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!

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!

 

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.

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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.

 

 

2013 Preview: The Standard

Hello everyone!  It seems that, amidst all the reviews I’ve been writing, I haven’t been using this blog much to talk about my own writing projects lately.  Of course, I keep this blog’s sister site, thestandardcomic.com, fairly regularly updated with that project’s latest developments, but I thought it might be good to spend a week on an overview of my various comics projects, and where I’m at with them.  So, check into the blog daily this week, and I’ll be sharing news, and some exclusive debuts of artwork.

The first project I have to discuss is, of course, The Standard.  I’ve been working on this comic for several years now, but 2013 is the year where everything comes to fruition.  The Standard #1 made its worldwide debut, distributed through Diamond and published by ComixTribe, last week, February 13th.  I’d say it has been a success.  I’m hearing frequent accounts, both here in the UK and abroad in the US, of store sell-outs, in some cases day one sell-outs.  It seems retailers significantly underordered the book, and it has performed above expectations, with consumer demand outstripping store supply.  It’s not ideal, but I’d say it’s a good problem to have!

But the launch of issue #1 is just the beginning.  Next up is the worldwide relaunch of The Standard #2 in April, with the book already complete and off to the printers in preparation for this.  The plan is to operate on a bi-monthly schedule, and have the whole 6-issue miniseries released by the end of 2013.  That is a crazy thought to me.  Something that’s been part of my life since 2008, and 2013 is the year it finally comes to an end.  Well, in 2014 we’ll hopefully be seeing a graphic novel collected edition of the series with plenty of juicy backmatter, so I’ll be spending some time compiling that, but as far as the comic itself goes, if all proceeds as planned 2013 will be my last year working on it.  Kinda scary, but exhilerating too!

But it’s not just the worldwide release schedule I have to think about.  The first 3 issues were already released locally here in Glasgow, Scotland, and I always wish to continue paying attention to the comic’s roots as a cult Glasgow indie hit.  And so work continues on The Standard #4, which should hopefully be finished in the next month or so.  I’m hoping to make a small preview run available locally in Glasgow, my thank you to the readers who supported me first.  At the very least the comic is going to have a big presence at Glasgow Comic Con in July.

In the meantime, I’m going to share, for the first time, a few preview pages for the long-awaited fourth issue of The Standard, magnificently drawn by Jonathan Rector and vividly coloured by Mike Gagnon.  You’ll see the aftermath of issue #3’s dramatic conclusion, as well as a glimpse at another fiendish foe from The Standard’s past, TV Man.  Enjoy, bold reader!

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REVIEW: Rapid City #1

Around a year ago, I reviewed Rapid City #11, and now writer Josh Dahl and artist Anad Kaviraj are back with their follow-up, Rapid City #1: long story, go see the previous review for further explanation.  Now, in my review for issue #11, I talked about how this creative team showed promise with what was an admitted early, experimental effort for both of them, but there were some teething troubles, and flaws that hampered my enjoyment of the comic.  One point I brought up is that Rapid City #11 didn’t really work as an “issue #1”, in that not much was done to introduce this world or give it a niche to drive us forward.  Unfortunately, and less forgivably, Rapid City #1 doesn’t work well as an issue #1 in this regard either.

I should start by mentioning how Josh Dahl has improved in the intervening year.  In my previous review, I noted how he sometimes had issues with clunky dialogue, making thematic points too on-the-nose or laboured.  That weakness has pretty much evaporated now, and Dahl has developed a fine ear for more naturalistic speech.  As a result, this issue gives us a collection of scenes that build into some well-realised character portraits, particularly of our lead hero, Kinetic.  On a technical level, his scenes operate much better, with more efficient use of panel space than before.  Various individual scenes, such as Kinetic’s confrontation with his frustrated girlfriend, are skillfully paced.

