Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The representation of women at the British Comic Awards

I have been thinking a lot about women, comics and sexism in the past few months, working out thoughts, ideas and gearing up to write something. This was not how I intended my first piece on the issue to be. Earlier in the week, the Forbidden Planet International blog (to which I contribute), carried a short interview with comics creator and artist Phillipa Rice discussing her experience of the ThoughtBubble convention. This year at ThoughtBubble, the first ever British Comic Awards took place, celebrating the best of British talent in the comics industry over the past year. Here's what she had to say about the awards:

'I just wish more mind was paid to showing more of a range of diversity in creators.'

'I noticed it when they first released the nominations but it wasn’t until they tweeted a picture of the stack of books they were sending out to the judges it really hit properly: eleven books and literally just one by a woman. If you’re going to make a point out of having only four awards, have as many different people as possible – don’t duplicate. They’ve nominated three women in total and one across two different categories. I can’t believe they had that list and didn’t think it looks unfair – especially where some people had been nominated twice. It’s not like there aren’t woman who have had books out. Karrie Fransman, Mary Talbot, Simone Lia have all had very good, very popular, very acclaimed books this year.'

You can read the full piece here. And the ensuing twitter discussion here. I advise you to read both before continuing in order to familiarise yourself with some of the points addressed below.

I should clarify that this is not intended as an attack on Phillipa in any way. However, I think there are pertinent issues that have arisen from her comments that encourage further discussion. The first is that one line statement at the top: 'I just wish more mind was paid to showing more of a range of diversity in creators.' I don't know if this has simply been unfortunately phrased, but it suggests when a board/committee is considering works for nomination, they should do so according to a criteria of who the works are by. Rice went on to say (on Twitter) that it was important to have a diverse and impartial committee to judge the awards as 'merit essentially comes down to opinion.' The first part I agree with wholeheartedly, the second leaves me rather confused Yes, merit is a matter of opinion, but the objective of such awards is to collate a diverse group of people who are well-educated/versed in the matter being judged and to then arrive at a consensus of opinion in choosing which works to put forward. Are not all awards merely a consensus of opinion, be it expert or popular? Merit, and merit alone, is what comics and all other work should be judged upon- who produced it, their gender, ethnicity, race, age, religion, is absolutely irrelevant. Throwing in a few more women creators for the sake of representation or tokenism is not the way forward. Women, like everyone else, would like their work recognised for being good, for being brilliant and brave and innovative, not because it's moderately good, and they happen to possess the right anatomy.

As to the point of not having creators and people associated with publishing houses etc, due to the potential bias they would bring to the table, this appears to be a very naive outlook. Ideally that would be the situation, but it would be difficult indeed to produce sufficiently qualified people who existed in some kind of vacuum, free of all influence and connections. We place trust in committees, board members and judges in their integrity and their ability to set aside their preferences and affiliations to best select the material most suitable. I admit that this in itself is perhaps a naive ideal.

Now there is no denying that women were under-represented in the awards. Women are under-represented in all of comics and this is simply because comics, as a traditionally all-male field, is institutionally sexist. By extension, this means that many comic awards -including the BCA- are also sexist, as they are at the behest of a flawed system, and a byproduct of the industry being sexist. For example, let's say the industry has a split of 70% male creators, 30% female. From this you have to select the best  work to put up for nomination. Immediately, it's highly likely that women are going to be poorly represented in nominations as there is a much smaller pool of work created by women to choose from. As much as we wish this wasn't the case, it currently is. However, poor representation isn't the fault of the board. It could easily be pointed out, for example, that the presence of BME creators, committe members and judges is also sorely lacking. I don't think anybody would make such a statement though, as it's clear to all that BME creators and representation is a gaping scarcity in comics. This doesn't mean the argument is not valid, it's just less significant and valid when applied here.

