This month marks the arrival of the 5th annual 30 Characters Challenge, the excellent event run by ComixTribe publisher Tyler James, where participants have to create a new comic character for every day of the whole month of November. I participated in the first year, successfully completing the challenge with 30 badly-drawn characters of my own, but haven’t done it again since. I won’t be participating this year either, but thought it might be fun to spend each day writing up a little showcase to celebrate a new comic character who showed up in comic pages for the first time this year. Comics are one of the most highly inventive mediums around, and this has been a particularly strong year for pumping out exciting new stories packed with compelling new characters. Let’s take a look at some of my favourites.
29. RAYGUN ROADS
Created by Owen Michael Johnson and Indio
One of the true delights of the British independent scene this year, Raygun Roads is a concentrated blast of wild, psychadelic comics joy. It tells the story of a teenage boy called Vincent, and how he’s rescued from his humdrum life by the Kittlebach Pirates: a rock band that come from a realm of pure pop culture, or perhaps from Vincent’s own imagination. And the band’s lead singer is Raygun Roads, a hyer-charismatic whirlwind of pure sexual energy and creativity that inspires riots of adoration wherever she goes.
All of the Tittlebach Pirates are fantastically vivid creations, as brought to life by the crazy invention of Indio’s manic art style. But it’s Raygun Roads herself who is the best-realised of the bunch, characterised by Owen Michael Johnson’s lyrical writing as this primal force of creativity, the artist and the rebel dwelling within all of us. That’s right, folks: on some level, we’re all Raygun Roads!
Since its launch in local markets here in Glasgow back in July, the first issue of And Then Emily Was Gone has enjoyed great success. It got nominated for 4 SICBA awards at this year’s Glasgow Comic Con, the only comic to get nominated for every category. It has enjoyed a wealth of positive reviews:
It’s even had some very nice testimonials from ace comics creators:
“This is a weird comic, but in a wonderful way. Best of all, it’s a comic with its own vision, a unique and bold vision.”
– Michael Moreci, Hoax Hunters, Skybreaker
“This was a wonderful, twisted little surprise. A David Lynch air throughout, it made me feel itchy and uncomfortable, which is the highest praise I can bestow. John Lees’ script is tight and mysterious, with a few curve-balls that really add to the sense of hyper-reality. The off-kilter energy. The real stand-out is Iain Lawrie on art duties. Equal parts Paul Pope, Nick Pitarra and Morgan Jeske (this reminded me frequently of Jeske and Ales Kot’s Change). Despite the content raw as a picked scab, the presentation and print quality is supremely professional. Extremely impressive. Find a copy.”
– Owen Michael Johnson, Raygun Roads
“Super awesome, super creepy, super good. I really love the work of everyone involved on the book…”
– Nick Pitarra, The Manhattan Projects, The Red Wing
“This book is amazing, the first issue was ultra creepy.”
“It’s a masterclass in comics. it’s literate and the art? The art NEVER fails to impress. You just got to find out what happens next… BONNIE SHAW? GREG HILLINGER? THE BOX? What the fuck? It’s a movie for the mind ***** FIVE STARS.”
– Shaky Kane, The Bulletproof Coffin
“…reads really well, the artwork is just fantastic, intriguing premise, quirky and atmospheric and claustrophobic as I would expect – really impressed!”
– Frank Quitely, All Star Superman, We3, Jupiter’s Legacy
And after a sellout of our first print run, artist Iain Laurie and I are restocked and ready for our next convention: Thought Bubble in Leeds, on 23rd-24th November. But it won’t just be more of issue #1 we’ll be bringing. Nope, issue #2 is now finished, and ready for the show. Here’s a sneak peek of the cover, drawn by Iain and colored by the magnificent Megan Wilson:
In this second chapter, Hellinger and Fiona begin to investigate Emily’s disappearance on the island of Merksay, with its very strange locals and terrifying hidden places. Plus, we find out what’s in the box!
It was Glasgow Comic Con this past weekend, and I had an absolute blast! I was there exhibiting, sharing a table with artists Iain Laurie and Chris Connelly. I was selling the first issues of my two new books – And Then Emily Was Gone and Bad Sun – and debuting issue #4 of The Standard, as well as copies of the earlier issues and the 1-3 graphic novel from last year’s con. This was the con’s first year in the new venue of the CCA, right in the heart of the city centre, and I have to say it was a big improvement. It’s a lovely venue, marvelously designed, and though there were a few minor issues it seems the response I’ve been hearing from both attendees and exhibitors was that they loved the locale. The sun was glorious all weekend, perhaps a little too glorious on the Saturday as the top floor turned into a hotbox. But it gave the whole event a fantastic summery atmosphere.
Overall, the con was a huge success. Sadly, team And Then Emily Was Gone didn’t go home with any SICBA awards, despite being the only comic to be nominated in every category. However, I made more in comic sales than at any other con I’ve attended thus far, with the most rewarding sales at all being people who either bought one comic on the Saturday and came back to buy the rest on the Sunday, or who had bought The Standard at last year’s con and loved it so much they came back to buy my new stuff. Beyond the financial side of things, though, it was a pleasure getting to chat to friends old and new, be it fellow comics pros or passionate, enthusiastic comics fans. One particular highlight for me was seeing this guy pop up in a Frying Scotsman costume!