The problem comes with the bigger picture.  As a collection of scenes, yes, there is good writing here, but I’m not sure if it quite fits into a compelling whole.  Dahl has given us interesting characters, but still hasn’t provided them with something interesting to do.  Yes, Rapid City is evidently more character-driven than plot-driven, and I’m all for that, but even in “indie books” (which Dahl markets Rapid City as splicing the superhero genre with), in all but the most static of introspective autobiographical texts, there is still something happening, some drama that drives the character forward and informs their development and self-discovery.  And I think that’s what’s lacking in Rapid City.  In ruminating on their identity, one character speaks of it as “an empty vessel waiting to be filled”, and in a lot of ways that’s what this comic feels like.

When looking at the pitching document for the series, it is billed as “a superhero comic book about the frustration of having a dream you don’t know how to follow” and “a four part story about doing what it takes.”  Now, I’m not saying that a comic can’t be about these things, but I will say that this would be a hard sell to passing customers on a convention floor.  It’s just too abstract, too internalised.  What Rapid City needs is this internal strife cast into stark relief against an external challenge that brings these character struggles to the fore.  And maybe that’s coming (one character’s downward spiral subtly hints at future menace), but it isn’t here yet, and if you don’t give readers something to hook onto with issue #1, they may not come back for the rest of your slow-boil saga where you gradually reveal your hand.  As it currently stands, things wring a little hollow.  Yes, Kinetic jumps around town in costume with mentor Monkey, but you get little sense of it being more than just jumping around, players performing on an empty stage.  The idea of superheroes with nothing to fight, and the resultng stir-craziness and ennui that may spring from that, could have some rich narrative potential.  But to do that would require adding further meat to the bones of the world, of the Rapid City that gives the book it’s title, maybe explaining how it is these superheroes came to exist in this city and why there isn’t super-crime around to match it.  World-building, that’s what’s needed here.

Anad Kaviraj’s art continues to be problematic, because while it’s still moody and atmospheric, there remains several of the same issues with clarity.  And as we jump back and forth from scene to scene and different characters are introduced, the murkiness of the character designs combined with – at times – the lack of key pacing techniques such as establishing shots to signpost new scenes, cast a cloud of confusion over large portions of the issue, where I was momentarily unsure of who was who, if I was meeting someone new or returning to a previously established character, or whether we’d moved to a new location.  I think the introduction of color would help immensely in making things clearer, as the stark black-and-white, without even the texture of grayscale, makes the book feel awful sparse.  And with superheroes in particular, I think color is crucial.

I fear I’m being very negative in this assessment, which I feel bad about, as there’s much to like about Rapid City.  Josh Dahl is a talented creator committed to refining his craft, and the learning curve between this and Rapid City #11 is clear.  There is still a rich seam of potential in this world waiting to be mined, and much like Kinetic moves forward with fresh purpose here upon finding his name, perhaps Dahl’s storytelling will come alive once he has a clearer vision of the story he wants to tell.

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Rapid City #1 is available to buy in print from IndyPlanet or digitally from Graphicly.

REVIEW: Batman #14

REVIEW: Batman #14

You may have noticed that I haven’t reviewed Batman in a while.  To be honest, there’s only so much hyperbole you can heap on a title that is so consistently excellent, and it’s pretty difficult to find new ways of saying how incredible the work Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo and the rest of the creative team are doing has been.  But just when we may have felt that this title may have hit a plateau of dependable quality each passing month, this “Death of the Family” arc started with Batman #13 and blasted the roof off our already high expectations.  With that issue, Snyder brought The Joker back in style and restored him as a genuinely terrifying presence.  That chapter caused something of a sensation, selling out everywhere very quickly and perhaps leaving some wondering if subsequent installments could possibly maintain that dizzying level of tension and mastery of storytelling.

Now we have Batman #14, and not onlydoes it live up to the horrific promise of Batman #13, it’s actually better, challenging even the mighty Batman #5 as perhaps the best chapter of this already-classic run.

