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!
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