REVIEW: Secrets & Shadows #1

I’ve become a bit of a fan of writer Jon Parrish lately.  I’ve read and enjoyed some of his script submissions on ComixTribe’s Proving Grounds column, and now – after some delay and miscommunication, which I must apologise for – I’m finally getting round to reviewing his new comic series, Secrets & Shadows, which is off to a very promising start.

Our story quickly introduces us to Haven City, a metropolis basking in the reflected glory of its beloved resident Black Sun and his superheroic dynasty, and our grudging protagonist, Black Sun’s estranged son, Joseph.  From there, one of the biggest strengths of Parrish’s narrative is that, as the title might suggest, we are bombarded with questions that make us want to keep on reading and immersing ourselves further in this murky world.  What horrible thing happened to Joseph to end his burgeoning superhero career and make him turn on his family?  What terrible secret about the day of the Haven City Massacre is being shared by Black Sun – now retired, and a broken man – and his other son, superhero prodigy Dark Star?  What sinister conspiracy are the city’s superheroes tangled up in that would require them to murder potential witnesses?  And who is the formidable, shadowy figure killing off these superheroes (or “false idols”, as he calls them) in order to “save the city from itself”?  Parrish crafts an exquisite, tantalising mystery throughout this first issue, continually grabbing our inerest and demanding we read more.

One thing I liked about the comic, and I don’t know if it’s patronising to even need to mention this in 2013, is the high ratio of prominent black characters in the book: not just the Shaw family – Joseph, Black Sun and Dark Star – but also master supervillain Marcus Kane.  And nothing about them feels like it’s foregrounding their colour or making it part of their character, it’s just “colour-blind casting” in the book.  And when a comic doing this so naturally is still noteworthy enough that it merits mention, I think it highlights just how much of a disparity there still is in mainstream superhero comics.

The plotting isn’t entirely without fault.  There is the odd instance of dialogue that feels to overtly like speaking to the reader to catch them up on the exposition it’s important for them to know.  It’s an easy trap to fall into, one I’ve fallen into myself, but perhaps something for Parrish to watch out for in future, particularly as his conspiracy story gets more labyrinthine.  And there are quite a few Starman parallels in the “fictional city protected by a revered superhero who retires after a traumatic incident, and has two grown-up sons, one who followed in his footsteps and another who’s more of a black sheep off stubbornly doing their own thing” narrative.  But that’s forgivable.  Heck, The Standard has a few Starman parallels, and superhero comics these days are always going to ultimately be variations on a theme.  The hallmark of quality is not doing something new, but doing something well, and Parrish seems to have that covered.

More problematic is Marco Roblin’s art.  There are times when it’s very good, evocatively capturing a believable location or a nuanced facial expression.  But at other points the details are quite muddy, hurting the clarity of what’s going on.  At one pivotal moment in the plot, I was unsure of what exact fate had befallen a character because the visuals didn’t make it clear, and I had to rely on the script specifying what had happened to the character afterwards in order to know for sure.  There’s also some awkward scene transitions that made it unclear that we’d switched from present day to flashback and, due to the way some faces were drawn quite similarly, made me confused about what characters were being featured in particular sequences.  There are some odd choices of layout too, where without letterer extraordinare Kel Nuttall carrying the burden of using caption trails to guide my eye along the page in the correct order, I’d have been totally adrift.

One thing worth mentioning is that the comic boasts an ace cover from Dexter Wee.  Apparently, he’ll be taking over interior art from issue #2 onwards, so it’ll be interesting how that reflects in the visuals going forward.

Something else that was noteworthy about Secrets & Shadows was that it has a couple of alumni from The Standard involved.  And before any accusations of nepotism are flung my way, I didn’t even know they were on the creative team until I started the review!  There’s the aforementioned Kel Nuttall on letters, doing as slick and professional a job as ever.  There’s also editor Steven Forbes.  Now, it’s hard to really assess the imput of an editor in any review, as a good editor will render themselves utterly invisible, guiding the creative team to bring out the best in themselves rather than overtly contributing much.  As such, it’s difficult to do more than speculate.  But knowing Steven Forbes’ excellent editorial work first-hand, I would guess that he has some part to play in the ruthless directness of purpose that permeates this script, how everything is functional and serves to push the narrative forward, with work being done to hook us in right from the first page, and every interaction serving a purpose.

