On Comics Custodianism and the Illusion of Change

avengers-nowThe comic book news cycle has been ablaze over the past few days with news of some big changes coming to Marvel comics in the months ahead.  As part of what the publisher is calling their “Avengers NOW!” initiative, some of their flagship characters are having their titles relaunched with new issue #1 and jarring new status quos.  The biggest of these changes have merited announcements on mainstream media outlets.  The View revealed that Thor will now be a woman.  Then The Colbert Report revealed that the new Captain America will be black.

As one with any familiarity with the internet may have anticipated, this has already been met with much howling and gnashing of teeth from large segments of the comic fan community.  And of course, we all breathlessly anticipate the ultra-Conservative tin-foil hat brigade wading in to declare that this is some politically correct conspiracy by The Liberals to destroy comics and, by extension, America… somehow.  Plenty of people have already astutely pointed out that people seemed to have little problem with Thor being replaced by a frog, or a horse-faced alien, or another white dude in the wake of the recent Fear Itself event, but a woman taking the mantle is seemingly a bridge too far!  I’ve seen people spitting out with venom the idea that this is all a cynical ploy to pander to black people and women.  First, it seems there’s a certain breed of white straight male reader who defines “pandering” as anything that doesn’t pander directly and exclusively to them.  Second, I think such a status quo shift is going to appeal to more than just female and black readers, respectively, for reasons I’ll go into later.  And third, if this does pique the interest of women or black people who previously didn’t feel engaged by Marvel’s output, how is that a bad thing?

However, I don’t think that anyone who hates these relaunches is inherently racist or sexist.  Though some of them certainly are, it would be unfair to paint all with the same brush.  The comic fans I want to focus on more in this particular bit of commentary are the advocates of comics custodianism.  Allow me to clarify.  There’s a bit of a problem with a large chunk of Marvel and DC’s fanbase, something that prevents them from ever truly being happy with the product.  They’ll complain that the comics are stale, that some life and energy and good high-stakes storytelling needs to be injected back into their favourite superheroes.  But the dilemma is that, if you get a great writer and put them on a superhero comic, the tools they’d be most inclined to employ in order to tell the best story – new threats, shocking changes to the protagonist’s life, a genuine sense of peril and uncertainty over how the hero will be able to restore status quo – stand in direct contrast to what this segment of the fanbase actually wants.  They claim they want great storytellers in their comics, but what they actually want is a custodian.  They want their favourite heroes, static and forever unchanging, wearing the old clothes they always used to wear, fighting the old villains they always used to fight, hanging around with the same supporting cast they always used to hang around with, with nothing about their comfortable status quo changing in any notable way.  These readers don’t want the best story… they want comics comfort food.

And when someone does come in and make seemingly drastic changes… they get angry.  It doesn’t need to be a matter of the hero changing race or gender, any change seems to be enough to get them up in arms.  Peter Parker remained, physically at least, the white, male Peter Parker in Superior Spider-Man, yet writer Dan Slott received so many death threats on social media over the storyline that it made national news.  But these people never seem to learn, do they?  Because anyone with an ounce of rationality was able to say, “Of course Otto Octavius isn’t going to be Spider-Man forever, of course Peter Parker is going to be Spider-Man again in time for the movie.  It’s not a permanent change, it’s a storyline.”  These people were angry because the writer has succeeded in making then genuinely stumped about how the good guy was going to possibly triumph over evil, which is what he’s supposed to do!  These people must find watching a season of 24 unbearable: do they have to skip to the last episode where Jack Bauer wins?  I don’t know how long these people have been reading comics for, but they should know by now that a dead hero doesn’t stay dead for long.  Superior Spider-Man was about taking Peter Parker out of the role of Spider-Man for a while to illustrate how integral Peter is to the Spider-Man mythos through the void left by his absence, and by its end it was recognised as one of the best Spider-Man stories in years.  Just like how “The Death of Captain America” in Captain America a few years ago, where Captain America died for a while and was replaced by Bucky Barnes (who’s white, so people didn’t seem to mind as much), it became a story used to illustrate how integral Steve Rogers is to the Captain America mythos through the void left by his absence, and by its end it was recognised as one of the best Captain America stories in years.  Or “Black Mirror” in Batman, where Dick Grayson took over as Batman in Gotham City while a recently-resurrected Bruce Wayne established a global crime-fighting franchise, where the story was used to illustrate how integral Bruce Wayne is to the Batman mythos through the void left by his absence, and by its end it was recognised as one of the best Batman stories in years.  Are we beginning to notice a trend here?

