My Top 20 Daredevil Comics!

Tomorrow, Daredevil launches on Netflix, and I’m ridiculously excited for it.  Daredevil is my favourite Marvel superhero, and I’ve been anticipating his arrival in the MCU ever since Marvel announced they’d got the rights back from Fox.  When, from there, we got news that Daredevil would be adapted as a Netflix series my hype grew, and has steadily been building and building to critical mass with each new casting announcement, picture, trailer, and glowing review.  So, with one day to go and me sat here feeling like it’s Christmas Eve, I thought I’d immerse myself in my love of Daredevil a little more by sharing my top 20 comics starring everyone’s favourite blind lawyer/superhero.

I got the idea from Comic Book Resources.  They’re running a Top 50 Greatest Daredevil Stories feature right now, and for that I came up with a Top 10 list when voting.  In doing that, I realised how easy it would be to stretch that out to a Top 20.  That in itself speaks to the strength of Daredevil as a character: I don’t think there’s any other Marvel hero I could come up with a Top 20 favourite stories list for.  I should note that, in any entry on my list taken up by a story from Mark Waid’s run, the title is made up by me, as Mark Waid didn’t give his stories titles.  For shame!  You’ll also find that my list both skews modern, and has some key exclusions.  For example, there is nothing from Ann Nocenti’s run.  Ann Nocenti and John Romita Jr’s work on Daredevil made up some of the first Daredevil comics I can remember reading, but since with most of them it’s been near 20 years since I read them I don’t think I can remember them well enough to fairly rank them.

But enough preamble.  Here’s my list!

Honourable Mention: PunisherMAX, by Jason Aaron & Steve Dillon

I absolutely love this story, and as a comic in itself would likely rank it above a few of the entries in my top 20.  So why is it not in my top 20?  Well, the title gives it away.  It’s not a Daredevil comic, and Daredevil himself never appears.  But it’s worth a mention because it takes some key figures from Daredevil’s supporting cast – The Kingpin, Bullseye, Vanessa Fisk, Elektra – and reimagines them as charactes to fit into the MAX universe inhabited by Garth Ennis’ aging-in-real-time Punisher.  The result is that Aaron and Dillon give us the most visceral, monstrous depictions of The Kingpin and Bullseye seen in any comic in recent years, making the series a must-read for any fans of the iconic Daredevil villains.

20. The Damned (Daredevil Vol 1, #180) by Frank Miler & Klaus Janson

This issue seems to be one of the less acclaimed of Frank Miller’s landmark run on Daredevil, but it’s one that I will always remember fondly, perhaps because I have memories of reading it very early as a young comic fan.  But even looking back at it now, I think it boasts some of Miller and Klaus Janson’s most striking imagery, from Daredevil hobbling around with his leg in a cast to Daredevil and Ben Urich plunged into murky water with an alligator swimming towards them from the depths.  In this issue, Ben Urich discovers that Wilson Fisk’s wife Vanessa – thought to be dead – has been trapped in a subterranean society, and Daredevil must rescue her.

19. The Purple Children (Daredevil Vol 4, #8-#10) by Mark Waid & Chris Samnee

I know this is a very recent addition to the Daredevil canon, but it made such an immediate impression that I think it very quickly earned this spot so high up in my estimations.  The Purple Man was reinvented in Alias as one of Marvel’s most terrifying villains, so on the surface it may have seemed an odd fit for him to return to his old stomping grounds in Daredevil in its current upbeat phase.  But the transition works, and The Purple Man remains as frightening as ever, as he gathers the various illegitimate children he’s had over the years and discovers they have powers of persuasion to surpass even his own.  But what really sets this storyline apart is how it peels back the scab that’s been quietly growing at least through Mark Waid’s run and arguably longer, and directly tackles the notion of Matt Murdock as a sufferer of depression in a really potent, moving fashion.  I think this is all the more powerful in light of recent news stories that have served to stigmatise mental illness, showing that it can afflict superheroes too.

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18. Hardcore (Daredevil Vol 2, #46-#50) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev

In a way, this is a bit like Daredevil’s version of a story like Knightfall or Hush where Batman is forced to go up against multiple enemies back-to-back.  After a lengthy absence after an attempted assassination, The Kingpin has returned to New York City to reclaim his criminal empire.  To keep Daredevil occupied, he hires the services of both Typhoid Mary and Bullseye, leading to a gauntlet where Daredevil must go through both of them and finally The Kingpin himself.  As someone who ranks these three as Daredevil’s three greatest foes, this was fun reading for me!  What was also clever was that, in light of Matt Murdock being outed to the press as being Daredevil earlier in the run, it upended the way these foes come after him.  Typhoid Mary attacks Matt on a busy street in broad daylight.  Bullseye sneaks into his bedroom at the dead of night and nearly kills his girlfriend, Milla Donovan.  And in the final confrontation between Daredevil and The Kingpin, Bendis throws another shocking status quo change at us.

17. Date Night (Daredevil Vol 3, #12) by Mark Waid & Chris Samnee

This is a low-key little done-in-one in Mark Waid’s run on Daredevil, but like the entirety of that run, it is a delight.  Here, after a year of flirting and coyly dancing around one another, Matt Murdock and Kirsten McDuffie finally go on a date.  And in an issue spent entirely out of costume, we just get to enjoy spending time with Matt Murdock as a person, making this issue a wonderful showcase for how Waid has managed to bring out the character’s likeability.  Running through the issue is also an enjoyable flashback to Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson in law school, highlighting an episode where their lasting friendship was cemented: something that takes on a poignant note given future story developments in the run.  This issue is also noteworthy for being the first drawn by Chris Samnee, who would go on to become “co-storyteller” with Waid and establish himself as one of the best ever Daredevil artists.

16. The Murdock Papers (Daredevil Vol 2, #76-#81) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev

This is the climactic arc of the lengthy Bendis/Maleev run, and it really does have this crushing weight of finality behind it.  Bendis manages to bring back just about all the key players and plot points from the duration of his run, throwing them all into the mix here to create this overwhelming feeling of chickens all coming home to roost, and the noose inevitably tightening around Matt Murdock’s neck.  Also, after “Hardcore” seemed to serve the purpose of undercutting The Kingpin as a threat for this new, darker, tougher Daredevil, “The Murdock Papers” is very much about showing that The Kingpin still has teeth, and it’s right at the moment when you start to underestimate him that he could be most dangerous.  In the story, a captive Kingpin plans to make a deal with the FBI to give them irrefutable proof that Daredevil is Matt Murdock, with the search for this proof setting the stage for a grand battle royale between Daredevil, his friends and his foes.  But all is not quite as it seems.  The cliffhanger finale perfectly sets the stage for Brubaker and Lark to come in and hit a slam-dunk as they took over from Bendis and Maleev, and they would of course do just that.  More on that later…

15. Devils (Daredevil Vol 1, #169) by Frank Miller & Klaus Janson

Bullseye is one of my favourite comic book villains, has been for a long time.  And it’s thanks to Frank Miller that he was elevated from a throwaway costumed crook to being such a memorably wicked thorn in Daredevil’s side.  This issue here was one of the key issues that helped to cement Bullseye’s reputation as an A-list baddie.  In the story, Bullseye is suffering from a brain tumor, which makes him start to imagine everyone as Daredevil.  He reacts as you might imagine Bullseye would, resulting in a killing spree through the streets of New York City.  One of the best things about Miller and Janson’s acclaimed run on Daredevil were their masterfully executed fight scenes, and it seems that none were more hard-hitting than when Daredevil matched up with Bullseye.  We get one such memorable fight here.  Though, of course, there were more to come.

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14. Senseless (Daredevil Vol 3, #14-#16) by Mark Waid & Chris Samnee

Certain actions by Matt Murdock in the first year of Daredevil, Vol 3 have angered the authorities of Latveria, and so in this storyline, Daredevil find himself kidnapped and held prisoner in Dr. Doom’s dominion.  The story gets really interesting when the Latverians subject Daredevil to a chemical that slowly neutralises his other senses, causing his radar sense to vanish, and for him to gradually go deaf and be unable to smell, taste or touch.  Waid and Samnee do a great job of making us feel the horror of Daredevil’s plight, going from someone who has turned his disability into a strength into someone rendered truly helpless.  It’s a nice foreshadowing of the grisly fate that would be revealed for Bullseye later in the run.  But the way Daredevil’s senses start to attempt to compensate becomes another visualisation of Daredevil’s true greatest power: his ability to always come back and keep fighting, no matter how low he has been laid.