Overall, a very promising first chapter.  Visually, it’s solid if not spectacular, but narratively this shows real promise.  Something tells me I’m going to become a bigger fan of Jon Parrish in the future.

SecretsandShadows1

Secrets and Shadows #1 (as well as the next two issues) can be bought online at the official store, or are available digitally for free at Graphicly.

 

 

REVIEW: Tall Tales from the Badlands #2

About a year ago, I reviewed a Western anthology called Tall Tales from the Badlands, written by brothers Sean and Seamus Kevin Fahey, and drawn by a variety of talented indie artists.  It was a quality comic, one of the better anthology books I’ve read.  So I was pleased to see the brothers Fahey return with a sequel, teaming with a new roster of artists and an additional writer in Nick Nunziata.  Would Tall Tales from the Badlands #2 be able to recapture the magic created by its predecessor?

Thankfully, the first story in the collection – “A Nation of Laws” – very quickly confirms that yes, indeed it can.  We quickly get a sense that we know where this tale of a sheriff determined to see a criminal face the true justice of a fair trial is going to go, but all the same, the journey to get there is a joy to behold.  Sean Fahey really gets to flex his muscles as a storyteller, skillfully rolling out dialogue that conveys a lot of information naturalistically, while still being convincingly of the era depicted.  There is a lot of dialogue in this, but it never feels intrusive.  Also of note is the detailed, expressive art of Borja “Borch” Pena, probably the finest featured in the anthology.  His visuals nail all the beats, from the big, pivotal moments to the little nuances of facial expression, and it’s all just so slick and polished.  I’m not lying when I say that I’ve read Vertigo books with art of similar quality.  I’d be very keen to see Pena handle something of greater length.  All told, “A Nation of Laws” is a stellar start to the second anthology, and was very wisely chosen to lead the way.

The next story is “The Great Wall”, also written by Sean Fahey.  This is something of an interesting twist not to my knowledge used in any of the previous anthology stories, as it is set in the 20th Century, after the era of the Wild West has passed.  Initially I thought this would be a framing device before flashing back to an Old West tale, but no, the whole thing is set in this later era.  In an interesting change of pace, the story is built pretty much entirely around words, along with the occasional photograph, and we stick with the aged great-grandfather recounting his experiences as a Chinese immigrant in 19th Century America.  By not taking the easy out and slipping into a more immediate view of his past, our focus remains on Mr. Lee as an old man, and his relationship with his great-grandson.  Not an easy task to pull this story off and make it interesting, but Fahey succeeds, largely thanks to what appears to be some meticulously researched accounts of trade history in the area.  The only letdown in this story is the art of Giannis Milonogiannis.  It’s good linework, but the lack of any grayscale makes the pages feel incomplete, especially after Pena’s textured work in the previous story.  But still, a sweet story that comes at its subject matter from a refreshing angle.

New arrival Nick Nunziata steps up for the third story, “Paw”, and is certainly quick to grab our attention, opening with a reveal of a dead child with a bullet hole in his head.  The story, about the aftermath and consequences of this child’s death – caused by a stray bullet in a gunfight – is suitably emotionally raw, and slips seamlessly into the tone established in the stories written by the Faheys.  After the first two stories, which were quite dense with dialogue and grounded in a lot of factual elements, the more sparse, lyrical quality of this tale was a nice way to change things up a bit.  The artwork of Carlos Trigo was a bit jarring at first, as it’s a very cartoony style for what is an incredibly dark story, but once I got over the sharp contrast, I came to appreciate the crisp, clean quality of his lines, and the dynamic angles employed in the various panels.  Trigo likes to set his “camera” close to the characters in most of his shots, giving you a sense of being immersed right in amidst the drama and emotion.

