly complements the text and expresses the world.

So, to the art. Jim Starlin is probably top of the top three most inventive artists I have seen (the others being P Craig Russell and Frank Miller) in terms of being in complete command and control of the narrative space - from the level of the individual panel, up through the metapanel of the page right into the visual grammar and conceptual maps of the worlds he is drawing his readers inside. An example – how would you go about visually expressing the real-time fracturing of a consciousness into tiny fragments, or how about a multi-dimensional decision crossroads intersecting alternate versions of time and space? Although it was in another book (Captain Marvel) I have seen this man draw a 35 panel page – and none of it looks crowded!

The visual design of the characters and the world is bold and strong, with each character (even minor minions and henchmen) having a distinctive, detailed look – The InBetweener is my personal favourite. This is important as, due to the concepts discussed, the characters, while having their own personalities, are also something like archetypes in an older, deeper story. Every gesture is exaggerated and expansive because everything expresses something of timeless galactic importance. The “statuesque” nature of the design and the poses lends a mythic quality that sweeps you along in a dance at once alien and familiar.

I was a bit doubtful when the idea of reading Warlock was suggested to me. I didn’t think 70s code approved superheroes would be my kind of thing. It just goes to show the benefit of experience over belief – I wish I had discovered them long ago.

Highly recommended- but they come with a health warning – opening the cover is like drinking the Kool Aid, you will be drawn into the cult, and the brain washing is set to spin cycle.

Put on the Lava Lamp, light up the patchouli sticks and get ready to alter your consciousness and expand your mind.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

"Dick Flavoured": My Favourite Review Ever... [UPDATED]

Back at this year's fateful Bristol International Comic and Small Press Expo, I was flashing around preview copies of The Indifference Engine: A Holographic Novel. Responses were encouragingly positive and, during the follow-up period, Nic managed to jam a pdf of the book into Stacey Whittle's inbox.

Stacey, if you don't already know, is the co-host (along with Lee Grice) of the always-entertaining Small Press Big Mouth podcast - episode 22 of which has just aired. The episode features the world-exclusive first review of The Indifference Engine and also gives extensive coverage of the Sleepless Phoenix project, which is zeroing in on its target pledge total as we speak. Again, all profits from the Survival Stories anthology will go to the Comic Book Alliance, who were instrumental in smoothing the obstacle-ridden road of the book's many creators, and continue to work to promote the British comics industry.

In case you're wondering, Stacey's verdict is a decided thumbs-up and a statement that the book has a [Philip K.] Dick flavour to it - probably in itself my favourite review quotation ever. You can find the episode here.

[UPDATE] I've just been informed via Twitter that the Sleepless Phoenix has hit its target of an incredible $3600, and will now be funded. This is fantastic news, and I'm staggered and fascinated by the scale of it. The fact that the work of so many creators who were cock-blocked at the eleventh hour by the Insomnia fiasco will now see publication is simply outstanding. Congratulations to all involved. Now sign my fucking copy!

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Markosia FTW!

Okay, as reported in a couple of other places already, The Ragged Man and The Indifference Engine have now found a new home at Markosia - joining Slaughterman's Creed and The Case Files of Harlan Falk, already in production there.

This is particularly great from my perspective as Markosia has been nothing but good luck for me since day one. In fact, after signing on for the Starship Troopers ongoing series in 2007, I've continuously had at least one book in production at the company ever since. They gave me my first ever professional printed comic gig (Mongoose Publishing's Extinction Protocol having been exclusively digital) and have always been 100% behind me and my work.

As for the future of Cancertown and its sequel, we're currently waiting for the artist, Stephen Downey, to get back from his globe-trotting expedition before we make any final decisions there. Should be something to report soon.

But yeah, pretty much on top of the world about this. My journey continues...
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