13. Return of the King (Daredevil Vol 2, #116) by Ed Brubaker & David Aja

“Return of the King” is actually a 5-part storyline that built up to the finale of Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark’s run in the renumbered Daredevil #500, and it’s a good storyline.  But for this particular list, I’m highlighting the opening issue that serves as the prelude, drawn by guest artist David Aja, in which our focus is entirely on Wilson Fisk.  It’s a fascinating exploration of his character, what makes him tick and his complex relationship with Matt Murdock.  In the story, Fisk has once again attempted to retire from his wicked ways, moving to a quiet village in Spain to start a new life.  He has met a woman with a young child, and they have become a surrogate family to him.  But then Lady Bullseye tracks him down with hopes of making him become The Kingpin once again, and tragedy unfolds.  Brubaker uses some clever narration here, having Fisk not in 1st person but in 2nd person, “You shouldn’t have done that, Wilson,” etc.  While the 1st person narration often employed by Matt Murdock makes us relate more to him, this 2nd person narration distances us from Fisk, and it also underlines an accusatory, self-loathing tone.

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12. Gang War! (Daredevil VOl 1, #170-#172) by Frank Miller & Klaus Janson

Another great Kingpin story here, with this being particularly significant in that this is where Frank Miller transformed The Kingpin from an outlandish Spider-Man villain into Daredevil’s arch-nemesis.  Wilson and Vanessa Fisk had been living in quiet retirement in Japan, but when they plan to put behind their criminal connections for good by turning state’s evidence against their former affiliates, Vanessa travels to Hell’s Kitchen to seek the legal counsel of Nelson & Murdock.  But things go wrong when The Kingpin’s former underlings kidnap her to draw Fisk out of hiding.  When he does indeed return, it’s far more than they bargained for, and we see just how ruthless The Kingpin can be when what he loves is threatened.  Bullseye enters the fray as well, switching allegiances from Fisk’s opponents to The Kingpin himself, and having another memorable battle with Daredevil.  But the storyline is most significant in how it lays out the template that would establish The Kingpin as arguably Marvel’s best villain.

11. Wake Up (Daredevil Vol 2, #16-#19) by Brian Michael Bendis & David Mack

Before Brian Michael Bendis’ great run on Daredevil with artist Alex Maleev began proper, he penned this 4-part storyline brilliantly drawn by Dave Mack.  Daredevil himself doesn’t show up until late in the story, with our key protagonist instead being reporter Ben Urich.  Loser villain Leap-Frog has gone missing, and his young son is in a catatonic state, drawing violent pictures that seem to involve Daredevil.  And as Urich pieces the story of what really happened together, it reveals a harrowing tale of abuse that brings up flashes of Urich’s own childhood.  When Daredevil eventually does enter the story, the gentleness and compassion he shows the troubled child are truly touching.  And it’s all portrayed in stunning fashion by Mack, who uses oblique, psychologically-representative tableaus that you wouldn’t normally expect to find in a mainstream superhero comic.  A further showcase of just how versatile a character Daredevil can be.

10. Daredevil: Yellow, by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale

Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, the team behind one of the greatest Batman comics ever, The Long Halloween, reunite for this retelling of Daredevil’s early years of crime-fighting.  The narrative is pretty basic, revisiting some of the early villain encounters from the first few issues of Daredevil from back in the 1960s, but with a more character-driven focus on the love triangle between Matt Murdock, Foggy Nelson and Karen Page.  But the romantic happenings are given an undertone of immense sadness with the framing device of a present-day Daredevil – grieving the now-dead Karen – writing letters to her to help come to terms with her loss.  The true highlight here, though, is the beautiful visuals.  The comic looks stunning, with Tim Sale’s distinctive character design and ink washes making each page into a breathtaking work of art.  Also look out for a clever connection which puts this story into a shared universe with The Long Halloween. 

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9. The Man Without Fear, by Frank Miller & John Romita, Jr

Years after his celebrated run on the character, Frank Miller returned to write one more Daredevil story, this time giving us a retelling of his origin which was apparently originally intended as a treatment for an abandoned film adaptation.  It may not quite be optimum Miller, with him repeating a few beats from his iconic Batman work, but there’s a joy in seeing him slip back into writing Matt Murdock like one slips into a comfy old pair of slippers.  The art is provided by John Romita Jr, and I’d venture to say this could be of the finest work of his storied career. In particular, the scene where he breaks up the child trafficking ring in a black tracksuit (which has gone on to form the basis for the “proto-costume” in the Netflix series) is a triumph of badass visuals.  This story is very much a Matt Murdock story, with him not appearing in the famous Daredevil costume until the final page. But anyone wanting a definitive account of how Matt Murdock became the hero he is today need look no further than this.

8. A New Beginning (Daredevil Vol 3, #1-#3), by Mark Waid & Paulo Rivera, Marcos Martin

After the entirety of Daredevil Volume 2 took Matt Murdock on an ever-deepening spiral of despair, this Volume 3 relaunch was tasked with starting a whole new era for Daredevil.  And Mark Waid and Paulo Rivera do so in style.  Right from the first issue, the tone is wildly different.  We have fun and adventure, we have outlandish villains like The Spot, we have Daredevil smiling!  Paulo Rivera gives us crisp, clean lines, accompanied by the bright, bold colors of Javier Rodriguez.  It really does feel drastically different from the moody, murky crime thriller the title had become.  And yet, Waid makes sure that despite the radical surface change, the character’s history is still acknowledged and respected.  In a wonderfully-drawn short by Marcos Martin contained within this opening storyline, Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson have a conversation in which Matt lays out his new approach to life, closing the door in all the awful things that have happened to him and making a conscious decision to move forward.  And it’s a decision that Foggy doesn’t necessarily think is healthy, marking the first signifier of the underlying darkness this run doesn’t always get credit for.  I rank this opening 3-part story, in which Daredevil clashes with Black Panther villain Klaw, so highly because it’s the story that sets the tone going forward, and – after being a Daredevil fan for many years who ranked The Kingpin and Bullseye as his favourite characters – it was Waid’s grasp of Matt Murdock’s personality here that cemented Daredevil as my favourite character in his own book.

7. The Trial of the Century (Daredevil Vol 2, #38-#40) by Brian Michael Bendis & Manuel Gutierrez

As celebrated as Alex Maleev’s work on his Daredevil run with Brian Michael Bendis has become, funnily enough, one of the best stories in that run was drawn by fill-in artist Manuel Gutierrez.  Here, forgotten hero the White Tiger finds himself wrongfully accused of shooting a police officer while attempting to thwart a robbery, and Matt Murdock must represent him in court.  What follows is perhaps my all-time favourite story of Matt Murdock as a lawyer.  Daredevil barely shows up at all in the storyline, with his lengthiest appearance being when he shows up in costume to meet Luke Cage and Iron Fist and they’re all like, “Umm, actually we were looking for legal advice.”  No, this story stands primarily as compelling courtroom drama.  With Matt Murdock himself recently being publicly unmasked as Daredevil at this point, that weighs heavily on the story, both in terms of Murdock’s own feelings about the White Tiger and on taking his case, and in terms of how the public and the media turn on costumed vigilantes.  It’s infuriating to see the legal system steadily let down a good man stage by stage, and we feel Murdock’s growing frustration, but also recognise he’s maybe partly responsible for stirring up these nasty feelings against costumed heroes for which White Tiger is primed to suffer.  The ending is heartbreaking.

6. The Devil in Cell Block D (Daredevil Vol 2, #82-87) by Ed Brubaker & Michael Lark  

Earlier in the list, I talked about how the departing Bendis and Maleev set up a slam-dunk for incoming replacements Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark.  Well, here’s the slam-dunk.  The climax of the previous run left Matt Murdock in prison, alongside many of the enemies he put there, awaiting trial for his activities as Daredevil.  Brubaker immediately establishes a hard-boiled tone here, making this feel like he’s turning his patented noir stylings to a prison drama, only with Daredevil characters.  And there really is a lot of Daredevil characters.  Murdock is joined in prison by The Kingpin, Bullseye, The Owl, Gladiator, Hammerhead, Black Tarantula and The Punisher, with the various parties gradually converging as the narrative unfolds, building and building like a melting pot that eventually explodes.  The dynamic between Murdock and Fisk is interesting here, as they find themselves as unlikely, grudging allies in a prison full of inmates out to get them both.  And yet, Fisk still remains the devil on Daredevil’s shoulder, trying to bring out the worst in him and make him compromise himself, because Fisk believes everyone will compromise themselves given the right amount of pressure and Murdock’s refusal to do so continually defies him.  All this is ably presented by Michael Lark, who’s understated, moody pencils are the perfect compliment to Brubaker’s writing.