“The Fastest Way From Here to There” is the only contribution in this volume from Seamus Kevin Fahey, and I’m saddened to say it is the weakest story of the collection.  Not that it’s necessarily a bad story.  It’s a clever idea – a silent story following the life of a horse in the Old West as it travels from freedom to captivity and back again, via various changes in ownership – but it’s not given enough pages to have the impact or resonance it could have had.  It’s not helped by the artwork of Pablo Peppino which, while offering some nice landscape works, is sparse to the point of furthering the emotional disengage in the reader.

We go back to Sean Fahey for “The Inside Man”, which while the weakest of his three offerings in this anthology, still stands as a solid tale, with a genuine surprise twist at its conclusion.  Ger Cutri’s artwork is also lacking in grayscale or shading, but doesn’t suffer so much because Cutri’s style feels so much like a throwback to the art of an old-school Western comic.  While executed well enough, I felt this was something of a low-key choice to finish the anthology with, and I was hungry for even one more short to wrap the whole thing up with a bang.  To compensate, however, we do get a selection of lovely pinups for backmatter.

I have to give special mention to the work of Kel Nuttall, who letters all of the stories in this volume.  I know first hand from working with him that Kel is a fantastic letterer, and he continues to demonstrate his craft here.  As mentioned before, there are certain stories where pages are dense with dialogue, and it’s to Kel’s credit that nothing ever feels crammed in or untidy, and can always be read and followed with absolute clarity.  Sterling work as ever, Mr. Nuttall.

Overall, Tall Tales from the Badlands #2 was a worthy successor to the first installment, and has helped turn a noteworthy one-off anthology into a brand that is coming to represent a watermark of quality.  I’m already keenly anticipating Tall Tales from the Badlands #3.

Tall Tales from the Badlands #2 is available to buy from DriveThruComics and Graphicly.

REVIEW: No More Heroes #1

Before I begin, I should mention the connection I have with No More Heroes, this dark new superhero series by writer Gordon McLean and artist Caio Oliveira.  Gordon is a fellow member of the Glasgow League of Writers, a collective of comics writers formed in 2011.  In fact, both of us are founding members.  And in the very first meeting of the group, one of the scripts on the agenda up for review and feedback was none other than the first draft of No More Heroes #1.  Since then, I’ve seen that script be redrafted and refined, I’ve talked to Gordon during his search for an artist and his queries into publishing avenues, I’ve looked at the printed pages of artwork he excitedly brought along to meetings, I recommended Kel Nuttall as the best possible choice for a letterer.  And now I get to read and review the finished first issue.  I feel like I’ve followed No More Heroes on the journey from concept to completion, and that might color my perspective of it slightly.  But setting aside any sense of kinship or personal connection to the title, I feel I can safely say with some degree of objectivity that No More Heroes #1 is a hugely enjoyable read, and makes for a stylish comic book debut.

The plot centres around Sid Millar, a regular 20something average Joe who is hanging out with his friends one night when he receives an anonymous text, simply reading, “SHOULD I KILL MYSELF?” After some heckling from his drunken friends, Sid replies with, “YES.”  The next day, news breaks that Dark Justice, the world’s most beloved superhero, has killed himself.  Coincidence?  Or is Sid responsible?

We have seen many stories about the Everyman superhero.  With No More Heroes, McLean takes the concept even further by having our protagonist be an Everyman without being a superhero, showing what life might be like for regular people living in a world of superheroes, and how their life might be affected when superheroes cross their path.  Sid and his friends are a relatable bunch, thanks largely to McLean’s keen ear for naturalistic dialogue.  It’s almost a shame that the plot is given away in the basic pitch, as without knowledge of what the comic is about, the newspaper headline reveal of Dark Justice’s death is a whopper of a left-field story beat.  This is because, in the opening sequence, McLean does such a great job with setting up the dynamics between our ensemble of normal characters, that you could be lulled into thinking this was a story that wouldn’t feature superheroes at all.