If there’s a criticism to be made here, it’s that Marvel are going back to the well of what has proven to be a tried-and-true formula for success too often, and risk blunting its impact.  But if you’re out there and you’re outraged because you genuinely believe that female Thor or black Captain America are a permanent or even a long-term replacement?  Sorry, I don’t know a polite way of saying that you’re a fucking idiot, so I’ll just come out and say it: you’re a fucking idiot.

Amidst all the cries of fury about black people ruining Captain America and women ruining Thor, it’s amazing how few people seem to have actually read the small print of what’s actually happening in these various comics, story-wise.  Indeed, it seems a large number of the fans outraged by this haven’t even been reading the books, and just seek comfort in traditional, unchanging versions of these heroes as an abstract concept.  This was wonderfully exemplified by one outspoken user on Twitter demanding that Jason Latour be fired for writing Thor so terribly as to make him a women… when of course it’s Jason Aaron who has been writing Thor: God of Thunder (which is brilliant, by the way) and who will be carrying on through the Thor relaunch.  But if all these people bemoaning the loss of their favourite heroes actually took the time to look into the story and the context, they’d see that they actually aren’t losing their favourite heroes at all!  The original Thor and Captain America aren’t dying, which in itself makes this status quo shift less drastic than many.  Let’s take a closer look at each one.

First, female Thor.  Yes, Thor is relaunching, and yes, the new God of Thunder and holder of Mjolnir is a woman.  But while the designs of the new masked female Thor have been widely distributed, this image has been shared less frequently:

thor-unworthyYep, it’s the same male Thor we all know and love.  And if you read Jason Aaron’s interview over on Comic Book Resources, he makes it abundantly clear that Thor remains a main protagonist in the series going forward.  Indeed, the central thrust of the plot is that plot machinations have caused Asgard to turn on Thor and deem him “unworthy”, stripping him of his hammer Mjolnir and removing him from their pantheon.  So now a humbled Thor must fight to regain his mantle and unlock the mystery of the mysterious woman who has replaced him.  Surely any level-headed person could read that and think, “That sounds like an interesting Thor story.”

Now let’s look at All-New Captain America.  After seeing Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a lot of people talked about Sam Wilson, AKA Falcon, deserving his own series.  But it seems some of them didn’t want that coming at the expense of Steve Rogers.  The story seems to go that the Super-Soldier Serum is wearing off on Steve Rogers, and he’s no longer able to continue being Captain America.  And so his close friend Sam Wilson steps into the role in his stead.  But again, let’s look at some Marvel promotional material:

Avengers-Now2Black Captain America is in there, but to the right of the shot we have an elderly blonde man.  Surely this is Steve Rogers, and that suggests that Steve Rogers will remain an active character in this All-New Captain America comic.  I would imagine that a major element of the book will be, after decades of being a man out of time, suddenly he’s placed in a position where time is catching up with him, and how does he deal with that?  Again, as a fan of Captain America, I think that’s an intriguing story to tell.

Meanwhile, Marvel have also announced Superior Iron Man, where Tony Stark moves to San Francisco and starts engaging in some morally dubious activity.  If the “Superior” tag is anything to go by, I imagine the twist in this tale will be that Tony is being controlled by a villain.  And if we’re talking movie synchronicity here, my money is on Ultron.

All this is coming together to paint a bigger picture of what “Avengers NOW!” is shaping up to be.  It’s a time leap narrative of some sort, it seems, where after a gap our main characters find themselves in drastically altered circumstances, and part of the fun is figuring out both how they got into these situations and how they’ll eventually get out of them.  And it all seems to be tying into Jonathan Hickman’s big climactic Avengers storyline “Time Runs Out”, which brings all these status quo shifts together and adds another big one.  It seems like Thanos is now the leader of The Avengers:

ThanosTimeRunsOutAnd this is where we get down to there being two different types of reader.  There are those who want comics custodianism, and they’ll be fuming at all this upheaval, all this shattering of status quo.  And then there are readers who like high stakes and surprises in their storytelling, who are viewing these as stories and are intrigued.  I know I’m interested, and that I’ll be picking all these up.  I already read Thor: God of Thunder, but after grabbing the early issues I’ve fallen behind on the Iron Man, Captain America and Avengers titles.  This will make me jump back on.  And I’m not black, I’m not a woman, I’m just a fan of good stories and good characters.  When you look at these characters as being more than just their specific costumes and power sets, you should be able to recognise that these storylines are actually potentially great fodder for Thor Odinson, Steve Rogers and Tony Stark as characters.  And it’s a real shame people can’t see past the “THOR IS A WOMAN!” and “CAPTAIN AMERICA IS BLACK!” buzzwords.

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Glasgow Comic Con 2014: THIS WEEKEND!