5. Ikari (Daredevil Vol 3, #23-#27), by Mark Waid & Chris Samnee

For me, this 5-part storyline was the climax of Mark Waid’s work on Daredevil, and just about everything that’s followed has felt like an extended victory lap.  Here, the themes and ideas Waid had been laying out come to a head, and the mysterious villain who has been acting against Daredevil from the shadows since the very beginning of the run is finally revealed: it’s Bullseye, but much changed, left crippled since his last resurrection with all his senses but sight utterly nullified.  But with his body useless, his mind has worked on coming up with a most personal way of destroying Daredevil.  Enter a great new villain for the Daredevil pantheon in the form of Ikari: a killer drenched in Daredevil’s history, given powers in a careful recreation of the accident that gave Matt Murdock his, and draped in an obscene repurposing of Battlin’ Jack Murdock’s boxing robes.  It’s a triumph of design from Chris Samnee, who is brilliant and firing on all cylinders throughout the story, particularly in the central Ikari/Daredevil fight scene that takes up most of the penultimate chapter.  Ikari is designed to provoke Daredevil, and it works.  Bullseye wants Matt Murdock to feel fear, with all his loved ones placed in danger.  But while in the last volume, this kind of story development would have been used to show that friends are a weakness for Daredevil and only leave him open to more pain, the resolution we come to here underlines just how different the mission statement for this run is.  And perhaps what I love most about this storyline is the subplot with Foggy Nelson, who has been diagnosed with cancer.  Watching Matt Murdock see his friend through his treatment creates a really touching picture of their friendship, highlighting that the relationship between Matt and Foggy is at the heart of Waid and Samnee’s run.  The whole run is a classic, but this storyline deserves to be recognised as a classic within a classic.

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4. Last Hand (Daredevil Vol 1, #181) by Frank Miller & Klaus Janson

Quite possibly the most famous Daredevil story of all time: the death of Elektra.  I think enough time has passed for this not to be a spoiler, yeah?  I’ve got a confession to make: I’m not that big an Elektra fan.  I’m more in the camp of viewing Karen Page as Matt Murdock’s true great love, and I enjoy Typhoid Mary more as an antagonistic foil.  And so “The Elektra Saga” as a whole didn’t resonate with me so much as other aspects of Frank Miller’s seminal run.  But I cannot deny the power of this chapter, when Bullseye murders her, resulting in a bruising final confrontation between Daredevil and Bullseye that leaves Bullseye paralysed.  And yet, much of Matt Murdock’s outpouring of grief over the loss of his love would come in the following chapter.  I actually view this most as a great Bullseye story, probably the greatest Bullseye story.  He narrates the issue, and he crafts a picture of obsession and bitterness, with all the little slights and humiliations from his earlier clashes with Daredevil through the run weighing on him, all informing the monstrous actions he goes on to commit here.  He also figures out Murdock is Daredevil, way before his identity would go public… and no one, not even The Kingpin, believes him.  Of course, Elektra would later be resurrected, but the death as depicted here still has power to distress.  This is a piece of comics history which still manages to feel fresh and vital.

3. Out (Daredevil Vol 2, #32-#37) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev

For me, “Out” is the dizzying high-point of the consistently excellent Bendis/Maleev run on Daredevil.  In this storyline, Matt Murdock gets outed as Daredevil to the tabloid press, and his life is turned upside down.  What immediately strikes you reading this is just how ballsy it is.  You read it, and you’re thinking, “Okay, how is the genie going to get put back in the bottle here?  This surely can’t actually be happening to Matt Murdock.”  And then they keep pushing it further and further, and you realise there is no putting this genie back in the bottle.  This is an audacious upending of Daredevil’s status quo damn near on a par with “The Anatomy Lesson” in Swamp Thing, and Bendis and Maleev do great work exploring the consequences of a superhero with a secret identity being publicly exposed, and the impact such a catastrophe would have not just on the hero himself, but on those closest to him.  There’s also some potent commentary on rolling news and how the media would make a feeding frenzy out of this.  “Out” is a thought-provoking exploration of what the cost of being a superhero in a world like our own may be, and the ripple-effects of this particular storyline are still being felt in Daredevil comics now a decade later.  Hugely influential.

2. Snow-Blind (Daredevil Vol 3, #7), by Mark Waid & Paulo Rivera

Matt Murdock is volunteering at a school for the blind over the Christmas holidays, and is taking a group of blind kids on a trip.  But their bus crashes, killing the driver, and leaving Daredevil stranded in a snowstorm with a group of scared, blind children who he has to lead to safety.  There are no supervillains, no fights, no high-stakes save the world or even save the city narratives.  Just Daredevil and these kids.  And yet Daredevil has rarely felt like so much of a hero as he does here.  It’s a rousing read watching Daredevil fight to bring these kids to safety, even when fighting against his injuries and his own growing panic.  And most touching of all, we see that the kids themselves have strength and heroism of their own.  Paulo Rivera’s art here is simply beautiful, finding detail and nuance even against the stark, snowy backdrop.  This here is the high-point of Mark Waid’s Daredevil, which is itself the high-point of superhero comics in recent years.

1. Born Again (Daredevil Vol 1, #227-#233) by Frank Miller & David Mazzucchelli

One year before the creative team of writer Frank Miller and artist David Mazzucchelli created “Batman: Year One”, regarded by many as the greatest Batman story ever, they teamed up for “Born Again,” an equally excellent (perhaps even a little better) 7-part Daredevil saga. Matt Murdock’s old love, Karen Page, has become a heroin addict, and has sold the secret of Daredevil’s secret identity. That information has found its way into the hands of The Kingpin, who uses it to systematically destroy Matt Murdock’s life, piece by piece. The first half of the story is that of a downward spiral, as Murdock’s life falls apart and he drifts deeper into the depths of despair as he loses everything. The second half of the story is a tale of rebirth, as we see Murdock rise from the ashes and piece the ruins of his life back together in a struggle to find the strength to be a hero once again. The Kingpin is terrifying here, elevated from intimidating gangster to a primal force of corruption, a force of nature like the sea, endlessly chipping away at all areas of weakness in people of all kinds, his malign influence spread throughout Hell’s Kitchen and far beyond.  It’s one of my favourite depictions of any villain in any comic. Ben Urich, Karen Page and Foggy Nelson all also get their moments to shine, each given their own long, dark night of the soul and the chance to triumph over it. But this is Matt Murdock’s journey. Again, there’s very little Daredevil here. It’s another shining example of how Daredevil may be the costume, but it’s Matt Murdock, the man, who is the true hero. The greatest Daredevil story ever, and quite possibly the best Marvel comic ever.

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So, those are my favourite Daredevil comics.  What are yours?  Let me know!

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This Weekend: Edinburgh Comic Con!

Hey everybody, and happy 2015!  It’s been a while since this site got updated, but now seems like a good time to get the ball rolling again, as convention season is about to start rolling again for me!

This Saturday and Sunday, 11th-12th April, at Potterrow in Bristo Square, I’ll be at Edinburgh Comic Con, tabling with my pal and co-creator of And Then Emily Was Gone, artist Iain Laurie.  This con is particularly exciting for me as it’s the first time I’ve not just exhibited at a convention, but been an invited guest.  They even have my profile up on the website and my name on the poster!  We’ll be selling copies of And Then Emily Was Gone and The Standard and doing sketching (well, Iain will be doing sketching: I’ll do a sketch if you want but it won’t be very good!) in the Lower Hall, at tables L20 and L21.

But that’s not all!  In addition to having a table at the show, Iain Laurie and I will also be taking part in a special And Then Emily Was Gone panel on Sunday at 1pm.  For anyone who has enjoyed the series, or has any questions about how it was made, this should be a fun panel you might want to check out!

Edinburgh Comic Con is the start of 2015’s convention calendar, which is currently looking like this:

Edinburgh Comic Con: 11th-12th April

Glasgow Comic Con: 4th-5th July

MCM Expo Scotland: 27th-28th September

New York Comic Con: 8th-11th October

Thought Bubble: 14th-15th November

But it all starts with Edinburgh this weekend!  So, if you plan on attending the event, do stop by and say hello!  For more information, visit their official website.

