Thought Bubble: A Rundown of Royal Armouries Hall, Table 2

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This coming weekend, I’ll be down in Leeds for Thought Bubble, one of the biggest and best comic conventions in the UK.  There are all kinds of guests and debuts at the show I know I’m excited about as a fan of comics.  But for the rest of you attending the show, here is a handy guide to all the great comics that will be available from my table: Table 2 in Royal Armouries Hall…

ThoughtBubbleFloorPlan2013See us on the right there, just near the entrance?  You can’t miss us!  Anyway, if you stop by Table 2, here’s what you’ll find:

AND THEN EMILY WAS GONE

The critically-acclaimed, award-nominated horror mystery series made a big splash back at Glasgow Comic Con with the debut of its first issue.  Since then, it has continued to pick up momentum, with us selling out of our first print run, then taking the comic across the Atlantic where it did very well at New York Comic Con.  Written by me and drawn by Iain Laurie, And Then Emily Was Gone tells the story of Greg Hellinger, a former cop plagued with visions of monsters and horrific apparitions, and stuck in a miserable life of solitude, until one night he’s visited by a teenage girl called Fiona.  Having learned of his reputation for solving the most impossible of missing persons cases, Fiona recruits him to help her find her missing best friend, Emily.  Their search takes them to the Orkneys, and the remote island community of Merksay, where strange and terrifying things are happening.  As well as bringing the first issue to Thought Bubble, we’ll also be debuting the eagerly-anticipated issue #2!  Also, artist Iain Laurie will be in attendance at the show, so if you want to commission a sketch from the master of macabre, stop by the table sharpish to reserve one!

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BAD SUN

Written by me and drawn by Chris Connelly, Bad Sun is a sci-fi thriller set in a future Glasgow, 30 years after an alien race called the Tchairabun has migrated to Earth.  It tells the story of Lenniidasz Cowan, the first Tchairabun police officer to be promoted to Detective Inspector, who is placed in charge of a new department tasked with overseeing human/Tchairabun relations in Glasgow.  But as an extremist Tchairabun terrorist group emerges, Lenniidasz is torn between this external threat and the prejudices of his human colleagues.  With its Glasgow setting and political subtext, Bad Sun has enjoyed quite a bit of press here in Scotland, getting featured in several Glasgow newspaper articles, and enjoying strong reviews.  Thought Bubble marks the first time Bad Sun #1 will be available outside of Scotland, and artist Chris Connelly will also be in attendance, taking sketch requests.

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BLACK LEAF

Long in development as a graphic novel, artist Garry McLaughlin and I decided to release a special preview edition collecting the first 24 pages of the story as a special convention exclusive for MCM Expo Scotland a couple of months back.  It went down a treat, and ended up being my biggest seller of the day.  Now I only have a limited supply left, and am bringing them down to Thought Bubble.  It’s about a boy who travels to the Scottish Highlands to care for his ailing grandfather, only to encounter ancient magical forces lurking within the local woods.  If you’re interested, get your copy from our table… while stocks last!

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THE STANDARD

The comic that started it all for me, my trademark book, available in comic shops worldwide and on ComiXology.  Hailed by critics and winner of a SICBA award in 2012, The Standard is the story of a superhero mantle spanning two generations, and an examination of the way the world – and its view of what makes a hero – has changed across generations.  Can the old, optimistic ideals of The Standard still be relevant today?  Four issues of the 6-issue miniseries – written by me and drawn by Jonathan Rector – are now available, but remaining stocks are extremely limited.  If you want to get caught up on the series, you’ll have to get to Table 2 quick, as the remaining stock will go fast!

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But it’s not just my comics that will be available from Table 2…

EXIT GENERATION

Sam Read is a good friend of mine.  Some of my best memories of my 2012 England cons – Kapow and Thought Bubble – were of hanging out with Sam, and hearing all his incredible story ideas.  One such idea was for this comic, known in its current incarnation as Exit Generation.  The irresistable premise sees the world faced with a crisis of over-population, and so the vast majority of the population – the world’s best and brightest – set out in massive space armadas to discover a bright new future outwith our galaxy.  But then our story doesn’t follow them, but instead sticks with those left behind on a now nearly-empty world.  Having honed his skill in various anthology shorts, Sam brings his considerable writing talent to his first full-length published comic, and this first issue does a great job of setting up this world and introducing us to some well-realised characters.  On art duties is Caio Oliveira, who I became a fan of with his skillful work in Gordon McLean’s award-winning supehero deconstruction No More Heroes.  Here, Oliveira’s work has grown even more refined, resulting in one of the most polished, professional-looking small press titles you’ll find at Thought Bubble this year.  I told Sam a year ago that I looked forward to tabling with him in 2013, and that has come to pass!