It’s that time of year again!  There’s a little less than a week to go until Scotland’s comic community comes together for Glasgow Comic Con.  The show will be at the CCA on Sauchiehall Street, on Saturday 5th July and Sunday 6th July. I’ll be at the con, promoting my various comic projects. You can find my table up on the Level 2 Club Room.

Like And Then Emily Was Gone? I’ll have the last remaining stock of the black-and-white small press editions of issues #1 and #2 before the colour edition debuts worldwide at the end of July (this may be your last chance to get those, as once this stock is sold out I won’t be getting any more!), and I’ll also have an exclusive black-and-white preview edition of And Then Emily Was Gone #3 – Glasgow readers will get to see it months before the rest of the world! I’ll also be selling a range of limited edition prints, which look stunning. Only available while stocks last.

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Like The Standard? Well, at last, the series is complete. The final two issues, issues #5 and #6, will be available to buy from my table, months before their general release, with convention exclusive covers. We also have limited stock of all the other issues to let readers get caught up on the whole series.

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Like Chris Connelly? Well, he drew the convention exclusive covers for The Standard #5 and #6! He’ll be sharing the table with me at the con to sign any copies of the books you buy. We’ll also be selling the first issue of our Glasgow sci-fi series, Bad Sun, and Chris will be selling some lovely original art, and – I believe – doing commissions.

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You’ll also be able to find me at a panel on the Saturday, at 12pm.  In the CCA cinema, I’ll be part of the “SICBA Best Comic or Graphic Novel: Meet The Shortlist” panel, hosted by Craig Nielson, where I’ll be joined by Colin Bell, Craig Collins, Gil Hatcher and Morag Kewell.  Come along to see us all chat up our various comics, and discuss the process of creating them and getting them out into the world.

All that, and my books are also nominated for a bunch of SICBA awards! The Standard is nominated for Best Comic, I’m nominated for Best Writer, and Iain Laurie is nominated for Best Artist for And Then Emily Was Gone. voting is open throughout Saturday 5th July at the SICBA voting booth in the CCA’s first floor bar. If you’re attending, make sure to vote!

Tickets for the show are still available from www.glasgowcomiccon.com. It’s always a great show, and this year we have top notch comic guests like Gail Simone, Howard Chaykin and Erik Larsen, as well as familiar faces from the Scottish comics scene. Come along, have a great time, and support one of Scotland’s fastest-growing creative industries!

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SICBA 2014 Nominees, Featuring John Lees Comics

A couple of days ago, the shortlist for this year’s Scottish Independent Comic Book Alliance awards were announced.  And I’m pleased to report that my comics are nominated in three of the four categories.

The Standard was nominated for Best Comic or Graphic Novel, while I was nominated for Best Writer for my work on that series.  Iain Laurie, meanwhile, was nominated for best artist for his work on And Then Emily Was Gone.  Here’s the full shortlist of nominees:

Best Comic Book or Graphic Novel (supported by CCA: Glasgow)
Beginners Guide to Being Outside (published by Avery Hill Publishing Ltd.)
Crawl Hole (published by Craig Collins)
Crossing Borders (published by Rocket Puppy Press)
Dungeon Fun: Book One (published by Dogooder Comics)
The Standard #5 (published by ComixTribe)

Best Artist (supported by Homecoming Scotland)
Iain Laurie – And Then Emily Was Gone #3
Morag Kewell – Crossing Borders
Neil Slorance – Dungeon Fun: Book One

Best Writer (supported by Black Hearted Press)
Gill Hatcher – Beginners Guide to Being Outside
Colin Bell – Dungeon Fun: Book One
John Lees – The Standard #5

Best Cover (supported by Williams Bros. Brewing Co.)
Craig Collins, Iain Laurie and Derek Dow – Crawl Hole
Neil Slorance – Dungeon Fun: Book One
Jimmy Devlin – Saltire: Invasion

Voting is open throughout the first day of Glasgow Comic Con, on Saturday 5th July, at Glasgow’s CCA on Sauchiehall Street.  You can still buy tickets for the show over at the official website.  Congratulations and good luck to all my fellow nominees!

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Is 2014 Comics’ Summer of Horror?