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My Top Ten Comics of 2014

Hello and welcome once more to my annual countdown of the Top 10 comics of the year. You’ll notice that, after last year’s inflated Top 20 list, I’m back down to 10 for 2014. That’s not to suggest that the quality of titles being released is in decline, but rather that I’ve probably been buying a little less comics this year, having to make some ruthless cuts to my pull list as having less and less free time to read through my comics has left a larger and larger pile of unread books to try to get to. That, and the fact that it took me ages to write that Top 20 list last year! 2014 has been another year of change for me, as while last year I talked a bit about how the number of Image titles I was reading had skyrocketed, this year I’ve had to drop a few of those. And while last year I said that I’d all but stopped reading Marvel and DC’s output, Marvel at least has made a big comeback for me, with an array of quality launches this year. Also noteworthy is the ascendancy of BOOM! Studios, with such quality output as The Woods, Memetic, Curse, Black Market and The Empty Man, and I’ve really been enjoying Oni Press output like The Life After and The Bunker. As ever, there are plenty of great comics I couldn’t fit into my top 10. Aforementioned indie offerings The Life After and The Woods, and other cracking indie titles like MonkeyBrain breakouts D4VE and Headspace, not to mention Image debuts like Spread, Wytches, Roche Limit and Deadly Class. Even some previous Top 10 mainstays like Batman, Saga and Sex Criminals, while maintaining a consistent quality, didn’t make the cut. Charles Soule wrote stellar comics for both Marvel and DC that came close to qualifying in She-Hulk and Swamp Thing respectively. Coming agonisingly close and actually being present in the list in an earlier draft was the delightful, charming, funny, surprisingly tender and emotional Dungeon Fun, by breakout genius Scottish creators Colin Bell and Neil Slorance. But what we’re left with is a collection of truly superb comics, some you may already be reading, others you should seek out. Let’s get right into it…
10. LEGENDARY STAR-LORD

LegendaryStarLordI figured out numbers 1-9 on this list pretty quickly, but there was a real fight for this final spot on the list. Just take a look at that vast “Honourable Mentions” list above to show how many quality comics were in contention. But I think the main two that got closest were this year’s Guardians of the Galaxy expansions, Legendary Star-Lord and Rocket Raccoon. Both were fun, action-packed titles, and I have a hard time deciding which one I loved more. Rocket Raccoon is just fantastic, Skottie Young is doing stellar work on that title, and it was perhaps the title that had the bigger immediate “WOW!” reaction of the two. But it’s Legendary Star-Lord that has grown on me even more over the course of their respective runs. Star-Lord is my favourite Guardian, and Sam Humphries has, in this series, crafted a version of Peter Quill that does justice to all iterations of his character. The surface level that immediately grabs you as the series begins is how spot-on a pastiche of Chris Pratt’s excellent cinematic portrayal it is, right down to the dude-speak and man-child party lifestyle. But as the series has progressed, Humphries has skilfully weaved what might have seemed like a soft character retcon to make it feel like an appropriate character evolution that stays faithful to the haunted, guilt-ridden moral pragmatist that starred in the definitive Abnett & Lanning Guardians of the Galaxy run. There’s even the inclusion of an updated version of transport/confidante Ship from the very earliest Star-Lord appearances from the 1970s. The bombastic artwork of Paco Medina is a revelation, and it’s his bright, energetic visuals that really hammer home the glorious comedy beats: from Kitty Pryde dancing in a giant banana suit to Quill on an awkward date dressed in a bad ’80s prom tux. Straddling a line between rewarding single-issue stories and steadily building up an intriguing overarching narrative, Legendary Star-Lord is a gem of a comic that makes a great case for why Star-Lord is a hero deserving of his own solo title.
9. EAST OF WEST

EastOfWest10East of West has slipped a little from its #2 ranking last year. Don’t get me wrong, Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta’s sci-fi/Western opus still ranks up there with Image’s best titles and is always a book that gets read very soon after I get home from buying it at the local comic shop. If anything, the lower placement is reflective of not poorer storytelling, but more subtle storytelling, with Hickman and Dragotta carefully expanding the world and often replacing the more sweeping scope of the initial arc with a series of one-shots exploring the various nations of this alternate America. All were interesting to varying degrees, though at times this approach left me missing some of my favourite characters and wondering when certain plot beats would be followed up on. But when the various threads start to weave together and the individually-defined forces start to clash, you really feel a sense of culmination, and the sheer scale feels even more epic and breathtaking for the build-up that set it up. With what has been set up as of the latest issue I read, Hickman seems primed to take this world into even darker places as the narrative enters its next phase. But it’s the team of Nick Dragotta and colourist Frank Martin that continue to steal the show with each passing chapter. There’s not an issue that goes by where I don’t have to stop at least once and just marvel over the construction of a page. Still arguably the most visually stunning art team in comics.
8. ANDRE THE GIANT: LIFE AND LEGEND

AndreTheGiantI’ll get this out of the way: you don’t have to be a wrestling fan to love Andre the Giant: Life and Legend. All you have to be is a fan of fascinating life stories, realised with wonderful comics storytelling by Box Brown. But I’ve been a wrestling fan going back to when I was a little kid, albeit not so much lately. And the first person I can remember being a favourite wrestler of mine was Andre the Giant. The 7-foot-plus tall athlete was, pun intended, a larger-than-life presence, and this graphic biography does a great job of conveying that, with various interviewees sharing accounts of the sheer size of the man and the unique life he led as a result of it that range from the charming to the breathtaking. But his size, which gave him incredible fame and a livelihood, was also an incredible burden. Most obviously, it was a medical condition, one that was slowly killing him. But, as Brown astutely depicts, it also negatively impacted his life in a whole series of constant little inconveniences and humiliations that wore him down, the cold fact that in one context, he was “The Eighth Wonder of the World,” but in another he was just a freak. The biography is more a highlight reel than an exhaustive analysis, but we do get some excellent snapshots of his life. We see how he used to get lifts to school from Samuel Beckett as a boy in France, and we get a look at his time on the set of The Princess Bride. But most effectively of all, Box Brown paints a portrait of an era of American history that holds endless fascination for me: the 1980s wrestling circuit and all the eccentricities contained within. Informative, poignant, and often laugh-out-loud funny, when I read Andre the Giant: Life and Legend back near the start of the year, it became probably the first definite fixture on this list and its place has stayed secure ever since.
7. STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS

StrayBulletsKillersWhat a fantastic year 2014 has been for fans of David Lapham’s seminal crime epic, Stray Bullets. With no new chapters published in some time, and the series arguably never getting the widespread acclaim and recognition it deserved, it seemed in danger of being consigned to history as an unfairly forgotten comics classic. But then Image Comics signed a new deal to revive Stray Bullets last year, prompting the series to be posted up on ComiXology. Then, this year, the original run was finally brought to a conclusion with Stray Bullets #41, followed by the whole series being released in a deluxe omnibus called “The Uber Alles Edition,” allowing a whole new generation of readers to get absorbed into this dark, ruthlessly bleak saga. And then we got Stray Bullets: Killers. David Lapham has slipped effortlessly back into this seedy world and its inhabitants, like slipping into an old pair of comfy slippers, not missing a beat. As always with Stray Bullets, Killers seems to operate on the fringes of the crime genre, looking at how regular people on the fringes are impacted, or how their moral decisions can have a ripple effect. The backbone of Killers has been the blossoming and ultimately wilting romance between recurring protagonist Virginia and Eli, two flawed characters who make mistakes, but who we come to deeply care about, and whose happiness we become highly emotionally invested in. A happiness which, if Stray Bullets has taught us anything, shouldn’t be expected to last. Killers is often a low-key series, and as such even now is still to some degree being overlooked, not always getting mentioned amongst the other great Image titles of the past year. But Stray Bullets: Killers is actually better than most of them, and has produced some of the best single issues of any comic in 2014.
6. THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS

MP19AlbertReturnsLast year’s #1 didn’t quite reach the same heights on this year’s list, in fact slipping to the ranking it held back in the 2012 list. But that’s hardly to suggest that writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Nick Pitarra’s bonkers revisionist history tale of mad science gone wild is in decline. This is a series that continues to fire on all cylinders with big, crazed ideas. Talking dog Laika got her own standalone adventure in space. The original Albert Einstein from our Earth came back to our reality to confront his evil parallel Earth doppleganger, and we got to see the mad journey across countless realms he had to brave to return home. William Westmoreland joined the cast as a hardcase with an ear necklace who took on an elite alien killing machine and won. We discovered that Che Guevara and Fidel Castro had their brains replaced by evil Communist aliens. And it all built up to a take on the assassination of JFK (magic bullet and all) that was about as bonkers as we’ve come to expect. The visuals of this book from Pitarra and colorist Jordie Bellaire continue to be an absolute delight, packed with detail and character quirks that had so much to the fabric of the story and make it what it is. The cast and the scope of this series continues to get bigger and bigger, and so the year ended with The Manhattan Projects going on hiatus, with a promise to come back in 2015 with more character-driven arcs focusing on the various narrative strands one at a time. Whatever format The Manhattan Projects takes going forward, you can be certain that I’ll be onboard!
5. THOR: GOD OF THUNDER

ThorGodOfThunderFor the sake of clarity, it’s Thor: God of Thunder – the 25-issue series drawn largely by Esad Ribic, which ended a few months back – which is my included entry on this list, rather than the newly relaunched Thor, also written by Jason Aaron. Not that the new series, isn’t really great – honestly, save for the new issue #1, it’s pretty much a continuance of the narrative from God of Thunder and part of the same overarching saga – but it’s just getting started, really, so if I must pick one title for inclusion on this list I’ll go for Thor: God of Thunder. This title was excellent right from its beginning, and during the “God Butcher” storyline quickly established itself as one of the crown jewels in Marvel’s lineup. But it was with Esad Ribic’s return to the series in “Last Days of Midgard” that the title reached its greatest heights, and Jason Aaron cemented his status as best Thor writer since Simonson. This storyline told two tales. One narrative was of an Earth in the future that had been left as little more than a ravaged husk, old King Thor left to defend it against Galactus come finally to claim the remains of the planet that had thwarted him for so long. Here we saw Ribic at his finest, depicting a Galactus that truly inspired awe and terror, underlining the impossible odds Thor faced in fighting him. The other tale was in a present that eerily foreshadowed the desolation of the future, with evil corporation Roxxon embarking on dangerous, morally repellent initiatives that bring them into conflict with Thor. Now, Jason Aaron has already made major contributions to the villains in Thor’s mythos without even using arch foe Loki: from introducing the terrifying Gor to giving real teeth and wickedness to Malekith in a portrayal that put his cinematic appearance to shame. So it’s not a statement I make likely when I say that Roxxon figurehead Dario Agger was the most vile, repellent villain Thor faced in the whole series. He was a great opponent for Thor, because he was not someone Thor could just hit with his hammer. He was a very Earthly evil, hiding behind lawyers and dirty corporate tricks and playing on a level even a heavy-hitter superhero like Thor struggled to keep up with. From beginning to end, Thor: God of Thunder was a delight: dramatic, scary, and often surprisingly funny. It seems like we should expect more of the same from the new Thor.
4. THE MULTIVERSITY

PaxAmericanaAs a huge Grant Morrison fan, The Multiversity has long seemed like one of those dream projects, long discussed, that I’d forever been looking forward to, but felt was never going to actually come to pass. It’s literally been years that Morrison has been talking about this, so even when it appeared in solicitations, I still don’t think I quite believed it was finally happening. I don’t think I believed it until I held that first issue in my hands. But now that it’s launched and the first few issues have been released, I can gladly confirm that it has met and even exceeded expectations. This is Morrison’s trip through the Multiverse, at once a medley of returning characters and recurring motifs from his past work, and trailblazing into new terrain. The first issue was dizzying in scope, giving us a sense of a vast, mad DCU filled with depth and intricacies to a degree we haven’t really seen since the New 52 began back in 2011, and also giving us the return of CAPTAIN CARROT! After that we got a glorious, pulp-inspired rendition of the JSA, with great portrayals of the likes of Doctor Fate. Next up was a universe populated with the various legacy heroes following on from their iconic predecessors, like Morrison doing Jupiter’s Legacy better than Millar. But best of all was “Pax Americana,” drawn by art legend and frequent Morrison collaborator Frank Quitely, which saw the pair tackle the original Charlton heroes like Blue Beetle, Captain Atom and The Question that served as the basis for Watchmen. And, never one to shirk from ambition, and being quite bold as brass in the face of Moore’s criticisms about Morrison copying his work, Morrison and Quitely tackle head-on the very ideas of comics structure that Moore and Gibbons were exploring with Watchmen, and arguably pushes the envelope even further. Frank Quitely is possibly my favourite comic artist ever, so it’s not lightly that I say this could be some of his finest work to date, with the assured colour palette of Nathan Fairbairn acting as the perfect compliment to his style.  What I’ve loved about every issue so far, though I can also see it being a bit infuriating, is that rather than just creating a bunch of one-and-dones, Morrison has written a collection of fantastic issue #1s, all of which end having introduced us to an immersive world and leaving us desperate for an issue #2 that will never come. Such amazing craft and world-building throughout. This is a barmy celebration of DC’s Multiverse, and of superhero comics in general, done in a way only Grant Morrison can. Fantastic.
3. DAREDEVIL

DaredevilDepressionDaredevil, as written by Mark Waid and over the past couple of years mostly drawn by Chris Samnee, is a comic that has existed on the periphery of my perception for quite some time. I’ve always been aware of the popularity and critical acclaim behind the title, and I’d read an issue here or there, but 2014 was finally the year I dove in, thanks to the Marvel NOW relaunch that relocated Matt Murdock to San Francisco, but largely kept the tone, cast and overarching storylines consistent from the previous volume. I used this opportunity to give Daredevil a try, and at last I was hooked. I went back and bought the whole of Volume 3 in the three deluxe hardcover editions, stormed through it, and was left kicking myself for taking so long to jump on the bandwagon. When looking at how influential this title has been – you could argue it has inspired a whole line of creative thought in Marvel’s publishing output, from a shift to shorter story arcs, to an increased spotlight on more stylised, cartoony artwork over more glossy, cookie-cutter fare – it’s easy to overlook just how brilliant Daredevil remains, and how it’s still setting the bar. So, let’s take a closer look at this year in Daredevil, in particular the title since it was relaunched as Volume 4. As stated above, while the locations are fresh, much of the themes are carrying on from what came before. And, in particular, this underlying notion that Daredevil’s bright, upbeat “new beginning” where he’d make a conscious decision to be happier was perhaps less secure than it first seemed that has been niggling away since Waid’s tenure began has really been scrutinised and drawn into the open. We got the first allusions to it in the two-part Original Sin tie-in (surely one of the best tie-ins that event produced) where we explored Matt’s mother, and discovered she suffered from post-partum depression when Matt was an infant. This exploration of mental illness built up to the high-point of the volume: the recently-completed “Purple Children” storyline, where longtime Daredevil foe The Purple Man sets loose a group of his illegitimate children whose more primal version of his mind-controlling powers may be even more potent than his own. On one level, this worked as a thrilling superhero story, with The Purple Man as scary and nasty as ever. But it also served as an excellent study of depression, and the continued stigmas surrounding mental illness that prevent people seeking help. Daredevil has long been one of the best developed superheroes in comics, and Waid manages to add a new dimension to his personality in an utterly believable, relatable way. And Chris Samnee’s artwork! Every page is a joy to behold, with clean lines packed with vibrant, kinetic energy, bolstered by the crisp colours of Javier Rodriguez and, more recently, Matthew Wilson. Even as a character who has had some rather definitive, iconic artists draw him, Samnee may have emerged as my ultimate Daredevil artist. Believe the hype. Daredevil by Waid and Samnee is simply the most perfectly-realised superhero comic on the shelves today.
2. THROUGH THE WOODS