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MASTER TAPE

Watch out for the name Harry French.  He started frequenting meetings for the Glasgow League of Writers earlier this year, and instantly started making waves amongst our little creator collective with his masterful scripts.  With an impeccable sense of pacing and an ear for slick, natural dialogue, he’s one of the standouts in a group brimming with emerging talent.  Master Tape marks his debut comic, drawn by Amaru Ortiz Martinez, and gives us a glimpse into a future-world where the music industry is dying a death, as the world’s youth heads off-world to enjoy the music of the cosmos rather than deal with humdrum Earth bands.  Desperate and on the brink of extinction – quite literally, as it happens! – fading music producer Leo O’Brien resorts to bold and desperate measures to revive his sinking label.  This is such a skillfully plotted book, and perhaps the most impressive thing of all is that I’ve read the scripts for the projects Harry has lined up for after this, and they’re even better!  Harry will be at our table selling and signing.  Get his autograph: in a couple of years, it’ll be worth something!

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DUNGEON FUN

In my humble opinon, this could be THE must-buy book for the whole of Thought Bubble.  At the very least, it’s a tie with Garry Mac’s Gonzo Cosmic, available over in New Dock Hall.  Written by Colin Bell, writer of Detective SpaceCat and letterer of EVERY COMIC IN SCOTLAND, and seeing him pair up with his Jonbot VS Martha artistic collaborator Neil Slorance, Dungeon Fun is a hilarious, all-ages fantasy adventure laced with a Princess Bride style knowing wit.  It’s about a human girl who has lived in a troll pit her whole life, and who decides she’s sick and tired of dealing with the dregs from the world above getting thrown into her home.  So she’s going off on a mission to complain about it… even if she has to navigate a dungeon labyrinth and do battle with three-headed monsters along the way!  Bell’s script is packed with zingers and epic punnery, setting up a story filled with memorable characters.  And you all know I love the art of Neil Slorance.  He gets better all the time, and this could represent a new high for him.  But he manages to maintain that perfect balance of adorable cutesiness and surprising moments of heart and poignancy.  Colin will be signing at the table, and Neil Slorance has a table of his own over at New Dock Hall.  Really, I can’t recommend this book enough.  I’ve said it so many times now, but it is one of the best issue #1s of the year, from any publisher.  Pick it up!

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And that’s the rundown!  Really, you’re spoiled for choice, with a diverse range of cracking comics to choose from.  Stop by our table and grab them all!  Table 2!  Royal Armouries Hall!  Thought Bubble!  November 22nd-23rd!  BE THERE!

Black Leaf Debuts at MCM Scotland Comic Con!

2013 has been a busy year!  At Glasgow Comic Con back in July, I debuted a new issue of The Standard, and also launched two new titles with the first issues of And Then Emily Was Gone and Bad Sun.  I’ll be bringing all of those books to MCM Scotland Comic Con this Saturday, 7th September, at the SECC, but I’ll also have a new addition to the lineup, making its worldwide premiere at the show.

Black Leaf is a horror graphic novel I’ve been working on with artist extraordinaire Garry McLaughlin.  It tells the story of Stuart Lockie, a 12-year-old boy from Glasgow who travels up to the Highlands with his family to care for his ailing grandfather, and while there he uncovers ancient, dark powers residing within the local woods.  The versatile talents of Garry McLaughlin are on stunning display in this book, as he uses a grayscale ink wash technique to create a dark story-book vibe that permeates through the narrative.  And Colin Bell brings the whole package together with his masterful lettering and production prowess.  The final package is going to be 76-pages of story, but to build some buzz, the creative team decided to serialise Black Leaf exclusively for the convention market.  This first installment, containing the first 22 pages of the graphic novel, is getting a very limited print run, so if you want to get a copy, you better get yourself to MCM this weekend!