There are a couple of minor plotting problems, largely related to the pacing.  Once the superhero aspect of the story comes more to the fore, we are treated to a full-page and a double-page spread in quick succession, which feels a wee bit like padding.  Especially since, by the time we reach the end of this first issue, it feels like we could have benefitted from just a little bit more plot to further bait the hook for the next chapter.  But even so, there’s still more than enough likeable material to make picking up No More Heroes #2 a safe recommendation (even safer considering that I’ve read the script for issue #2, and it’s even better than the script for #1!).

On art duties, newcomer Caio Oliveira handles himself very well.  This is a very talky script, in the first half at least, but Oliveira manages to make it visually interesting, designing expressive characters that have little bits of  business and body language that pop.  And once we get to the action scenes, Oliveira comfortably makes the transition.  I might have a problem with them from a plotting perspective, but from a “Holy crap that looks great!” perspective, those splash pages are stunners.

One thing I will say, though, is that this book could really benefit from color.  A colorist – Goran Kostadinoski – is credited, but according to the comic’s official website, this was just for the cover and promo art, with the actual interiors currently being black-and-white.  I can understand the desire to keep a book black-and-white to keep costs down.  I almost made The Standard black-and-white.  But I think that superhero books really need to be in color for maximum impact.

Overall, No More Heroes #1 is a very promising start.  Dark, tense, frequently funny, and stylishly drawn, I’d definitely recommend this as a series worth checking out.  And Gordon McLean is a talent to watch.  Since writing this, Gordon has shared several other scripts at GLoW meetings, quite a few that are even better than this, and he has several in various stages of development.  He’s a breakout writing talent in waiting, so you should be one of the cool kids and check out this opening salvo.

No More Heroes #1 is available to buy in print and digitally from the official website.

The Standard #2: On Sale Now!

The Standard #2 is now on sale!

Once, Gilbert Graham was The Standard, the world’s first and greatest superhero. Now an old man and long retired from crime-fighting, he lives a quiet life as a high school chemistry teacher. But when Alex Thomas – his former sidekick and successor to the Standard mantle – is murdered, Gilbert is haunted by old memories… and faced with a serious decision.

The Standard is a 6-issue comic book miniseries, each chapter 28 pages long.  This second issue is written by me, John Lees, is pencilled and inked by Jonathan Rector, colored by Gulliver Vianei and Mike Gagnon, lettered by Kel Nuttall, and edited by Steven Forbes.  The comic is debuting digitally, published by ComixTribe, and is now available from these platforms, priced at $1.99:

Wowio

DriveThruComics

MyDigitalComics

In the coming days, The Standard #2 will also be available digitally from Graphicly.  Be sure to check thestandardcomic.com for the latest updates.

If you would rather have a print edition of The Standard #2 you can hold in your hands, we’ve got you covered.  Within the next few weeks, you’ll be able to order a copy from IndyPlanet, priced at $3.99.

And remember, readers in the Glasgow area should also be able to pick up the second issue for £3 at local comic shops from mid August.  You’ll be able to buy the comic in Forbidden Planet, A1 Comics and Plan B Books.  The first issue has sold well from these shops, and the local support has been much appreciated.  I hope that carries forward with the second issue.

Don’t forget, The Standard #1 is also still available from Indyplanet, Graphicly, Wowio, DriveThruComics and MyDigitalComics.  The series debut was nominated in two categories at the Scottish Independent Comic Book Awards: Best Comic/Graphic Novel and Best Writer.  Here’s what the critics have been saying about it:

A solid debut for Lees and Rector onto the comic book scene as well as for a new superhero story that may offer something a bit different than what Marvel or DC are doing right now… If you are someone who wants to support “indie” comics but isn’t into the supernatural or angst ridden gothic things, this is the title for you.