Eliminating sexism is a process: one that needs to begin at a grassroots level, at the cause- enabling, assisting and highlighting the work  and entry of female creators into the industry. It's an issue that needs sorting from the ground up. Inclusion for the sake of diversity and representation veers into the areas of tokenism and positive stereotyping, which are most certainly not the solution. Awards should ALWAYS be selected on merit alone. If there were more women in comics, there would be more nominations and more awards, it's that simple. I also do not think it's helpful to imply that by having more women on the committee, the nominations would perhaps have had a different outcome: it belittles our gender. It saddens and frustrates me in instances like these to see this knee-jerk like response of 'Sexism!' levelled at those undeserving of it. Often symptomatic of a larger affliction, it really weakens the argument and effectiveness of feminism and sexism on a truer, larger scale due to it being diluted in use.

Whilst I welcome that these issues can be talked about in an open manner and the subsequent thought they provoke, I do feel that the choice of forum in which to discuss all these matters could have been more carefully considered. The British Comic Awards is the first event of its kind in the UK, a positive and important step worthy of celebration, into which much hard work, time and effort has been mined. As an inaugural ceremony, teething problems and niggles are par for the course and it would have been ideal if any concerns and suggestions were taken up with the organisers in a manner both constructive and positive. Instead, I feel the tone has been sullied somewhat by negative connotations which is a real shame for something which is so obviously intended to be an affirmative action, as something all comic creators can look to as an appreciation and recognition of their craft no matter who they are.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Erik Heumiller's Magnet Comics project

Physical comics: what an excellent idea! Erik Huemiller has a project on kickstarter that looks innovative, fun, and possibly a great learning tool. A 3-panel magnetic white-board mounted in wood, along with 2 magnetic characters which come in a series of expressions, are provided, and then it's up to you to arrange them however you want and to add in dialogue and narrative. The project has a multitude of potential uses, but I think the success of it will depend on the quality of materials used: the wood and the magnets. It makes me happy to see the use of the medium being explored in new and different ways. Erik's already made his goal several times over, so if you want to get your hands on a set of these, click here.
The drive is running for 19 more days, and Erik's offering various packages and combinations, but the basic one I've purchased, which includes the strip, the stand, 4 characters, 9 expressions and a marker, costs $25 within the US and $33 for international orders.

'It includes a walnut wood comic strip with dry-erase panels, magnets on the back for mounting on a refrigerator or filing cabinet, a stand, marker and microfiber wipe. Each kit includes a basic pack of 4 characters, and each character has 9 different facial expressions. That gives you 36 character pieces to use to create lots of different combinations as you make your comics.

I originally came up with the idea because I'm a fan of comics myself and I thought it would be fun for people like me to have something to play with to make physical comics. Luckily I've found that teachers love this idea because it will let their kids work out stories using the fixed emotions of the characters. Kids seem to love it too which brings a smile to my face. It's nice to see a kid pick up the pieces and think and write. It seems like so much of their other activities revolve around digital media, that it's nice to see them thinking and playing with something tactile.'

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Jaws/Peanut mash-up by Charles Forsman

Image of JAWS/Peanuts Mash-up Print

I want a print of Charles Forsman's Jaws/Peanut mash-up. That is all. You can buy it here, at Forsman's Oily Boutique comic publishing set-up, where they sell, quite frankly, a range of most excellent funnies. I know I say this often, but it is true. Shrugs. I'm not allowed to buy ANYTHING until next year now, but when I am, I will descend upon their shop like a rabid shark (you see what I did there).