ThroughTheWoods1While the marketing may have been focused on Original Sin and Future’s End, for me, right from when I first heard about it late last year, I knew that Through the Woods by Emily Carroll would be my “event comic” of 2014. The immensely talented Emily Carroll first came to my attention with “His Face All Red,” a chilling webcomic that to this day is one of the creepiest, most perfectly-structured horror comics ever. And so I was highly excited by the prospect of this graphic novel anthology, collecting “His Face All Red” in print for the first time alongside a collection of original short horror tales. After spending half the year breathlessly anticipating Through the Woods, I was very pleased when the final product lived up to expectations. Emily Carroll has a distinctive approach to horror, a lyrical quality that makes them feel like old fables, or forgotten children’s tales with a sinister underbelly. And like those children’s tales, her stories play with primal, universal fears: the loss of loved ones, or that those you care about are not all that they appear to be. Her artwork complements this vibe by being quite simple and childlike, but deceptively detailed and still capable of repellent, horrific imagery. Every story in the collection is strong, there’s not one dud here, but if I had to pick my favourites, in addition to the previously mentioned “His Face All Red,” I’d pick out “The Nesting Place” – a bloodcurdling mix of Cronenbergian body horror and Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt – and “In Conclusion,” the epilogue which deftly plays with the imagery of Little Red Riding Hood to bring the book to a simple but unsettling close that will linger in the memory and induce shudders long after reading. This year, we’ve been spoiled with a treasure trove of quality horror comics, so much so that I even wrote about it on my blog. But standing above them all is Through the Woods, and with this collection, Emily Carroll has cemented her status as the Queen of Comics Horror, second only to the legendary Junji Ito when it comes to using the comics medium to craft fear. And speaking of Junji Ito, I’ve learned that he has a new collection getting translated into English, due for a 2015 release. Now I know what my “event comic” of 2015 will be, then…
1. SOUTHERN BASTARDS

SouthernBastards1There are certain books that you know right away you’re going to love. Southern Bastards was one of those books, where as soon as it got announced at Image Expo, I knew it was going to be a must-read. Anyone familiar with my previous annual top 10 comics lists or with my blog in general will know that I absolutely adore Scalped, Jason Aaron’s masterpiece. It attained the #1 spot on this list on multiple previous years during its run, and I wrote some very detailed, lengthy blogs dissecting some of the stuff I love about the gritty crime saga. It’s the series that established Jason Aaron as one of my favourite writers, and has led to be following him onto his work with Marvel, which I’ve enjoyed. But with Southern Bastards, drawn by his recurring collaborator Jason Latour, Aaron seemed to be setting up a book primed to fill the void left in my comics-reading life by Scalped when it ended. And in 6 issues, the book has done just that. Hell, you could argue it had done that by issue #1. Given that you could suggest Scalped took a story arc or so before it really got going, you might even argue that Southern Bastards has launched itself out of the starting block even faster than that classic. Immediately, you could tell this was two masters at work, with a sweaty, sun-scorched atmosphere that immersed you in the Deep South. Craw County is simultaneously depicted as a tangibly awful place that no one would want to go near, but also so well-realised in its scenery and its diners selling fried pie that I kinda want to go there. Latour’s red-hewn colour palette helps a great deal with this distinctive atmosphere, as does his hard-bitten character design. This is a tough world, and one laced with pain and tragedy. At first, we think we’re getting one kind of story, and we imagine we’re seeing the well-worn story tracks laid out before us. But then that train is derailed in the most gut-punching, upsetting of fashions. “Upsetting” is something this book does well. I think I’ve had my heart broken reading this comic half a dozen times in as many issues. It feels like we’re still in the opening salvos of a much larger narrative, so the bigger picture of the plot may not yet be clear, but what truly elevates this comic are the characters. They feel nuanced, like real people (though maybe people you’d never want to actually meet), with Aaron once again displaying real skill for finding the bruised humanity in even the most seemingly awful of people. Six issues in, and already Southern Bastards feels like appointment reading, the book I know I’ll rush to read immediately as soon as I get it home, its cast of characters already nestling their way into my brain and into my heart. One thing that somewhat sets it apart from Scalped is acclaim. Scalped was one of the best comics ever, but it always felt a bit like an underrated gem, beloved by those who discovered it but overlooked by wider audiences. I would put it at #1 on my lists while beseeching people to give it a try. On the other hand, I write this knowing that Southern Bastards is almost a boring choice to top my list with, as everyone seems to be putting it in their lists. But sometimes a choice is obvious because it is absolutely deserved. And I for one am glad that the rise of Image Comics and creator-owned comics means that a comic as excellent as Southern Bastards can get the recognition and respect it deserves. Roll on year two!
And that’s that! What will next year’s list bring? Will Southern Bastards be the first comic since Scalped to take the #1 spot more than once? Or will one of the books currently slated for a 2015 release that I’m eagerly looking forward to, like Junji Ito’s Fragments of Horror or Scott McCloud’s The Sculptor, nab the top spot? We’ll have to wait until next December to know for sure. In the meantime, as ever, I’ll end with an overview of the annual standings, and what comics have made the #1 spot each year I’ve ran this feature on my blog….

2010: Scalped
2011: Scalped
2012: The Underwater Welder
2013: The Manhattan Projects
2014: Southern Bastards

Thanks for reading, everyone. Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

SouthernBastards2

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Coming Soon: Thought Bubble 2014!

It’s been a fun convention year for me, hitting my local shows at Glasgow Comic Con in July and MCM Scotland in September, then traveling to New York Comic Con in October.  And as has become tradition, the convention year will come to a grand close with Thought Bubble in Leeds.  Held at Royal Armouries over the weekend of Saturday 15th November to Sunday 16th November, it’s always a great show with a buzzing atmosphere, and this year promises to be the biggest ever, with an array of high profile guests including some of the hottest names in comics.

Oh, and I’ll be there too.

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You’ll find me at Table 77 in the TB Teepee, the brand new exhibitor venue on the Royal Armouries campus.  I have a table of my own this year, partly because the amount of comics I now have available for sale is spiralling madly out of control and can no longer be contained to a half-table.  But though it says “John Lees” on the marquee, this is very much another case of “John Lees and Pals”, as I’ll be joined by some awesome guests.

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And Then Emily Was Gone #1-#4 will all be on sale from my table, as will a selection of exclusive prints based on the series’ eye-catching covers.  This horror-mystery series tells the story of Greg Hellinger, a former detective plagued with monstrous visions, whose search for a missing girl takes him to the Scottish Orkney Islands, where strange and terrifying things are happening.  This has been a breakout hit this past summer and really seems to have built up a bit of momentum, so I’m really excited to bring it to Thought Bubble and hopefully introduce it to some new readers just in time for the final issue coming out a couple of weeks after the con.  To represent the book, I’ll be there, and so will Iain Laurie, the incredible artist of the series.  He’ll have some original art from the comic for sale, and is doing sketch commissions too.  I’ve seen him work on the show floor first hand, and trust me when I say an Iain Laurie convention original is something any serious comic art collector is going to want to add to their repertoire…. a sight to behold!  Iain will be at my table for most of the weekend.  And Then Emily Was Gone letterer Colin Bell will also be on-hand at the show… he’ll be at his own table in New Dock Hall, table 161, selling his own excellent comic, Dungeon Fun, so when you stop by his table to buy that make sure to get him to sign your copies of And Then Emily Was Gone too!

TheStandard06_03I’ll also have, for the first time at Thought Bubble, the entire series of The Standard available to buy.  The Standard #1-#4, and the double-sized finale, The Standard #5The Standard is the award-winning story of a superhero legacy that spans across two generations, and the interconnecting lives of the men who have worn the mantle.  Supplies of issue #1 are VERY limited, so make sure you get to the table quick if you want to pick up a copy.  Also in attendance at the show will be Will Robson, a highly-talented artist who joined the series as co-artist for issue #5.  He’ll be at my table signing and sketching from 12:00-1:30pm each day.  When he’s not at my table, you’ll find him at his own table in New Dock Hall, table 181a.

I’m really looking forward to Thought Bubble, and can’t wait to meet up with friends old and new and spread the word about my comics.  If you’re at the show, please stop by Table 77, TB Teepee, and say hello!

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What’s That Smell?

Uh-oh, it’s a political comic!

I don’t claim to be the most politically engaged person, and others have got into the nuances of the Scottish Independence debate more comprehensively in comics elsewhere.  I mainly just put together this vignette because I thought it was a funny idea.  It came to me when I was watching a televised debate about the referendum shortly after reading the Wee Blue Book, which was filled a lot of interesting documented, verifiable facts quelling a lot of the fears put forward by Better Together.  So watching the advocates for No trailing out these same old points, now armed with the knowledge that most were factually disprovable, I was left wishing that someone could just step up and go, “Ho, that’s a lie, mate!”  Cut through the political protocols and niceties and just call bullshit bullshit.  And that’s when I started riffing on popular TV skits based around that very idea, and imagining what it would be like to mash those up with the political sphere…

WhatsThatSmell1 WhatsThatSmell2 WhatsThatSmell3

The jokes in this are pretty specific, so apologies to those of you who don’t have a working knowledge of either the magnificent TV escapades of Karl Pilkington or Karen Dunbar’s delightful skit from Scottish sketch comedy show Chewin’ The Fat.