– Alex Widen, Brooklyn Comic Books Examiner

The art is fantastic bringing crisp, clean, and beautiful work on every panel. Just like the art, the writing is excellent and panel by panel I found myself feeling as if I was familiar with the characters and developing a bond with them.

– Stephen Jondrew, Project Fanboy

The Standard leaps the hurdle that many independent comics cannot. Some indie comics suffer from low-quality art and writing, and clichés both visually and in the narrative. The Standard carries itself quite well, providing an intriguing story and characters that are both engaging and easy on the eyes. I have to say that as far as creator-owned, independently-published superhero comics go, you’d be hard pressed to find something better.

– Dan Cole, Broken Frontier

In the age of reality television and absolute sensationalism, The Standard is deeply relevant.

– James Miller, Comics Bulletin

Comix Tribe is really publishing a slew or interesting titles these days and The Standard easily lives up to what I am quickly coming to expect from their titles.

– Tom Feazell, Omnicomic

This book reeks of professionalism, looking and acting like a Marvel or DC Comic. The Standard creative team have no fear in showing the world that they are just as smart and clever as the big boys.

– Luke Halsall, Geek Syndicate

If you’ve not read The Standard #1 yet, it’s not too late to catch up.  If you have read it, I hope you’ll also pick up The Standard #2, and let me know what you think!

Buy The Standard #1 Comic Book!

You’ve been asking, and now it’s here.  The Standard #1 is now available to buy in print from IndyPlanet!  The Standard is a 6-issue comic book miniseries published by ComixTribe, each chapter 28 pages long.  This first issue is written by me, John Lees, is pencilled and inked by Jonathan Rector, colored by Ray Dillon and Mo James, lettered by Kel Nuttall, and edited by Steven Forbes.  It’s been available digitally for a couple of weeks, but now, for $3.99, you can order a physical comic book you can hold in your hands.

Buy The Standard #1 from IndyPlanet.

Wherever you are in the world, the comic is now available for online order.  However, if, like me, you live in the Glasgow, Scotland area, and you are able to wait another couple of weeks, you might want to walk down to your local comic shop to pick up your copy!  From early June, Forbidden Planet, A1 Comics and Plan B Books will all be stocking The Standard #1.  More information on the exact release date as soon as I can get it.  I’ve heard that people have been going to these shops and asking about the comic, and I just want to thank all of you who have been interested enough in the comic to do this.  Keep asking – it’ll let them know there’s interest in this series!

Also, don’t forget, The Standard #1 is still available to buy as a digital comic to read on your desktop/phone for $1.99.  Here are the places you can buy it from:

Graphic.ly

Wowio

DriveThruComics

MyDigitalComics

Thanks again for all your support.  If you buy the comic, be sure to let me know what you think.  I hope you enjoy it!

The Standard #1: On Sale Now!

The Standard #1 is now on sale!

The Standard is a 6-issue comic book miniseries, each chapter 28 pages long.  This first issue is written by John Lees, pencilled and inked by Jonathan Rector, colored by Ray Dillon and Mo James, lettered by Kel Nuttall, and edited by Steven Forbes.  The comic is debuting digitally, published by ComixTribe, and is now available from these platforms, priced at $1.99:

Download PDF from Wowio.

Download PDF from DriveThruComics.

In the coming days, The Standard #1 will also be available from Graphic.ly, Iverse, MyDigitalComics and Oxicomics.  Keep on checking thestandardcomic.comfor updates.

If you would rather have a print edition of The Standard #1 you can hold in your hands, we’ve got you covered.  Soon, you’ll be able to order a copy from IndyPlanet.  This will soon be ready to go, I’m just making a few final checks.  Hopefully, you should be able to get The Standard #1 in print as soon as next week.

Please check the comic out, and let me know what you think!  And keep on checking out thestandardcomic.com for release information and original content!