But the purpose of this blog isn’t to talk about my experiences as an exhibitor. I want to talk about how I enjoyed the show as a fan of quality creator-owned comics. Over the weekend I got a few sketches, jumping back and forth between Iain Laurie and Neil Slorance. Here’s a look at them:
That Oppenheimer is perhaps my favourite of the bunch. It makes me wish I had exploited Iain’s good will and got similar onesheets for the whole cast of The Manhattan Projects. Beyond the sketches, there were of course the comics. Here are my quick thoughts on the comics I picked up over the weekend:
DARK ASCENSION: Winner of both Best Writer and Best Artist at the SICBA Awards, Jim Devlin does his most accomplished work yet with this dark thriller. The main story is 14 pages long, telling a pulpy noir/horror tale of a former grifter lying low as a circus clown who is faced by a sinister figure from his past. The second half of the book is taken up by a reprint of a tale I read back in 2011, my first exposure to Devlin’s work. It’s an appealingly nasty little story on its own, but when placed in the context of the main feature it creates this picture of the world of Dark Ascension being like Sin City with a dash of Lovecraftian horror lurking in the background. It feels like Devlin is crafting the opening salvos of an ambitious, expansive mythology, and I can’t wait to see him progress further into this dark, intriguing narrative.
METRODOME: The other Glasgow Comic Con debut from my artistic collaborator Iain Laurie, this sees him reuniting with Roachwell partner Craig Collins. In a testament to Iain’s diversity, this is a very different type of comic from And Then Emily Was Gone, in both tone and execution. The big supervillain smackdown Craig Collins creates is fun, but the most fascinating aspect of this comic for me is the whole process of how it was put together, as Craig explains in his foreword. Craig’s fevered imaginings, paired with Iain’s twisted visuals, results in a compellingly weird piece of experimental fiction.
COSPLAY KILLERS: I didn’t quite know what to make of this. At first I thought this was supposed to be about a superhero team, which made me feel rather uncomfortable about the extremes of casual violence inflicted on people for seemingly dubious motives. But if you view the eponymous Cosplay Killers as a gang of psychopaths whose actions we’re not supposed to condone, the whole thing takes on a Grand Guignol black comedy vibe – severed heads in the dishwasher! – that makes for suitably debauched entertainment.
RAYGUN ROADS: This comic slipped totally under my radar, but over the Saturday buzz for it was building and building. By the time Sunday came I knew I had to buy it to see it for myself. And I’m glad I did. This psychadelic slice of hyper-pop lunacy from creator Owen Michael Johnson is one of the most fiercely original bits of storytelling I’ve encountered all year. The plot takes the idea of a band of being from a realm of pure imagination colliding with the humdrum regular world as a launching pad, then flies off into the stream-of-consciousness stratosphere, aided by trippy, dynamic artwork. The whole thing is presented like music in comic form, which seems oddly fitting. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for the completed edition later this year.
CACACHUTE COMICS: A collection of various comics shorts made by Coralie Bouguerra. The earlier stuff in the book feels a bit rough around the edges, but by the time we get to “Sheol” and the second installment of “Zombies, Love and Rock N’ Roll” the work becomes noticeably more accomplished, culminating in the clever little epilogue “It’s Over”. “Sheol” in particular is noteworthy, a grimly comic account of a lonely, depressed woman’s spectacular mental breakdown.
VAMPIRE VIXENS OF THE WERMACHT: One of the breakout hits of the convention, selling out on the first day, I was lucky enough to pick up a copy of Alex Ronald’s magnificent grindhouse romp. Everyone has been rightly gushing about Ronald’s amazing, superstar artwork – as Mark Millar points out in the foreword, the only reason Ronald isn’t an A-list talent right now is that he decided video games would be a more profitable career path and he has only just recently decided to re-enter the comics field – but the story too is a delight. It features a sexy Nazi vampire hellspawn teaming up with a priest to fight the wicked occult forces of the Third Reich. Cue a tale that infuses the spirit of adventure from the “boy’s own” war comics of old with the titillation of the raunchier Hammer Horror films. If you like your breasts opulent and your penises severed, this is the book for you. A perverse delight.
iHERO: My good friend and table neighbour Luke Halsall wrote this, paired up with artist (and fellow table neighbour) Graeme Kennedy. The result is both doing their most ambitious work to date. Luke’s story, about the creation of an iPad/iPhone/iPod style gizmo that allows anyone to become a superhero, and the effect that has on the world, is a significant step up from the more small-scale, self-contained effort of his Mind Palace comic debut. Graeme, meanwhile, leaps genres from the murky crime of Villainous to classic superheroics with a twist. Once again he triumphs with a great cover design, which I saw customer after customer be drawn to on the con floor.
MAXIMUM ALAN: As bonkers and nigh-indepicherable as the first installment, this splurge of raging id continues to get mileage out of putting Alan Moore in one ridiculous, humiliating predicament after another. If you ever wanted a shot of esteemed comics luminary Alan Moore’s bare arse as he gets spanked, this is the comic for you. But this second issue enjoys a major boost over the first one, as it marks the inclusion of Neil Gaiman as a character, brought to life arguably with even greater aplomb than our title character.
And this was just a selection of the books available. I had been meaning to pick up SICBA-winner Big in Japan, Royal Descent, See Far Enough and the new issue of Fatman & Ribbon, but was so caught up in selling I never got round to it. But I was once again taken aback by all the creativity in the Glasgow comics scene. Another successful show…. the road to Glasgow Comic Con 2014 begins now!