In case you hadn’t guessed, I’m voting Yes for Scottish independence.  Here’s the Facebook post I wrote at the start of this month explaining my reasons:

Brace yourselves: this is going to be a long post, on the subject of the Scottish Independence referendum.

The vote is just over 2 weeks away, now. I have said before that I was trying my best to stay undecided for as long as possible to be open to arguments on both sides, and at around this stage I was going to write two status updates – “Why I’m voting Yes” and “Why I’m voting No” – to lay out the forces swaying me in each direction. But now, I find myself pretty unable to write any convincing post for the No side, which confirms what has become increasingly clear to me: on 18th September, I’m definitely voting Yes.

People who have known me for a long time will know that, even a year ago, this position would have been unfathomable to me. For as long as I have been aware of the particular political matter of Scottish Independence, I’ve been hardline No. I was someone whose heart sank when the SNP were first elected into power in the Scottish Government, because it made an independence referendum a possibility, if a remote one. My whole life, I’ve been proud to be British as much as I’m proud to be Scottish. I’m proud of much of our shared culture and history, of our NHS. I like England: I’ve often visited, and I have family and friends there. I’ve never been one of those Scots who hate the English, who cheer on whoever’s playing against them in sporting events, and to be honest I’ve always found such attitudes embarrassing. And I always felt that the SNP and any move towards Scottish Independence pandered to such nasty, small-minded, parochial sentiments. I felt like, as a people, it was better to be part of something bigger than to split ourselves up into little factions and seal ourselves off. And I was basically happy with the political situation of the United Kingdom. Sure, it wasn’t perfect, but compared to what’s going on elsewhere in the world, all things considered it felt like there wasn’t all that much seriously wrong with it.

So, once the Yes/No campaigning began in earnest, initially I was dead-set against Yes. I didn’t even want to read any of the stuff in support of it, my mind was already made up. But then I stopped myself, and thought, “This referendum could be the most important vote you make in your lifetime. You owe it to yourself to engage fully, and learn all you can about both sides of the argument to make an informed decision.” And so that’s what I did. And very quickly, it became abundantly clear that the campaign of Yes Scotland was leagues ahead of that of Better Together. Yes Scotland has a positive vision for Scotland: there are aspirations, goals for the country with tangible ideas laid out for how to attain them. Better Together has been relentlessly negative. At the earliest stages there was this kind of smug, condescending disdain, the idea that Yes Scotland were beneath their notice, and that us lowly Scots should feel excited and grateful whenever a “real” politician from Westminster made a half-hearted appearance on our shores to give us a pat on the head and tell us we all knew what was good for us. But my friend Ashley Storrie made a great point about the “fuck you” attitude of Scottish people, where if you tell us that we can’t do something, then we want to do it to prove you wrong. And so every time David Cameron came to talk in Scotland, the Yes campaign saw a bump in the polls. And before long the Yes campaign went from a blip no one was taking seriously to something that was still the underdog with a minority, but enough momentum to make this a close-run thing. And at this point I was a frustrated No voter, bemoaning the fact that this blundering Government was playing right into Alex Salmond’s hands by giving the Yes campaign fuel without Yes Scotland even needing to do anything. But then the scare tactics began from Better Together, the doom-and-gloom and the threats of punishment or retribution that would come if we defied them by voting Yes. “We’ll take your pound away.” “We’ll take our business away.” “Scotland can’t manage on its own, this disaster or that crisis will make it fail. This is too difficult for you.” And that “fuck you” attitude started swelling up in me too.

There are ways of summing up the spirit of the respective campaigns. You could say that Yes Scotland has promises, while Better Together has threats. I prefer to look at it this way: Yes Scotland has a primary focus on engaging voters, while Better Together has a primary focus on DISengaging voters: it’s all “this is too difficult,” “this is all a bit scary to think about,” and “best to leave things as they are so you don’t have to concern yourself with it.” And that rankles me. And the more I found myself leaning towards Yes, the more apparent the media bias against Yes became. Heavily slanted newspaper coverage in favour of No from most publications. And even the BBC, an institution I’ve long respected and cherished… I’ve felt totally let down by them during this campaign, more than ever I’ve seen the bias and strategic reporting in a channel I’ve long praised for its relative objectivity. And when I see mobilisation of the powers of the media in the name of deceit and slander, I naturally incline towards the injured party in such a situation. And when you look at the forces assembled in favour of No – the Tories, UKIP, BNP, Britain First, the Orange Order, the Daily Mail – it makes you wonder about whether you’d want to throw in with such an axis of evil.

Even recently, the differences in the campaign have been night and day: look at that wretched “Patronising BT Lady” ad as opposed to the uplifting message behind the Yes ad in last week’s duelling TV spots. And even something as simple as the signs in my local area: the Yes slogan is all stickers plastered around town or signs hanging up in people’s windows, while No Thanks hangs oppressively on lampposts throughout the streets, high up beyond human reach. It feels like The Man, the establishment, while Yes feels grassroots.

But I’d be pretty shallow if my decision was just based on who has the snazzier campaign. While the Yes campaign might have opened my eyes to them, in truth there are deeper reasons behind my decision. I said before that the British Government are basically okay, but more and more lately I’ve realised that’s not the case. I’ve seen an alarming rise in political attacks on immigrants, on the unemployed, on the working poor… the vulnerable in our society we should be protecting. Even that NHS I talked about being so proud of is under attack. After promises the NHS would be untouched, the Conservative Government first brought in cuts, then tried to introduce privatisation to mass public derision. They initially backed off the idea… but then began the sustained media attack on the NHS, it seemed all of a sudden hardly a week could pass without some fresh scandal “leaking”, and calls for Something To Be Done. And now the privatisation has been filtering in a step at a time. I don’t like the direction the UK is going.

It lies deeper still than just policy, it is the whole political attitude. Scotland is under a Conservative Government, despite only having one elected Tory MP. Scotland can vote overwhelmingly in favour of Labour and the SNP at elections, but at the end of the day it won’t make a dent in the Conservatives coming to power if that’s the direction England decide to vote. They’re bigger than us, their votes carry more clout. That in itself is one of the most compelling arguments for independence: surely we should be able to elect a government that reflects who the majority of our population want in power. Isn’t that democracy?

Worse still, these past couple of elections have seen a startling rise to prominence of UKIP. After years of relief that ragtag racists BNP were far too ridiculous to ever get any serious political influence in this country, that Britain were far too civilised for such things, UKIP and Nigel Farage have come along with the same nastiness at their core but with just enough of a veneer of class and credibility to dupe large factions of England, riding the tide of a growing anti-immigrant sentiment brewing in middle England. Scotland isn’t taken in by them to anywhere near the same degree: we’ve largely rejected them in the polls. But again, that doesn’t matter, not if England votes them in. And rather than oppose their anti-Europe sentiment and their hatred of immigrants, the other major parties have played them in a race to the bottom: “Look, we hate immigrants too!” Good on Salmond, the SNP and Yes Scotland for actually having some backbone and standing against that tide, saying, “No, actually we want MORE immigration, migrants are a valued part of Scotland.” I’m not saying England is full of racists or that there is no racism in Scotland – far from it – but these differing stances in terms of who we elect and who is and isn’t buying the shite Farage is selling suggests we really are two different countries. And as much as the prospect of unelected Conservatives having powers over Scotland annoys me, the prospect of unelected UKIP having those powers infuriates me, especially since Farage still nurses a grudge over the humiliation of being driven out of Edinburgh and UKIP have publicly talked about teaching us Scots some humility when they get the chance.

The aforementioned Europe point brings up another key thing to consider: many might think a vote for No is a vote for status quo, but it really isn’t. Once again bowing to that UKIP pressure, it would appear an in/out referendum on the European Union is on the table for some point over the next couple of years. Now, a broadly speaking, Scotland is pro-Europe, but increasingly, England has become anti-Europe. And remember what I said about how much bigger England is. So, if we vote No, we could potentially be facing another referendum with huge implications for our future in a couple of years, only this time we wouldn’t have a say on the outcome. If we vote Yes, there’s a conceivable situation where Scotland is in the EU and the UK isn’t. And though I now lean in favour of independence, I still believe we’re better as part of something bigger: being a part of the European community offers that. Change is coming one way or another folks, so we shouldn’t be voting just in hopes of avoiding it.