EmilyInterviewTeaserOver the past couple of months, it feels like I have been immersed in horror. Over the course of this month in particular, it’s starting to seem like my every spare moment has been dedicated to talking up my horror comic series, And Then Emily Was Gone. If you’ve somehow managed to avoid my social media PR onslaught, here’s the series synopsis:

Greg Hellinger is a man who sees monsters. Driven to the brink of madness by monstrous apparitions, he is tasked with finding a missing girl called Emily. Hellinger’s search takes him to a remote community in the Scottish Orkney Islands, where strange and terrifying things are happening…

Equal parts Twin Peaks, True Detective and The Wicker Man, with an atmospheric rural Scottish setting, And Then Emily Was Gone is a comic I’m really proud to have written, and artist Iain Laurie, colorist Megan Wilson and letterer Colin Bell have all done stellar work. The five-issue miniseries will be released monthly by ComixTribe, with the first issue hitting comic shops in July. That means this is the month it’s in the Diamond Previews catalogue available for order, and that’s left me thinking a lot about the marketability for this weird little book. From the early stages, there was concern that there might not be an audience in the comic market for this kind of morbid, gruesome story, that this might sit as something of an oddity among the more bombastic, action-orientated fare available in Previews. But recently, it’s started to occur to me that something dark is afoot in the comics world. Horror comics are on the rise, and now And Then Emily Was Gone is feeling less like a strange curio and more like a small part of a big movement.

EMILY 0108Just look at the new releases on the shelf of your local comic shop this week. Wednesday 7th May marked the launch of two new horror titles: Nailbiter and The Woods. Nailbiter is an Image Comics series from writer Joshua Williamson and artist Mike Henderson, about a small town in the American heartland that has been the birthplace of 16 prolific serial killers, and the disquieting secrets that town may hold. It was first announced at Image Expo in January, and did not seem like the most high-profile unveiling of that weekend. But over the past couple of months, I’ve watched buzz steadily built, first as people were floored by the blood-drenched preview art coming from Mike Henderson, then as the word-of-mouth started slipping out from those who’d read advance copies and were blown away. There was something palpable in the air that Nailbiter was going to be very special indeed, possibly the latest Image #1 to make a big splash. It says a lot that in the week that both Marvel and DC’s big crossover events of the year debuted – Original Sin and Future’s End respectively – the coverage and “book of the week” accolades going to Nailbiter threatened to upstage both of them. And having read the first issue myself, I can assure you it’s worthy of the hype. Mike Henderson’s moody artwork is a revelation, and while Joshua Williamson already turned heads last year with his impressive work on Ghosted, but Nailbiter sees him up his writing game once more. A single issue efficiently presents us with a well-realised world with intriguing/disturbing characters, and a steady accumulation of dread literally visualised on the page with a recurring THUMP-THUMP, THUMP-THUMP, THUMP-THUMP heartbeat growing ever more prevalent.

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But as impressive as Nailbiter was, in my humble opinion The Woods just about matched it step-for-step. From Boom! Studios – the latest addition to their slate of quality original content as they become ever more serious in emerging as a match for Image’s dominance of the creator-owned market – from writer James Tynion IV and artist Michael Dialynas, The Woods tells the story of a high school filled with pupils and staff which is suddenly and without explanation teleported to an alien world, at which point the people in the dramatically relocated building very quickly find themselves having to fight for their lives against monstrous alien beasts out to hunt them. The plot very quickly becomes gripping, and drew me in as a reader both in terms of the immediate tension presented in the high-stakes nature of the characters’ plight, and in a more overarching sense of thinking of the larger mystery behind how and why the school was brought to this world. But what really made The Woods stand out was the characters. Amongst the 513 people caught in this extra-terrestrial event, a small core ensemble of characters quickly emerge as figures to care about and get emotionally invested, already been drawn as real, likeable kids whose safety we are going to fear for. It’s very much cut from the same cloth as Manga horror classic Drifting Classroom, pushing the same buttons of intense claustrophobia, child endangerment and what sides of human nature will emerge out in the wilderness, but with enough of an American twist to give it its own identity.

TheWoods1So, two horror comics debut in the same week, both are quality books with buzz and critical acclaim behind them. What is it indicative of, if anything? It’s not like the comic medium is any stranger to horror. There’s in fact a rich history of horror comics. The biggest creator-owned comic in the industry today is The Walking Dead, ostensibly a horror comic, though I’d argue it’s evolved into more of a sweeping post-apocalyptic epic. And in recent years we’ve had our share of modern classics in the genre: Locke & Key, Severed, Echoes. But what stands out as different this year is the density with which these horror titles are hitting, and the splash they’re making. Nailbiter and The Woods both seem poised to go from strength to strength, but there are more debuts on the horizon. Spread, written by Justin Jordan and drawn by Kyle Strahm, is built around the delicious high-concept of “The Thing meets Lone Wolf and Cub,” and boasts some truly blood-curdling imagery. It caused a sensation at last year’s New York Comic Con, and now Image Comics have picked it up and have it slated for a July release. It got a major spotlight in this month’s Previews, and is already starting to build something of a social media steamroller behind it as that advance buzz brews. Watch this become one of the sleeper hits of the summer.