Here’s the thing about The Joker.  Yes, undoubtedly, he’s a beloved, revered villain, and it’s not like he hasn’t been treated with respect in recent years: Grant Morrison and Paul Dini have given us some cracking Joker tales in the past decade.  But it seems that, more often than not, for quite a while now when The Joker has shown up in a major storyline, it’s been to act as a spoiler, a spanner in the works that complicates things between Batman and the primary antagonist of the story.  It seems like it’s been ages since The Joker has taken centre-stage in an epic arc of his own.  Well, The Joker’s time is now, and one of the best things Snyder does this issue is hammer home just how serious a threat The Joker is, what sets him apart from your typical street-level psycho supervillain, and the frightening scale on which he can operate.  Some might have been dubious about all the Bat-family “Death of the Family” tie-ins, but based on the strength of his portrayal here, you can totally understand how The Joker could be a threat big enough for all these characters to have their hands full with him, and indeed it would feel like something was deeply wrong if the ripples of the shocking revelations in Batman weren’t felt in the rest of the Bat-line.

As far as the actual characterisation of The Joker goes, Scott Snyder clearly has a ball writing the master villain.  While he doesn’t by any means show his whole hand at this early stage of what is sure to be a labyrinthine plot, Snyder does give us a substantial taste of The Joker’s modus operandi, how he views his place in the universe and why he’s doing what he’s doing.  It’s stuff we’ve heard before, as Snyder has enthralled us with his insights into The Joker in various interviews and panel appearances, but seeing those fascinatingly acute observations worked into the script and spoken back out to us in The Joker’s voice makes it still feel fresh and exciting.  The Joker has been given a rythmn of speaking unlike anyone else in the cast: with all his talk of being the court jester to Batman’s “god-king”, his manner of speaking almost feels like that of a Shakespearean fool, all tantalising double meanings, coy foreshadowings and escalating repetitions.  In the silent medium of comics, Snyder has crafted a cadence for his villain’s voice, which is no mean feat.  Letterers Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt also deserve credit here, with The Joker even getting his own lettering font to heighten this sense of him having his own unique voice.

The unconventional, unsettling nature of The Joker’s presence is compounded by Greg Capullo’s art.  His body language is all uncomfortable backwards arches and unnatural contortions, Capullo’s Joker cutting a shifting, fidgity figure.  Even in how he stands, The Joker is set apart from everyone else on the page.  Though Capullo’s most obvious contribution is surely The Joker’s new face.  I’ll admit, I wasn’t a fan of the idea of The Joker wearing his severed face like a mask.  It seemed a bit too torture-porn gorefest, a bit too grubby and heavy-handed for a villain as classy as The Clown Prince of Crime.  But Capullo makes it work, with The Joker’s loose, flaccid face-skin wrinkling and folding into slightly different positions in each passing panel.  Much like the nature of The Joker’s masterplan, it allows The Joker to be simultaneously familiar, and yet inherently, chillingly different.  And while I’m talking about Capullo’s art, how can I not mention that stunning splash page with The Joker and Batman facing each other on the bridge.  If there was a comic page I immediately wanted to have on my wall…

But as great as all this juicy material with my favourite comic book villain was, it wasn’t what made Batman #14 possibly the best of the series thus far.  When he shows up, he’s utterly compelling, but The Joker doesn’t show up until 15 pages into the story.  I was expecting great characterisation of The Joker here.  What took me by surprise is how great a character study of Batman this is.  Seeing Batman starting to come apart at the seams with the abduction of Alfred is quite harrowing to watch.  And, as has become something of a recurring trend in Snyder’s run, Batman is able to reveal most of his inner turmoil while in conversation with Nightwing.  Batman struggling to compartmentalise, referring to Bruce Wayne in the first person and Alfred as “Pennyworth” – as if he was someone else’s butler, and didn’t know him personally – and Nightwing’s exasperation with Batman’s enforced detachment, was just some great character dynamics.

And when Batman finally lets the mask slip, I found it really powerful when he talked about Alfred being a father to him.  I’m glad Snyder went there, and hope he makes more of that in future.  To me, that’s been one of the great, unspoken tragedies of the Batman mythos.  Bruce Wayne has been driven his whole life by this need to avenge the death of his parents, and goes through such prolonged anguish over how he’s an orphan, over how he has no father.  And all this time, while living in this almost self-indulgent misery, he’s been quietly cared for by a man who is arguably more of a father to Bruce than his actual biological father ever was, who certainly at the very least has been caring for Bruce longer than his real father did.  Poor Alfred.