In the meantime, to whet your appetite, here’s a peek at the cover to Black Leaf #1.  You can get your copy, as well as copies of all my other comics, by visiting me at the Comic Village at MCM Scotland Comic Con, Saturday 7th September, at the SECC.

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2013 Preview: Black Leaf

Yesterday, I featured The Standard in the first of my series of sneak peeks at my various comics projects.  The Standard is my most visible project, I know.  It’s the one thing of mine that’s been available to buy, and last week it went on global sale via Diamond distribution.  One might be forgiven for thinking it was the only thing I was working on, but that’s not the case.  2012 for me was a year of planning: establishing collaborations, preparing for marketing and new editions for the Diamond relaunch of The Standard, getting my ducks in a row and getting projects ready.  2013, I want to be a year of doing: I want to get scripts written, comics made and copies available for sale in on form or another.  Hence the numerous new projects I want to highlight this week, starting with Black Leaf

Co-created with artist Garry McLaughlin and written by me over the course of last year, Black Leaf is a very different beast from The Standard.  Even in terms of its format, it’s a radical departure: a standalone 76-page graphic novel whereas The Standard is a 6-issue miniseries.  It’s certainly been an interesting experiment, as the shift in format changes your pacing, and the kind of story you’re able to tell.

Black Leaf is a horror story about a 12-year-old boy called Stuart who travels from Glasgow to the Scottish Highlands to care for his ailing grandfather.  While exploring the woods near the old home of his “Granda”, Stuart befriends an enigmatic local girl called Alison, who shares with him an ancient supernatural force at the heart of the woods.  When tragedy strikes, a desperate Stuart tries to shape this force to his own ends, only for things to go horribly wrong and take a creepingly nightmarish turn…

I love horror.  You might even argue it was my first love, perhaps even earlier established than my well-documented love of superheroes.  So, I was very excited to explore the genre in my comics writing.  But while all too often in comics, “horror” is classified as anything with big gooey monsters and gore, I wanted to try and tell the kind of story that would scare me.  And so I’m drawing heavily from all those old British TV ghost stories – The Woman in Black, The Signalman, Whistle and I’ll Come For You, The Stone Tapes – that relied more heavily on this gradual, turn-of-the-screw building of dread than overt shocks.  Atmospheric comics of recent years like Echoes and Severed have certainly shown this kind of horror to be possible in the medium.  Hopefully I can continue to build on the tradition with the story I tell here.

I would be remiss not to make note of the incredible work the ever-diverse Garry McLaughlin is doing on the art front.  Garry McLaughlin is the highly-talented artist of the likes of Taking Flight, Old Folk’s Home and Good Cop, Bad Cop, and if you haven’t checked out his ace webcomic series Suddenly Something Really Interesting, amend your grievous error now! He’s also the writer/artist of the upcoming Gonzo Cosmic, a dazzlingly high-concept sci-fi epic that’s right up there with the previously-discussed NeverEnding as one of my most anticipated comics of the coming year.  I first envisioned this graphic novel with Garry drawing it, so I’m pleased he agreed to take part!

We talked at length about the kind of aesthetic we wanted from Black Leaf, and we were both of the same mindset of channelling a kind of “dark fairy tale” vibe throughout.  And so Garry has been working with lush watercolours and sweeping inks to craft this ethereal visual style that has shades of Raymond Briggs, which will be fun to see adapted as the narrative becomes increasingly monstrous.  We talked a lot about this book as a physical artefact, how we want it to feel substantial: oversized, hardcover, good quality paper stock.  With Garry at the helm, I’m convinced Black Leaf will look incredible.

Black Leaf is currently being shopped around to publishers, and hopefully we’ll have definitive news on who will be producing the book before too long.  Be sure to follow the blog for updates.  The nature of the graphic novel, and any publishing schedules we may have to adhere to, may mean that this is not a book to look out for at Glasgow Comic Con, but my hopes are to get it released into comic shops in 2013.  This is, after all, the year of doing!  Enjoy this little sneak peek of some of the early pages of Black Leaf, as hauntingly drawn by Garry McLaughlin and skillfully lettered by Colin Bell.BlackLeafPage3ii BlackLeafPage4ii BlackLeafPage5ii

 

REVIEW: Taking Flight

I’m sure I’ve talked plenty before about how exciting the comics scene in Glasgow, Scotland is.  As the writer of The Standard, I like to claim a kind of weird dual citizenship, where on the one hand I will proudly include myself as part of the ComixTribe family, and talk about what an honor it is to have a fraternity with the quality American comics under that banner.  But at the same time, I also like to claim that The Standard is part of a diverse, exciting lineup of indy and small press comics emerging from Glasgow.  From School of the Damned to Villainous to Team Girl Comic to No More Heroes, and so much more in between, the home of such comics greats as Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely and Mark Millar has no shortage of promising talent.