Spread1As the summer continues to roll on into August and beyond, some of the biggest names in comics will be getting in on the action. Writer Scott Snyder and artist Jock – the creative team behind one of the most celebrated Batman stories of the past decade, The Black Mirror – are reteaming for Image Comics to bring us Wytches. Now, Snyder is no stranger to the horror genre. One could argue he cut his teeth in the genre, with both his breakthrough Vertigo hit American Vampire (which since its Second Cycle relaunch has really seemed to bring the horror to the fore) and the aforementioned Severed. Even his mainstream DC work on the likes of Batman and Swamp Thing has had a fair share of horror elements injected into it, and The Wake was rich in horror trappings before morphing into an equally compelling but tonally distinct entity in its second half. So it makes a statement when Snyder talks about Wytches being the darkest and scariest he’s ever gone. This is something that’s quite fascinating for me, as horror is still something of a frontier in comics, and creators are still experimenting with how best to use the medium to scare the reader. Snyder has already been amongst the most successful, with Severed in particular making for harrowing reading, so when some of the best in the field are pushing at the forefront and striving to go further than they ever have, it suggests it’s an exciting time to be a fan of horror comics.

Wytches1Pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in a horror comic is also on the agenda for Nameless, another Image Comics offering. This also sees the reunion of the creative team of an acclaimed Batman run, this time Batman Inc, as artist Chris Burnham pairs up once more with writer and comics legend Grant Morrison. Details of this series have been sparse, and we don’t even have a concrete release date yet, but Burnham has talked about this being “the ultimate horror comic,” while Morrison has suggested that his ambition is to capture the zeitgeist and use Nameless to project a definitive statement about what frightens us on a primal level in modern society – “doing hopefully for now what H.P. Lovecraft did for the wartime generation,” as Morrison puts it – and considering that when Morrison set out to make the definitive statement on the superhero he gave us All Star Superman, we should all be very afraid at what he has in store for us with Nameless.

Nameless1But even with these big name talents with debuts lined up, there is one horror comic that I’m looking forward to more than any other. Ever since I first heard about it last year, there has been a graphic novel pencilled in as one of my premiere comic events of the year. The graphic novel I’m talking about is Through the Woods, by writer/artist Emily Carroll. When last I heard, it was set for a July release, but the marketing has been quite low-profile. But those who know about it are very excited about it indeed, as Emily Carroll is arguably the current master of the horror comic. His Face All Red is one of the single greatest horror stories to emerge from any medium in recent years. Like all the best horror, it stays with you long after you’ve finished reading, makes you think, makes you ask questions then leaves you troubled in the late hours by the implied answers. Her work has been a big inspiration to me in terms of opening my eyes to what kind of horror was possible in comic form. And up until now, her output has all been in the form of free webcomics. Through the Woods marks Emily Carroll’s first foray into the realm of print, with His Face All Red being collected with some new stories. Any horror fan should be marking this down as an essential purchase. In the grand picture of “the summer of horror” and the rise of horror in comics, Through the Woods could end up being the most important book of all.

ThroughTheWoods1There’s a quote from actor/writer Mark Gatiss I particularly like, spoken at the beginning of the BBC documentary series, A History of Horror:

The cinema is where we come to share a collective dream, and horror films are the most dreamlike of all, perhaps because they engage with our nightmares.

Just as horror films at their best have a unique power with the way they utilise the tools of that medium in the most visceral and potent of ways, I think that the comic medium has the same potential for engaging the senses. It’s a visual medium, and a well-crafted image can be seared on a reader’s psyche, yet despite the notable works in the field I feel like much of that potential remains untapped. Recently, I feel like horror cinema has lost much of its edge, and there haven’t been that many genuinely great horror films over the past several years. So, I talked about the frontier before, and I believe that more and more comics could become the proving ground where we go to scare ourselves in the most inventive and rewarding manner. For years I’ve felt like the horror market for comics could be huge, and this year it feels like we could be taking major steps in that direction. I don’t claim to be anywhere on the level of all these exciting works making their way to comic shops in the coming weeks and months, but if all the “summer of horror” does indeed prove to be a significant movement in the comics industry, I’m proud that And Then Emily Was Gone can be part of it.

Emily1BRossmo

And Then Emily Was Gone #1 is released in July.  Pre-order your copy now, Previews order code MAY141251.  For more info, follow the Facebook page or check out the official blog.

Through the Woods is released in July.  Pre-order your copy now, Previews order code APR141272

Spread #1 is released in July.  Pre-order your copy now, Previews order code MAY140579

Wytches is released in August.  Nameless does not yet have a release date. 

Nailbiter #1 and The Woods #1 are available to buy now from all quality comic shops.