I realise this post is gargantuan now, so I’ll try wrapping things up. I hear the expected voter turnout is over 80%. That’s huge, and really heartening. One of the worst enemies of democracy is voter apathy. So, whatever way the vote goes on September 18th, it’ll be the will of the Scottish people. But I’ve gone from being terrified by the prospect of a Yes vote to being dejected thinking on the likelihood of a No vote. It’s just a depressing thought, the notion that we as a country might decide that we’d rather not make our own decisions, that we’d rather someone else take responsibility for us. And so we may go on being the contrarian voice shouting out against majority UK policy from the cheap seats, but we’ll toothless in our protestations, because we’ll have made the decision that we want to be there. And we’ll have forever have lost the right to complain about Westminster decisions not made in our best interests or not reflective of our desires. Yes, there are risks in independence. We may fall on our faces. But at least the decisions that will see us fail or succeed will be ours to make. It can be frightening thinking that we’ll have no one to credit or blame but ourselves, but I find it invigorating. I love Scotland, and this is one of the most exciting, promising times ever to BE Scottish. On 18th September, we all get the chance to take part in perhaps the most important vote in our country’s history. I’m voting Yes.

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This Weekend: MCM Scotland Comic Con!

From Saturday 6th September to Sunday 7th September, MCM Scotland Comic Con will be running at the SECC in Glasgow.  The show returns to the venue after the huge success of last year, which saw an attendance much bigger than anticipated, and massive queues on the day.  So, book your tickets ASAP! This year’s event promises to be bigger and better, and that carries over to this year’s expanded Comics Village.

I’ll be there, and just today I received a shipment of full-colour copies of And Then Emily Was Gone #1 and #2, which I’ll be selling at the show, along with a black-and-white advance preview edition of issue #3.  I also have a fresh supply of the And Then Emily Was Gone prints that proved so popular at Glasgow Comic Con in July.  Both issue #1 and #2 of And Then Emily Was Gone have sold out at a retailer level worldwide, and so these comics weren’t easy to get a hold of!  Supplies are limited, so if you want to pick them up, make sure you get to our booth – table A5 – while stocks last!

I’ll also be bringing my remaining Glasgow exclusives of THE STANDARD #5 and #6, along with my remaining stock of all the other issues.  Again, stocks are limited, so stock by the table quickly to avoid disappointment.

I won’t be at my table alone this year.  I have a tablemate in the form of the incredibly talented Iain McGarry.  He’s an up-and-coming writer who’ll be launching his debut collection of work, Night & Day, at the show.  Trust me when I say this will be an essential purchase of the Comic Village this year!

MCM Scotland was a total blast last year, and I’m looking forward to another fun show this weekend.  So, come along, and make sure to stop by Table A5 and say hello to me and Iain!

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My 2014 Convention Schedule

Glasgow Comic Con has come and gone for another year, but I still have a few convention dates on the calendar.  Here’s an overview of what conventions you’ll be able to find me at over the remainder of 2014, and what I’ll likely have available there.

MCM SCOTLAND EXPO, 6th-7th September

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We’re just a couple of weeks away from the second annual MCM Scotland Expo in Glasgow’s SECC.  Last year’s inaugural event had a few question marks hanging over it.  With Glasgow Comic Con already firmly establishing itself as my hometown’s native con, was there a niche for another con on the calendar?  And with the comics quotient reduced to a Comics Village within a more general geek culture event, did exhibitors risk being ghettoized and overlooked?  And with relatively little publicity for the event beforehand, would people even show up for it?  The answers ended up being yes, no and HELL YES!  The show ended up being massive, with queues round the block and people waiting hours to get in.  The event was so huge that this year it has been expanded to a two-day event to cope with the demand.  It’s a suitably different event from Glasgow Comic Con, based in a large warehouse rather than the more intimate vibe Glasgow Comic Con creates by peppering multiple small dealer’s rooms across the CCA and nearby venues.  And the demographic MCM attracts seems to be a lot younger and more diverse, a lot of teenagers – teenage girls in particular – more into anime and manga than traditional comics.  But last year, this new audience seemed very keen to explore the Comics Village and try new things, so let’s hope that carries over to this year!

For this show, I’ll be sharing a table with Iain McGarry.  Iain is an exciting upcoming writer I’ve been a fan of for some time.  He’s been making a name for himself by having his shorts published in various anthologies, but at MCM he’ll be debuting Night and Day, the first collection of his work.  Trust me when I say this is going to be one of the hottest comics of the show, and one you’ll definitely want to get your hands on.

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As for me, I’ll be selling copies of the full-colour Diamond edition of And Then Emily Was Gone #1, along with black-and-white advance preview editions of issues #2 and #3.  I’ll also have a supply of the highly popular And Then Emily Was Gone prints from Glasgow Comic Con.  I’ll also be selling through my remaining stock of The Standard: be warned, stock for some issues is VERY limited!  I’ll have Glasgow exclusive editions of the final two issues, so anyone who missed out at Glasgow Comic Con will have the chance to find out how the story ends ahead of the worldwide release at the end of September.

 

NEW YORK COMIC CON, 9th-12th October

TheStandard6CoverThe biggest show on my calendar, my annual trip to New York is something I eagerly look forward to each year.  This will be my fourth time attending the big show at the Javitts Center, and I can’t wait to meet up with my American comics friends once again.  But this year is extra special, because not only will I be joined at the ComixTribe table by returning NYCC veterans Tyler James (Epic, The Red Ten), Joe Mulvey (Scam), Cesar Feliciano (The Red Ten) and Alex Cormack (Future Proof, I Play the Bad Guy), but Iain Laurie, artist and co-creator of And Then Emily Was Gone, will also be coming along for the trip and making an appearance at the show!

And what a jampacked table of goodness you’ll find at the ComixTribe booth.  You’ll find all the available issues of Scam, The Red Ten, Epic, as well as the gorgeous hardcover collected editions of Scam: The Ultimate Collection, The Red Ten, Vol. 1, The Oxymoron and C is for Cthhulu.  As for my stuff, for the first time at NYCC I’ll have the entire run of The Standard, all 6 chapters collected into 5 comics (including the double-length final issue set for release in September).  Having the whole series available at New York Comic Con is a major milestone I’ve been wanting to reach for years, I’m so happy to have finally made it happen.

ATEWG4CoverBAs for And Then Emily Was Gone, by the time New York Comic Con rolls around the first three issues will have been released worldwide.  We’ll have all those in stock at the convention, but by that point, we also expect all the artwork on the series to be complete, so we could possibly have an advance preview edition of issues #4 and #5 available for those in attendance: watch this space for more news on that front.  With Iain Laurie in attendance, there’s also a good chance you’ll be able to get a sketch from one of the breakout comic artists of 2014!

And that’s everything.  Oh, wait, one more thing…

OxymoronTeaserAt New York Comic Con last year, ComixTribe announced Oxymoron: The Loveliest Nightmare, a 4-issue miniseries with a story from me and Oxymoron creator Tyler James, and art from the incomparable Alex Cormack.  The series won’t be launching until 2015, but the script and art for the first issue is complete, and word on the grapevine is that, with Alex, Tyler and myself all in attendance, attendees who stop by our table might just get a first look a little bit sooner.  Again… watch this space!

With such a wealth of content, ComixTribe seems poised to stand as the king of the Small Press section on the NYCC floor!

THOUGHT BUBBLE, 15th-16th November

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Thought Bubble is always a cracking way to wrap up the con year.  Really cool venue, and a great, relaxed atmosphere, it gets bigger every year but has still captured that elusive intimate small con vibe.  But this year is poised to be the biggest yet, with some huge names from the world of comics descending on Royal Armouries in Leeds for a weekend of comics festivities.

I’ll be in attendance, with my table at the Thought Bubble Teepee at the center of the convention campus.  I’ll be sharing a table with Nathaniel Walpole, a very talented cartoonist whose distinctive, experimental work is sure to see him get a reputation in the years to come.  I’ll have all the stock I sold at New York, some of it making its first appearance on UK soil at the show.  Also, Will Robson, co-artist on issues #5 and #6 of The Standard, will be in attendance, and will likely be on-hand to do a bit of signing and sketching.

And that’s how my convention calendar is looking.  I hope you’ll be in attendance for at least one of these shows.  If you are, please come find me and say hello!

 

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