The Standard: From Script to Page

Following on from a recent interview I conducted with Jonathan Rector, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the creative process behind a comic book page, and how it goes from words in a script to a completed page.  For this example, I’m using page 7 of The Standard #1.  Here is the original page of script I wrote:

PAGE SEVEN (4 panels)

Panel 1.  The daytime skyline of Sky City, a towering, futuristic metropolis densely packed with skyscrapers.

CAP:                                       SKY CITY.

CAP:                                       30 YEARS AGO.

Panel 2.  The same skyline, but now a giant robot has emerged from behind it, taller than all the skyscrapers.  A radio transmission emits from the robot, though from outside the speaker cannot be seen.

ZARTHOS:                            ALL WILL BOW BEFORE ME!  FIRST SKY CITY, THEN… THE WORLD!

Panel 3.  Inside the control panel of the giant robot, a bald man with a curly moustache, dressed up like your classic mad scientist – Zachary Zarthos – prances around gleefully, hooked up to a headset as he broadcasts his rants.  A young woman – Caroline Cole – lies tied up on the floor nearby.

ZARTHOS:                           I HAVE BEEN MOCKED AND IMPRISONED FOR THE LAST TIME.  HERE BEGINS THE ULTIMATE CONQUEST OF  ZACHARY ZARTHOS!

CAROLINE:                              OH, HELP!  SOMEBODY SAVE ME!

ZARTHOS:                                ARMED WITH MY DESTRUCTO-BOT, NOTHING CAN STOP ME!  HE-HEE!  HE-HEE!

Panel 4.  High in the sky, so high the head of the robot only pops up at the bottom of the panel, The Standard and his sidekick – Fabu-Lad – hover in the air, looking down at their opponent.

THE STANDARD:                   NOTHING?  YOU MUST HAVE FORGOTTEN ABOUT YOUR ARCH-NEMESIS… THE STANDARD!

FABU-LAD:                              AND HIS TRUSTY SIDEKICK, THE MINIATURE MARVEL, THE FANTASTIC… FABU-LAD!

And here was the original thumbnail Jon drew up based on his interpretation of the script (with an added rough character design of Zarthos):

Once this was approved, it was followed up by the proper page of art itself, pencilled and digitally inked by Jon:

The main change between the thumbnail and the final image is that, in the last panel, I requested a tighter shot on the robot, to give us a better look at The Standard and Fabu-Lad.

Here is a first look at this page, as colored by the team of colorist Ray Dillon and flatter Mo James:

Jonathan Rector’s art is gorgeous, so much so that I was convinced for some time that the book was so good black-and-white that it didn’t need color.  I sitl think that the art was strong enough to have supported black-and-white, but still, there’s no denying that the addition of color adds a whole other level to the visuals.

And all that’s left is the addition of Kel Nuttall’s lettering, giving us, revealed for the first time, the completed page 7 of The Standard #1:

Good lettering is such an essential component to the success of the book.  The way the words are laid out help shape the page, and help to define tone and pace.  Kel has done an exemplary job throughout the comic’s development, with this page but one of numerous examples.

Hope you enjoyed the look at the development of a page, as well as the sneak peek at a page of art not included in the preview.  Be sure to check out thestandardcomic.com next week, when I hope to have info on the release of The Standard #1!

The Standard and Free Comic Book Day

ComixTribe, the publishers of The Standard, are joining forces with Red Handed Studios to commemorate Free Comic Book Day with a special showcase comic.  Available digitally from May 7th, The ComixTribe/Red Handed Studios Free Comic Book Day Special will provide a sneak peek at what both publishers have got in store in the coming months.  I’ve had a chance to see the comic, and it’s definitely worth checking out.  It’s FREE, what do you have to lose?

The collection is headlined by an Epic/DynaGirl crossover, co-written by Tyler James and Cary Kelley, the respective creators of the two superheroes.  Epic artist Matt Zolman provides the visuals, giving us a taste of just how beautiful Tyler James’ series is going to look when it goes on sale later this year.  It’s a short, self-contained story, managing to be both hilarious and action-packed, and containing more than enough to make those who know both characters happy, and those who don’t know them into fans.  This story alone is worth checking out the FREE COMIC (I’m gonna keep on capitalising that) for.