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REVIEW: Headspace #1

I’ve talked before about the good work MonkeyBrain Comics have been doing, publishing quality projects from some exciting up-and-comic indie comic creators, people who I’ve watched develop and grow as storytellers and seem well placed to benefit from the larger profile MonkeyBrain gives them.  It seems like the next generation of breakout Image comics creators are already doing exciting work at the ComiXology-exclusive publisher.  Headspace is written by another indie creator I was already familiar with: Ryan K Lindsay, perhaps best known for the backmatter he provides for Sheltered and Strange Nation and his academic writing on Daredevil, but also an accomplished writer in his own right with the likes of Fatherhood and Ghost Town, not to mention a short in ComixTribe’s own The Oxymoron.  Here, teaming up with the art duo of Eric Zawadski and Chris Peterson, as well as colorist Marissa Louise, he is getting perhaps his most substantial platform yet.  Does he deliver the goods?

At first, I wasn’t really sure what to make of Headspace #1.  The initial setup, with moody protagonist Shane having an existential crisis as the sheriff of dead-end town Carpenter Cove, didn’t really grab me, and some seemingly non-sequitor scene transitions and shifts in tone left me feeling more alienated from proceedings.  But over the course of the issue, the different strands come together in a way that, while it’s still not entirely clear, feels less confusing than it feels like a mystery waiting to unfold.  With a clever central conceit aided by some nicely hard-boiled narration by Lindsay, Headspace awards reader patience with a strange, unsettling narrative that promises to take us down a rabbit-hole.

Visually, artists Zawadski and Peterson gel together pretty seamlessly.  The sequences in Carpenter Cove offer the best opportunities for memorable imagery, which results in some memorable visuals and character designs.  The thick lines and soft, simple color palette give the book a bit of an Amelia Cole vibe, which can feel a bit strange given how much darker a tale this is than that other, well-regarded MonkeyBrain title.  But for the most part, it works.

This first issue is rounded out by an extended editorial from Lindsay, going into detail on everything from how the project came to be to what the ideal soundtrack to listen to while reading would be.  Throughout it all, his passion for the story is clear, and it’s quite infectious.

MonkeyBrain have been spoiling us with a dense array of quality titles recently.  And while Headspace may not quite place itself on the top tier of that library yet, all the component parts are in place for a story that could grow into something special.  An intriguing opener, and well worth checking out.

Headspace1Headspace #1 is available to buy now from ComiXology.

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REVIEWS – Land of the Rats: Gastrolithicus, Trip, Leftovers #4, Dober-Man, Poop Office #2

Another review round-up!  Let’s get right to business…

LAND OF THE RATS: GASTROLITHICUS

Cartoonist: Mark Nasso

Publisher: The Underground Forest

Price: $4.00

Land of the Rats is something of a visual delight.  Writer/artist Mark Nasso crafts this graphic novel around a series of impressively-structured pages, mostly splashes.  His heavy lines and surreal imagery captures a real Charles Burn quality.  The story isn’t particularly compelling, too often falling into the realm of the inscrutably vague.  But even if Nasso doesn’t yet stand out as a writer, with his work here he manages to mark himself out as an artist of note.

landoftheratsgastrolithicusLand of the Rats: Gastrolithicus is available from the Underground Forest online store.

TRIP

Cartoonists: Walker Farrell and Kelly Matten

Publisher: Ape Entertainment

Price: $15

Trip is a comic that’s pretty light on plot – the whole story boils down to two girls trying drugs at a a party – but in that loose framework it manages to find quite a few nice moments.  In the character of Lou in particular, we get a credible depiction of the anxieties many teenage girls face.  Both Kelly Matten and Walker Farrell’s art is light and accessible, while showing enough flexibility to get suitably weird once the drugs kick in, with some nice layouts that experiment with how the comics medium can be employed to depict the sensory impact of psychadelics.  It’s been done in other comics before, but Farrell and Matten bring it together into a warm, personable tale about youthful experience.

TripTrip is available to buy from Amazon.

LEFTOVERS #4

Cartoonist: Jason Pittman

Publisher: Self-published

Price: $3.99 print/$0.99 digital

Leftovers #4 was actually a pretty brilliant comic.  I was a bit wary that this would be another case of a mid-series issue of a comic being submitted where I’d be left feeling lost as to what came before.  But this was completely accessible, feeling like it had everything I needed to appreciate the story contained within and that I hadn’t missed anything.  Upon further reading, it seems this is because Leftovers follows a done-in-one anthology format.  For this particular story, cartoonist Jason Pittman triumphs on every level.  The story was heartfelt and really drew me in, as Kaleb’s battle with an anxiety disorder manifests itself in the form of superhero/supervillain doppelgangers doing battle in his subconscious.  This is visualised in the story by having the real characters and events depicted in black-and-white, while Kaleb’s costumed surrogates are presented in full colour.  Pittman also has a really nice, textured visual style too, understated, but with a real mastery of the small gestures of expression and body language that make a character feel real.  A real attention-grabbing book that has put Jason Pittman on my radar as a creator to watch.  And though I didn’t feel lost at the start, by the end I was left really wanting to read what happens next.