And that brings us to Taking Flight, a comic book oneshot that sees a union of two such Glaswegian up-and-comers.  The writer is Stephen Sutherland, a new face at the city centre’s Glasgow League of Writers meetings who is making his debut with Taking Flight.  The artist is Garry McLaughlin, who is well known in the local scene both for his DIY Comics workshops and 24 Hour Comic Book Day events, and for drawing such comics as Old Folk’s Home and Good Cop, Bad Cop.  Knowing both talents as I do, Taking Flight is a collaboration I’ve been keenly anticipating for a while now.  Does it live up to expectations?

I think I’ll start with the contribution of Garry McLaughlin, given that he was more of a known commodity going into Taking Flight, and already earned some critical plaudits for his earlier work.  It’s interesting to see the evolution in McLaughlin’s style.  I’ve seen Frank Quitely comparisons thrown thick and fast in previous evaluations of his work, and I’m sure plenty of artists would be happy to carve out a career as a “Quitely-type”.  Not so for Garry McLaughlin.  With Taking Flight, there is a move away fom that Quitely vibe as McLaughlin works to develop his own artistic voice.  His style here is tighter, with meticulous attention to scenery and the establishing of location.  The story is set in Glasgow, and despite no indicating landmarks, somehow the setting just feels specifically like Glasgow.  His characters are heavily stylised, but McLaughlin still makes skillful use of body language to hammer home the emotional requirements of the narrative.  McLaughlin is also the letterer of the comic, and his contribution in this regard is largely flawless… save for one embarrassing slip-up in the inside back cover afterword where he spells his own name wrong!

McLaughlin’s art is ably assisted by colorist Kieren Smith.  It’s interesting, for with all the talk of Garry McLaughlin often being compared to Frank Quitely, Smith’s colors remind me of the slick work of Jamie Grant, Quitely’s collaborator on All Star Superman.  And speaking of Superman, the coloring ensures that his shadow hangs over this story, with flickers of red and blue peppered throughout.  I love it when the coloring is used to enhance the story being told in its own way, rather than just to fill in the artwork with whatever colour will do.

The other half of the equation is that of Stephen Sutherland.  As much as McLaughlin has proven himself, Sutherland is a bit of a wild card, even amongst afficionados of Glasgow’s small press comics.  But there’s no need to worry.  As it turns out, Sutherland is Taking Flight‘s secret weapon, delivering a story that’s filled with heart.  The twist on the superhero is a clever one, and oddly believable too.  This is a world where superheroes exist, but are hampered by today’s suffocating health and safety/compensation culture, too afraid of lawsuits and criminal damage claims to help the ungrateful sods who will then turn around and sue them.

But this isn’t a story of plot and ideas, of immersing us in a wider world of superheroics.  It is, at its core, a very personal, character-driven story, as we follow the trials of one man, Michael, and his struggles to find his way in life.  The story soars by tapping into his emotions, and making them our own.  We can relate to the stifling frustration he feels at being unable to cut loose with his powers.  And when he does let go, the comic soars, concisely capturing the magic of flight, how breathtaking and exhilarating that would be.  Perhaps my favourite part of the comic is Michael’s relationship with his girlfriend, Rosie.  It would be so easy for a writer to mine that relationship for conflict, to have Rosie be unaccepting of Michael’s powers and have a ready-made arc where she sees the error in her ways.  But Sutherland bravely makes her absolutely supportive and loving, and makes her Michael’s strength, the voice pushing him to better himself.  This is a real skill for Sutherland, I think, as in his scripts for an upcoming project of his, Everlast, he similarly depicts a positive father/daughter relationship.  There’s an openness and an optimism to this approach that’s really refreshing.

So, all told, I’d call Taking Flight a success.  For Stephen Sutherland, it is an incredibly promising debut, and for Garry McLaughlin, it marks a transition into more mature, substantial work.  I’m eager to see more from both.