Next up is Red Handed Studio’s offering, a solo adventure for DynaGirl.  If her team-up with Epic in the first story piques your interest, this explosive tale – with Cary Kelley’s script beautifully brought to life by artist Harold Edge and colorist Paul Little – is sure to make you a full-blown fan of the superhero single mom.  You can read new pages of DynaGirl every Tuesday and Thursday on www.dynagirlonle.com.

ComixTribe then takes centre stage, starting with a hype package for Epic by Tyler James and Matt Zolman.  There are no completed pages to make up a preview here, with Tyler instead tantalising us by laying out the clever high concept behind Epic – an awkward teenager becomes an all-powerful superhero whose one weakness is getting turned on by pretty girls – and providing us with a sizzle reel of GORGEOUS pencils from Matt Zolman.  This comic simply looks fantastic, and with Tyler James on scripting duties you know it’s going to have a cracking story to go with the visuals.  Check out Epic #0 on Graphic.ly.

Another upcoming ComixTribe title featured is one I’m very much looking forward to: Runners, by Steven Forbes.  I’ve been fortunate enough to read the scripts for the first couple of issues, and am pleased to report that the narrative provides a brilliant twist on the zombie genre.  The preview of the opening pages gives us a glimpse of the twisted tale that lies ahead, as well as a taste of the beautiful artwork by penciller Mac Radwanski and inker Vic Moya.  As good as I knew this comic was going to be, seeing the art has elevated my excitement for it to a whole other level.  Make sure you check out this Free Comic Book Day Special to see why Runners has shot up to right near the top of my “most anticipated comics” list.

I’m forgetting something?  Oh yeah, one more comic to round out ComixTribe’s lineup: The Standard!  It’s the same preview that was posted up on my Standard blog on Friday, but in luscious high resolution, with an extra page – and this one’s a doozy!  I’m excited and grateful that my comic is getting showcased alongside such a high calibre of work.

Every comic featured in this package is worth your attention.  Cary Kelley’s Red Handed Studios put out good stuff, and ComixTribe is set to make a big splash with its output this year.  The comic is FREE, so don’t forget to check it out.  The ComixTribe/Red Handed Studios Free Comic Book Day Special will be available from May 7th, and you’ll be able to buy it directly from thestandardcomic.com within the next couple of weeks.

REVIEW: Nothingface #1

I first became aware of Kel Nuttall as an incredibly talented letterer, with no idea of any inclination he might have had towards writing comics.  So, what first attracted my attention to Nothingface was curiosity over how well Kel made the leap from one discipline to another.  But upon reading Nothingface #1, I was struck by the fact that my reaction wasn’t, “This is pretty good for an indy comic,” or “This is pretty good for a book by someone I didn’t originally think of as a writer.”  There’s no need for such qualifying statements here.  This is great comics storytelling by any barometer, with both Nuttall and artist Ylidiray Cinar emerging as creative voices of note.

The character of Jon Novak was compellingly introduced in the short intro comic Nothingface #0, which you can read FOR FREE at Graphic.ly.  In this short story, we get a glimpse at both Novak’s powers and the effect they have on him, as well as the dark territory Nuttall was willing to take us into with this narrative.  In this brief snapshot of his grim routine, and the lengths he’s willing to go to in order to combat evil, Novak comes across as a “hero” perhaps more terrifying than the criminals he opposes.  Jon Novak has the power to, with just a drop of their blood, take the form of any living person, a process that brings with it agonising physical pain, but perhaps worse, some of the darkest memories of the people he is “templating”, things that cannot be unremembered once they are in his head.  He is a character very much in the mold of Rorschach or Steve Ditko’s Mr. A, only with an added degree of self-awareness in that Novak seems to realise how unhinged he is.  This is very much a standalone story, not necessary for understanding what’s going on in Nothingface #1, but I’d certainly recommend checking it out.  It won’t cost you anything, what have you got to lose?