Leftovers4Leftovers #4 is available to buy from IndyPlanet.

DOBER-MAN

Writer: Travis M. Holyfield

Artist: Edward Whatley

Editor: Erica J. Heflin

Publisher: GrayHaven Comics

Price: $3.99

Another fantastic read!  This was right up my alley, being a loving pastiche of the old Batman TV series and playfully poking fun at some of its superheroic tropes.  Travis Holyfield’s clever story involves a disgruntled henchman getting wise to the fact that he can make much more money by ripping off the deluded supervillains who hire him than in trying to fight Batman and Robin analogues Dober-Man and Beagle, with many comic setpieces ensuing.  It’s all brought wonderfully to life by the expressive artwork of Edward Whatley, who produces some hilarious character and costume designs.  In particular, the humiliating uniforms the henchmen are made to wear makes for a great recurring gag.  This was a joy to read, and I hope we get more Dober-Man adventures in the future!

DoberManDober-Man is available to buy from the GrayHaven online store.

POOP OFFICE #2

Cartoonist: Ben

Publisher: Naked Grape Comics

Price: $1.99

I didn’t get Poop Office at all.  Everything you need to know about it is in the title.  It’s an office, but everyone in it is talking poop.  So, basically, the whole comic is just repeat vignettes of people having basically straight-faced office-based conversations, only everyone talking is a jobby, and all their names are turd-related puns.  If that description has you splitting your sides, then this is the comic for you, but I was just left scratching my head.  After reading about half a dozen of the skits I started to suspect the whole thing was actually an avant-garde deconstruction of the way we as a society seem to find poop jokes inherently funny, but I fear that’d be be giving it too much credit.  Sorry, this one just wasn’t to my taste.  Or should I say… wasn’t poo my taste?  Oh ho ho!

PoopOffice2Poop Office #2 is available now from ComiXology.

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REVIEWS – Lightweightz: The Anthology, Part Two, New-Gen: New Dawn #4, Diskordia #1, Deathridge #1, Z-Girl and the 4 Tigers #4, Noctua #2

Sorry for the long absence of these reviews.  Real-world stuff has got in the way of me being able to keep on top of stuff like this.  I can’t promise a return to regularly-scheduled programming going forward either, but I shall try my best to make up for lost time by cramming in as many reviews as possible here:

LIGHTWEIGHTZ: THE ANTHOLOGY, PART TWO

Writer: Justin Martin

Artist: Przemyslaw B. Dedelis

Colorist: Lya

Letterer: Przemyslaw B. Dedelis

Publisher: R-Squared Comicz

Price: Pay what you want

This Christian-themed comic about teens with developing superpowers has some novel concepts, though the execution is ultimately lacking.  Justin Martin is clearly a strong idea man, coming up with quite original approaches to superpowers rather than the generic “super strength” or “super speed”, crafting gifts that have some symbolic resonance with the experience of being a teenager, and the experiences of the various characters represented in each vignette.  However, the stories, while solid ideas for tales on paper, fall a little short in the actual writing, with some flat dialogue or – a nitpicky bug-bear of mine – sentences that don’t properly use commas!  The art of Przemyslaw B Dedelis and the colors of Lya are fine, if a bit simplistic and at times staid.  A fine idea and a worthwhile read, even if the final package feels a bit insubstantial.

Lightweightz1Lightweightz: The Anthology, Part Two is available from the R-Squared Comicz’ official website.