Taking Flight is available to buy from eBay.

REVIEW: Old Folks’ Home

Old Folks’ Home is the third instalment of Year of Fear, a collection of horror tales from Glasgow-based small press outfit Laser Age Comics.  But despite the horror billing, the genre of this story is very much pitch-black comedy.  The setup sees a middle-aged business exec return home from work to find his elderly parents waiting for him.  This comes to a surprise to our protagonist, given that he had shipped them off to the Craigview retirement home, where he expected them to stay.  The surprises keep on coming, as it turns out his parents have brought a few friends from the home along with them.  And it’s not just a cup of tea and a chat they want.  They want revenge too…

Writer Jamie McMorrow clearly approaches the narrative with some degree of relish, creating an ensemble of twisted old nutjobs.  But as crazy as his elderly intruders are, you can’t help but think they’re somewhat justified in their campaign of terror.  The mother/ringleader gives a compelling monologue laying out how much of her life she gave to her children, and how little she has got back from them in return.  And the snotty, condescending attitude of her son before he realises his life is in danger does little to refute her claims.  This is where McMorrow’s script is at its sharpest, picking apart the morality of sending our parents away to a nursing home once they’re old enough to become a burden.  It’s a situation many of us are likely to be in at some point (possibly experiencing both sides of the situation, eventually), so this subject matter – even against a backdrop of lunacy – can still push buttons that make it feel very relevant.

If there’s a problem with McMorrow’s plotting, it’s that too often he pulls his punches.  On more than one occasion, he’ll set it up so that it seems like the old folks have done something truly horrifying, only for them to turn round and say, “Only kidding!  We wouldn’t really do that!”  That, to me, feels like a bit of a cheat, because you’re recognising the dramatic power of such a reveal and are exploiting it to get that emotional response from your reader for a beat, but then you don’t want to see it through and be too controversial and so issue a hasty retraction.  The ending also feels like a bit of a pulled punch, offering a minor twist that doesn’t really do much to alter the dynamic of the story, thus making it feel a bit like a pat afterthought.  But this underwhelming last page is forgivable, given that it follows a masterfully constructed and cleverly executed climactic sequence that is surely the highlight of the whole plot.

Less forgivable are the grammatical errors.  I’m not talking about the Glasgow slang.  That was nice to see in a comic, and well done for the most part.  I’m talking about the dodgy sentence structure, missing punctuation, little things that it’s easy to overlook, but can very quickly take me out of a story.  It’s very hard for an indy comic to present itself at a professional quality, and that uphill struggle is made even more difficult with dodgy grammar in the script.  This is the base building block that everything else is built on, after all.  This niggle aside, however, my overall impression of McMorrow’s writing was a positive one.

But for me, it’s artist Garry McLaughlin that steals the show in Old Folks’ Home.  With an offbeat style reminiscent of fellow Scottish artists Frank Quitely and Iain Laurie, while still being very much its own distinct entity, McLaughlin’s visuals are the perfect compliment to the crazy characters and situations provided by McMorrow’s script.  The collection of creepy faces and unusual body shapes really helps sell the characterisation of the old folks, making them seem like ghouls even before they become overtly threatening.  Our protagonist’s mum and dad, in particular, are given a menacing, inhuman quality, with their thick, whited-out glasses blocking out their eyes.

McLaughlin excels not just in his depiction of characters, however, but in places and situations.  One early highlight is an evoactive recreation of Royal Exchange Square, a place in Glasgow I’ve walked through countless times, but never thought I’d see rendered in comic form.  The impact of the aforementioned masterful climax is further heightened by the clever arrangement of panels, creating a sense of breathless, jerking motion.  But best of all is a gruesome splash page in the middle of the comic, by equal turns horrific and hilarious (or maybe it’s just horrific, and I’m a seriously disturbed individual).

Old Folks’ Home is a comic with good writing, and great art.  In addition, the inks of Jenna Morgan add heavy blacks, giving the whole comic a stark, monochrome aesthetic that means the absence of color is never really a problem.  The comic looks great.  Definitely a oneshot worth seeking out… especially if you’re mulling over sending granny away to a nice home and converting her bedroom into a home entertainment studio.

Old Folks’ Home is available to buy from Laser Age Comics’ official website.