The back-up, with art by Jock, is also a treat.  We see The Joker interacting with The Penguin, two very different villains who, according to The Joker, at least, each have their own crucial role in the Gotham tapestry.  With the ominous note this short interlude ends on, combined with the bombshells dropped at the conclusion of the main story, that brings us to one of the most exciting aspects of this bar-raising issue: that it’s still mostly set up for things to get even crazier in future chapters!

Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, inker Jonathan Glapion, colorist FCO Plascencia and letterers Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt are arguably the best creative team working in comics today (off the top of my head, only the Brian K Vaughan/Fiona Staples/Fonografiks dream team on Saga jumps to mind as a possible challenger for that crown), and so you’d think it could be easy to just take their combined excellence for granted.  But just like Batman has had the rug pulled out from under him just when he thinks he knows what to expect from The Joker, with “Death of the Family”, these guys just refuse to let us get comfortable with our expectations.  Sometimes, with big stories like this, it’s like going from point A to point B, with point B already solicited well in advance, and so it’s just a case of sitting back and watching how it happens.  Not the case here.  This story has driven off a cliff.  We have a monthly Big Two superhero comic that feels genuinely dangerous, a Batman story with a sense of bona fide “anything could happen and I don’t know how things can ever be normal again!” drama not felt since Batman RIP.

Batman #14 is out now in comic stores everywhere.

REVIEW: Fat-Man and Ribbon #0

It seems my regular schedule of creator-owned comic reviews has been thrown out of whack with all the goodies I picked up at Glasgow Comic Con a couple of weeks back.  This week’s offering is Fat-Man and Ribbon #0, another comic from local Glasgow talent, writer Martin Ferguson and artist Andrew Docherty.  As the title would suggest, it plays as a parody of Batman and Robin.  But is there more to this comic than a pithy title?

Plot-wise, not much happens here.  The comic’s narrative basically amounts to a single fight scene, with a possible teaser of the actual plot ready to get picked up with issue #1.  But with an issue marked as #0, a teaser is really all you’re expecting, I suppose.  What Martin Ferguson does give us here, however, is a nice dose of characterisation.  With a fictional city called Metro-Scotia, it’s pretty clear this is a Scottish tale, and Fat-Man and Ribbon do basically come across as a couple of Glesga chaps up for a bit of the banter, only they happen to be superheroes.  I also found it a relief to see just how little of the humor – beyond the name – is derived from directly parodying the Batman mythos.  Instead, Ferguson has the skill to fuel the comedy with slapstick and quips.

But the real revelation here is the artwork of Andrew Docherty.  Brimming with zany energy that keeps the book zipping along nicely, Docherty’s highly-rendered style, with its close-ups of unusual, angular faces, put me in mind of the work of Bernie Wrightson in the 70s or Sam Keith in the 80s, and a few of the contemporaries that they influenced.  It’s a style that’s not so common now, but which gives the book an added charm and uniqueness.  It’s not a style you might commonly associate with a superhero book, and is all the better for it.  Some of his heightened facial expressions are just comedy gold.

If I had any suggestion to make, it might be that the book would benefit from the inclusion of colour.  It’s all black-and-white and grayscale, even the cover, and while I don’t object to black-and-white comics, there’s something about the superhero genre in particular, I feel, that just doesn’t feel quite complete without a splash of vibrant colour.  On the flipside, color might blot out some of Docherty’s lovely rendering, and I wouldn’t like to lose that either.  It’s a dilemma!

Overall, I’d probably say it’s too early to judge Fatman and Ribbon one way or the other.  What we get here is essentially a teaser.  But thanks to Andrew Docherty, it’s a teaser that’s a joy to look at.  I’m certainly sold on sampling what Martin Ferguson has to offer once he starts his story proper with Fatman and Ribbon #1.

Fat-Man and Ribbon is available locally in shops in Glasgow.

REVIEW: Long Gone

With Breakneck, Ghost Lines and the upcoming Broken (I’ve written a review for that, but I’m waiting for news on its publication before it goes up!), writer Mark Bertolini has proven to be a dependably strong storyteller.  But with Long Gone, his new comic from Markosia due to hit shelves in September, Bertolini could have found that story that’s going to elevate him to the next level.  He’s always been good, but the execution of this dystopian epic suggests a writer with increased assurance, operating on a grander canvas and injecting more atmosphere and narrative tricks.  This is a lean, stripped-down machine of a story, ruthlessly paced, and instantly gripping.