NEW-GEN: NEW DAWN #4

Writers: J.O. Matonti, Abdul H. Rashid

Penciller: Jomar Bulda

Inker: Analiza Chris Agot

Colorist: Sean Forney

Letterer: Matias Timarchi

Editors: J.O. Matonti, Julia Coppola

Cover: Abdul H. Rashid, Edgar Arce

Publisher: A.P.N.G. Enterprises

The New-Gen series from A.P.N.G. Enterprises must be something of a masterclass in marketing.  While seemingly having little visibility in traditional comic news circles, they have built up quite a presence, with a reportedly successful Free Comic Book Day release, nearly 40,000 followers on Facebook, a distribution deal set up with Marvel and a feature film adaptation starring Mark Hamill reportedly in development.  So it’s a bit of a shame that the core comic product doesn’t quite live up to the fanfare.  Reading this comic, the writing felt a bit stilted and inscrutable at points, and if this had been an issue #1 I’d have felt like it wasn’t until the issue’s end that things started to get going.  But this is issue #4 of a 5-issue series!  Given the uneventful nature of proceedings at this stage, I can’t imagine what the writers filled three issues with up until this point, and while it’s understandable that a reader might be confused about what’s going on when coming into a book on issue #4, my confusion was more problematic in that I had no real idea of what the larger story was supposed to be.  Thankfully, New Dawn #4 is redeemed by the stellar art team of Jomar Bulda and Analiza Chris Agot, with colors from Sean Forney.  The art team manage to craft a visual aesthetic that feels reminiscent of John Cassaday’s work on Planetary, giving the book a slick, professional sheen.

NGNDNext-Gen: New Dawn #4 is available from select comic shops.

DISKORDIA #1

Cartoonist: Andrew “Rivenis Black” Blackman

Price: $1.99

I enjoyed this book.  Cartoonist Andrew Blackman, also operating under the pen name “Rivenis Black”, has crafted a suitably fun, surreal world packed with loopy invention.  The main character, Jackal, has a touch of Mary-Sue about them, but the enigmatic Squid Girl has a marvelous character design, albeit one that’s unlikely to become a popular cosplay choice.  But while Blackman presents himself well as a writer, it’s as an artist that his true strengths emerge.  His layouts are dynamic and offbeat, his characters expressive, his colours vibrant, and his imagery suitably mind-bending.  Rivenis is truly a Jack-of-all-trades, with only his lettering falling short at this stage.  I was intrigued enough by the goings-on here to consider checking out the other issues available from the creator’s blog.

Diskordia1Diskordia #1 is available to buy from ComiXology. The series is also available to read for free from Rivenis Black’s blog.

DEATHRIDGE #1

Cartoonist: Ashley Hewerdine

Publisher: FunkyDoodyCool Comics

I wasn’t so keen on this one.  The story Ashley Hewerdine sets up is potentially interesting, with shades of League of Gentlemen, but the comic is let down with its visual presentation.  The artwork is really rough, with a bit of an MS Paint vibe in the linework, though there is the occasional nice image: an amusing silhouette sex scene springs to mind.  The lettering is similarly shoddy, with bubbles at times looking clunky on the page, and the words within sometimes missing full stops amid other technical issues.

Deathridge1Deathridge #1 is available to buy from select comic shops. More information here.

Z-GIRL AND THE 4 TIGERS #4

Writer: Jeff Marsick

Artist: Kirk Manley

Color Flatter: Miguel Marques

Publisher: Studio Z

Price: $5.00

Here we have another issue #4 of a 5-issue mini, but this manages to work much more successfully as a standalone read.  Yes, there was a good deal of “What the hell is going on?”, but the plot still managed to be a whole lot of fun in its own right, with enough of the mythology and the wider stakes at play presented to get my teeth into and make me want to go and get caught up.  The martial arts movie/sci-fi mashup (with zombies!) plays out a bit like a grindhouse-infused mix of Doom and Thundercats, with writer Jeff Marsick keeping the plot chugging along like a freight train, packed with incident, while still finding room for character moments that flesh out his sprawling cast.  Meanwhile, the art of “Manly” Kirk Manley is a delight, with heavy lines and enlarged figures that call to mind the work of Stephen Bissette, or the creature feature comics of the 1970s and 80s. This is one of those occasions where you read a comic and enjoy it so much that you feel it deserves to be playing to a bigger market.   A retro treat!

ZGirl4Tigers4Z-Girl and the 4 Tigers #4 is available to buy from IndyPlanet.  The previous issues are available from DriveThruComics, priced at $0.99.

NOCTUA #2

Writer: Andrew M. Henderson

Artist: J.C. Grande

Colorist: Eagle Gosselin

Letterer: David Paul

Publisher: Alterna Comics

Price: $1.99

This turned out to be another compelling read.  A crime story about the murky world of human trafficking, with a vampire twist, Noctua builds on the momentum of its first issue with this second chapter.  Here, writer Andrew Henderson displays a real talent for writing truly vile villains, with numerous characters displaying their heinous ways in a darkly inventive manner.  J.C. Grande, something of a regular of these reviews, also crops up with some of his most refined artwork to date, wonderfully complimented by the understated colors of Eagle Gosselin.  I wasn’t too keen on the HIV angle the vampire aspect of the story took in a shoehorned-in flashback, but aside from that niggle, the story being built up here is highly promising.

noctua_2

Noctua #2 is available to buy from ComiXology.

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