Rebus Books: Barrel of Monkeys by Ruppert and Mulot


This is my pick for “Book Of The Show” for the 2012 Brooklyn Comics And Graphics Fest.
-Brian Nicholson

Robot 6 have a nice interview with Bill Kartalopoulos on the founding of his new publishing house Rebus Books, the first release of which is the English language translation of Florent Ruppert and Jerome Mulot's Barrel of Monkeys. Here are some excerpts from the piece:

On the motivations of setting up Rebus books:

'I’ve been pretty fortunate to travel to France several times over the past year or two, and have had a chance to see a lot of European work that hasn’t been translated into English and meet a lot of artists at comics festivals and events in Paris, Angouleme and Amiens. There’s really a whole world of interesting work that we only see bits and pieces of in the U.S. I’ve already spoken with a few people about future publishing projects, some of them European and some of them American. In both cases, I’m planning to publish pre-existing work. There are a lot of European artists who haven’t been published in North America yet, and there are a lot of American artists who have done good work that I think would benefit from being collected and presented in a new format.'

On Barrel of Monkeys:

'Barrel of Monkeys is Ruppert and Mulot’s signature book. It won the Prix RevĂ©lation at the 2007 Angouleme comics festival, which is pretty high profile in France, and has been translated into German, Finnish and Italian.

Among Ruppert and Mulot’s many books, this one makes a very strong first impression due to the sheer variety of formal and visual techniques on display. One of the thing that Ruppert and Mulot like to do is to play with perception, and push the boundary between image-making and representation. Their figure drawing is very careful, with extremely naturalistic body language, but their characters are drawn in a kind of sketchy way, topped off with schematic faces that look like masks. The images almost dare you to believe in them, while constantly reminding you that they’re artificial. And that’s a jumping off point for narratives that use these puppet-like characters to perform and endure some pretty bad behaviour. But it’s all done with a light touch, a wry sense of humour, a dash of surrealism, and a kind of austere elegance that gives the work a tone unlike anything else out there.'

It pleases me no end to see more non-English language European comic work being translated in order to make it accessible to not-good-at-languages people like myself. There's some truly amazing work being done around the world and it's incredibly frustrating that it's not available to a wider audience. Really looking forward to getting hold of a copy of this: the sketchy, fine-lined art, angles and layouts appeal to my aesthetic sense. You can see more pages from the book here, where it can also be purchased. I'm in love with the giffed page below, from the Rebus Books tumblr- it's very, very hypnotic: don't look at it for too long!



Friday, 23 November 2012

Storm Dogs Issue #1 Hine Braithwaite

May I say how refreshing it is to just read a comic sometimes with no expectations and pre-conceptions at all? I love browsing comic sites and looking at what’s coming out soon, but it often means that you know quite a bit about what you’re reading before you’ve even got it in your hands. Pre-conceptions aside: Storm Dogs is bloody fantastic. I haven’t had a comic push my buttons like this in a while: strange, inexplicable going ons, hostile environments, dinosaury beasts, murder mysteries . A blend of sci-fi and crime and boasting some great art by Braithwaite , this first issue delivers so much promise, I am once more considering threatening you with issue by issue reviews of it.
It’s an impressive first issue, with characters and situations quickly set up: a task force from a technologically advanced planet arrive in the more primitively abled Amaranth to investigate a series of suspicious deaths. We are introduced to these people in a pleasingly neat way- as they turn off their comm links and say goodbye to those they’re connected with; the brief glimpses into relationships and conversations giving us insight into their personalities. They land in a place called Greivance where they’re met with the suitably (un)friendly sheriff and deputy and the two groups waste no time in butting up each other. The task force have little time to settle, however, as dispatch relates news of an attack and they head out to respond.
Amaranth itself offers a rich vein of storytelling for exploitation: boasting two indigenous species, all manner of beasts and dinosaurs, rich, wild flora and vegetation, a strange rain which drives anyone apart from native life-forms to madness and more. Braithwaite and Hines do a superb job of establishing the planet as the main and most curious character. Yes, there are obvious genre references and conventions, some of which work to settle the reader in, but I like the feel of the story so far – I don’t feel I know which direction it’s going to take and I’m eager to read more.
Braithwaite’s art is spectacular and does much of the work in creating an otherworldly atmosphere and ambiance: I do appreciate an artist who can draw a good beast, and he manages to convey a nice juxtaposition of the familiar normality of humans against their fantastical surroundings. That is again turned on its head when the task team venture outside to the aid of the mayday sent by a native transport vehicle; the panel of them below in their suits looking ominously bulbous, faceless and bug-like really stuck with me.
To conclude: at the moment I’m swamped under uni work and work-work but this comic is so good I’ve wriggled an arm out from under this mountain of books and paper to finger prod a review out for you. A great first issue which has left me with very high expectations. If you like your sci-fi, mystery and solid comics in general, you definitely won’t want to miss out on this one.
Review originally published at the Forbidden Planet International blog.