I’ve only got to read a preview copy of the first chapter, thus far, but it’s a hell of an opener.  The concept, as it is introduced, is that one day, all the superheroes banded together and decided that, instead of protecting regular people, they would exterminate them and take the world for themselves.  Hence a mass genocide occurred, leaving behind retired plumber Abe Connelly as perhaps the lone human survivor in a bleak, Mad Max style acopalyptic wasteland.  When he stumbles upon a cache of government-developed weaponry, he sees a poosibility of fighting back.  In some ways, the narrative bears echoes to his earlier work, Breakneck: there, the superheroes united to wipe out all the supervillains, and we followed the plight of one lone villain in the world that followed.  But here, the execution is quite starkly different, feeling almost like a zombie movie with flying beings in capes and tights replacing the decaying undead.  It’s a pretty refreshing dynamic, and I’m interested to see how this world develops moving forward.

The art is by Ted Pogorzelski, and it’s a good fit for the aesthetic Bertolini sets up.  His great skill in laying out the pages here is in his choice of where to place the “camera” in his panels.  He typically goes long, letting his gaunt, haunted characters stand stranded in vistas of barren, broken landscapes.  This evocatively heightens the isolation that comes with this grim new world.  And when Pogorzelski does draw in the camera for a close-up, it’s devastating.  From the raw grief of Abe Connelly as he first encounters the fate of his family, to the depraved lunacy of the masked superhumans, he just nails the expressions, giving us distinct characters with personalities etched on their faces.

Colorist Aaron Viel brings a clever conceit to the table that complements the pencils and inks nicely.  Namely, the landscapes and locations are handled with a heavily muted pallette, practically colorless, which makes the costumed superhumans in their brightly-colored costumes stand out all the more.  There are a couple of points where the colors feel a bit flat when they could have used some more texture, but the basic idea works very well.

With its opening chapter, Long Gone brilliantly establishes this world and its protagonist.  If the rest of the graphic novel is as good, you guys are in for a real treat in September.  Get your pre-orders in now!  Another triumph for Mark Bertolini, and all the creative team involved.

Long Gone will be released in September. Keep checking Markosia’s official website for details.

Kapow Con 2012 Report

This past weekend, various fans, exhibitors and professionals of the comics world descended upon the Business Design Centre in London, England for the second annual Kapow Con.  And I was among them, selling copies of the first three issues of The Standard.  I was sharing a table with the Glasgow League of Writers, with Gordon McLean as my core tablemate, selling the first two issues of No More Heroes.  But also assisting at the table were GLoW cohorts Colin Bell (pimping free samples of his webcomic Jonbot VS Martha), Sam Read, John McCusker and Luke Halsall.  Things started off a little slow, but once they picked up, Kapow turned out to be a very successful weekend for GLoW and for The Standard.

As we struggled to make sense of the London tube system, we ended up being a bit late to the venue on the Saturday.  We ended up arriving at the Business Design Centre just as the fans were getting in.  Perhaps being in a rush to set up threw us off our game a bit, but it seemed like at first we were struggling to grab anyone’s attention on the floor.  Thankfully, we started drawing people to our table, and both The Standard and No More Heroes began to sell rather well.

The one panel I attended on Saturday was the Image Superstars panel.  Eric Stephenson was moderating this discussion, which included Charlie Adlard, Sean Phillips, David Hine, Shaky Kane and the surprise addition of Doug Braithwaite, who will be drawing upcoming sci-fi noir series Storm Dogs for Hine.  The various projects discussed at this panel reminded me just how much quality output Image is getting out there right now. Exciting times for creator-owned work indeed.  I got to ask a question about why, while in the past it seemed like creators made their naes on great Image titles before moving on up to Marvel and DC, now we’re seeing big name Marvel and DC creators coming over to Image, and that prompted some interesting debate and discussion amongst the panel.  Afterwards, I was also able to pounce on Image publisher Eric Stephenson and get some copies of The Standard in his hands!  Eric Stephenson actually really impressed me at Kapow.  As such a senior publisher, I’m sure it would have been easy for him to take a hands-off approach, but he was there at the Image booth selling away like every other exhibitor.  It goes to show the passion he still has for the industry and the product he’s selling.