Nothingface #0 gave us this great character, but what Nothingface #1 does to top it is to insert that character into a story that’s just as great.  This first chapter of a story titled “Beautiful Dreamer” is in a lot of ways a classic serial killer thriller, but with some unique twists that let it approach the narrative with some fresh ideas.  Novak’s case in this story is a woman plagued with prophetic dreams that let her see through the eyes of a man who will kill several woman, and eventually kill her.  Her plight bears certain parallels with Novak’s own unwanted gifts.  Together, each lets us to examine the idea of living vicariously through a murder – as the killer or as the victim – and the effect that might have on someone.  On a deeper level, it turns the microscope back on us, the readers, who much like these characters, become voyeurs of the dark corners of life.

Kel Nuttall’s unnerving story is ably complimented by Cinar’s haunting art.  From a hauntingly ethereal opening dream sequence which feels like a nightmarish twist on Being John Malkovich, to a visceral splash page that hammers home the destructive agony of Novak’s facial transformation, Cinar hits all the right notes.  The lack of color is not a problem in the slightest, and in fact the black and white palette helps enhance the story’s bleak tone.  There are a couple of minor missteps, such as some clarity issues with the climactic fight scene, but for the most part Cinar’s visuals are a success, getting under your skin and portraying the murkiness of this world.  Kudos also to Ben Templesmith for a cover that demands your attention.

On the subject of the comic’s visuals, I feel Kel Nuttall’s skills as a letterer add a whole new dimension to the comic.  A great letterer knows how to group and shape words in a way that will enhance the story, that will help to blend the realms of prose and image into a more immersive comic book reading experience.  In Nothingface, captions and speech balloons are spread out all over the page, forming tapestries that Graphic.ly flow can barely keep up with, and helping to guide the eye forward through the art and the story.  The comic is a masterclass in how lettering is as essential a component in a great comic book as any of the other, often more celebrated parts of the creative team.

Nothingface #1 adds some additional wrinkles to the character of Jon Novak, as we discover his need to wear his “templates”, in spite of the pain it causes him.  It’s like an addiction.  No matter how horrible it gets, he can’t stop himself, and no matter what horrible things he sees, he can’t bring himself to look away.  I find myself responding in a similar way to Nothingface.  The uncompromising story pulls no punches, and you get a sickening feeling that this cannot end well, but with the expertly-crafted storytelling of Kel Nuttall and Yildiray Cinar driving it forward, I cannot help but want to journey deeper into the heart of darkness.

Buy Nothingface #1 at Graphic.ly here.

TheStandardComic.com Launches Today!

Hey folks!

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been developing my first comic book: The Standard.  It is a 6-issue miniseries, each issue being 28 pages long, and in color.  The first issue is due for release April 28th.

The Standard a story spanning across two generations.  One narrative is set in the past, in a colorful, cheery, Silver Age styled past, where superhero The Standard and his sidekick Fabu-Lad battle nefarious supervillains and giant robots.  The other narrative is set in a darker present.  The original Standard has retired, and the former Fabu-Lad has inherited the mantle.  However, this new Standard decided to publicly unmask, revealing to the world his alter ego, Alex Thomas.  Now, The Standard has sponsorship deals, a merchandising empire, and is a reality TV star, making him less a crimefighter than a celebrity.  But secretly, Alex is tormented by what he’s done to the Standard legacy.  He has grown obsessed with the case of a missing girl that nobody else seems to be interested in.  Can he remember what it means to truly be a hero?  Or does fate have other plans in mind for The Standard?

TheStandardComic.com, the official blog for the comic, has now launched.  I’d really appreciate it if you guys would check it out.  I’ll be updating the site daily on Monday-Friday, so there should be plenty of new content to look at.  I hope I can capture your interest enough to make you want to find out more, and perhaps get the comic once it goes on sale!