The other main thing that took me away from my table on Saturday was a couple of signings.  I’m kicking myself at missing the Paul Cornell signing (especially when I hear that Mr. Cornell sat down to have a chat with my Comic Anonymous friends earlier in the day while I was away getting coffee!), but I did get to go see Jock, getting both my hardcover graphic novel of Batman: The Black Mirror and a couple of Scalped issues signed.  Jock was nice, and seemed pleased that someone had some Scalped stuff for him.  Of course, I’m a Scalped super-fan.

Later on in the day, I ended up in a much bigger queue for Scott Snyder.  We were told that Scott would only be signing 1 item per person, as the queues were massive and he wanted to get through everyone before his time was up, which is fair enough.  So, after a moment of Sophie’s Choice style turmoil, I settled to have Batman: The Black Mirror signed instead of Batman #5, my favourite single issue Snyder has written.  As was the case at NYCC, Snyder was a very nice guy to meet, though I got a real kick to discover that he actually knew who I was, and reads my reviews!  I gave Scott copies of The Standard, and went away feeling pretty chuffed, if I do say so myself.

As the day neared its close, some of our number decided to head off early.  But I’m glad I decided to stay on to the bitter end, as in that last stint we made a whole bunch of sales.  Among the people I was happiest to meet on Saturday was Magnus Aspli, writer of The Vessel of Terror.
I was a big fan of this book, and gushed about it in my review last year.  So it was nice to put a face to the name at last.  Anyway, after wringing every last sale out of the day that I could, finally we were chased out of the hall, and Kapow was done for the night.

For dinner, we went to a fantastic Thai restaurant called Thai Square London.  This was the first time I’ve had Thai food, but it won’t be the last.  Disco duck with coconut rice: delicious.  We went to the Hilton Bar afterwards, but honestly we were so tired after our long journey and early rise (5am for me!) that we ended up calling it a night early.

On Sunday, we managed to get to the venue earlier, giving us time to get ourselves set up before the punters arrived.  As the day of selling began proper, I was really pleased that we had a few people who had bought The Standard #1 the day before coming back to get issues #2 and #3, because they loved the first issue so much.  It’s great to have readers come back and let you know they enjoyed the book, it really emphasizes that you’re not just throwing your work out into a void, that people are appreciating it.

My one panel for Sunday was DC’s New 52 panel.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: people give Dan Didio a hard time, but his passion for what he does is undeniable.  He showed that again here, in an enthusiastic, often candid panel talking about what lies ahead for DC’s publishing line.  Also on the panel were Scott Snyder, Ian Churchill and Bob Wayne.  It’s funny, the news that DC will be re-introducing an established male character as gay in the coming months has been making headlines as a big announcement in the news-phere, but as someone who actually attended the panel, I can say the “announcement” came somewhat off-hand, as a reply to a tricky question from the audience.  “Much like our President, Dan Didio’s opinion has evolved,” drolly quipped Bob Wayne – probably the line of the panel.

Afterwards, I went back for a second Scott Snyder signing, this time to get Batman #5 signed.  Snyder kindly obliged, and also teased a bit about what’s coming up in Batman.  I can’t share any details, but it’s going to be very exciting!

As we neared the home-stretch for Kapow, I managed to sell out of The Standard #1 .  On one hand, this was great – I’d had a successful sell-out of the first issue!  But on the other hand, it meant that for the last 20 minutes or so of exhibiting I had a hard time getting people to buy just issues #2 and #3.  I did manage to sway a couple of folk, though.

And finally, it was all over.  Another con done, and it was time to pack up and go home.  Already, I’m back in Glasgow and it feels like London never happened.  But all in all, it was a very successful con.  I got to meet some awesome people, make some promising contacts, and most importantly, get The Standard into the hands of a whole new bunch of readers.  See you again next year, Kapow!