Event: Laydeez do Comics in Leeds

A quick reminder to anyone who's in or around Leeds, Laydeez do Comics, the graphic novel forum, will be having their first meeting in town on Monday 26th of November at Wharf Chambers. The meeting will run from 6:30-9:30 and feature 3 guest speakers: Nicola Streeten: creator of award winning comic, Billy, Me and You, Steve Tillotson: artist and co-founder of the Leeds Alternative Comic Fair, and Griselda Pollock: Professor of Social and Critical Histories of Art, University of Leeds - writing on feminist theory and visual culture. Invited guest speakers each have 10 minute slots in which to present, followed by a question and answer session and refreshments. Further meetings will take place on Monday 28th January and Monday 25th of March. All are welcome.
More at the Laydeez do Comics website.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Aspirations by Sari Hordirker

Came across Sari Hordirker's contribution to the first issue of Off Life and thought I'd share it here as the art really appealed to me. I like the collage and semi-drawn effect and the juxtaposition of the brighter geometrical shapes against the rough, base brown background. There's a lot of this kind of style proliferating the web: I think it works here because it's kept relatively simple. It's kind of interesting to see it transplanted to the comics medium too. Sari has a site called Comic-Ish where you can see more comics and illustrations as well as offerings from other contributors.
The  second issue of Off Life comes out on Monday.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Comics in Costa Prize nominations for first time

This is amazing and just so very, very pleasing. Joff Winterhart's Days of the Bagnold Summer and Mary and Bryan Talbot's Dotter of her Father's Eyes have both been shortlisted for the Costa prize, where they will compete shoulder to shoulder with prose books. I'll be honest, I thought something like this was still a long way off and I couldn't be happier to be wrong. To all of us who want comics to be recognised as a brilliant medium which offers endless possibilities, these nominations are a validation of what we've known all along. I know Chris Ware won the Guradian's first book award for Jimmy Corrigan back in 2001, but the selection of two books is a further encouraging step.

The cause for excitement is because now feels like it could be a seachange moment. Nobody's denying the problems within the comics industry, but the mood has never felt more positive: with digital comics, creator-owned comics and both readers and creator exploring a wider range of material outside superheroes. In the UK, in particular, it it feels like a special time for the medium. The hope would be that other literary prizes would follow the Costa's example- certainly there's no shortage a wealth of material to choose from and that the the inclusion of comics in literary awards would become a regular and 'normal' practice.

Some quotes from Bryan Talbot on the nominations, taken from a piece in the Guardian:

"I think it's a big thing for the comic medium generally," said Bryan Talbot. "It is another instance of the growing acceptability of comics as a valid artform."

'many people tended to view comics as a genre rather than a medium, whereas "they can tell any sort of story". He said some tended to not think beyond Superman. "People don't seem to realise there's a whole range of quality material out there which is worth any intelligent person's time to read." '

And one from a more surprised Winerhart:

"It doesn't feel like a novel, it's got pictures in it! I didn't know it had enough words to constitute a novel. Some graphic novels are quite epic and very cinematic in scope and mine is incredibly not like that."

Finally, from Dan Franklin, publisher at Jonathan Cape:

‘This is a watershed moment, I think, in the recognition of the graphic novel as a valid literary form, perhaps even more important than when Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan won the Guardian First Book Award.  Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes is a brilliant collaboration between Mary and Bryan Talbot, writer and artist. And while Bryan is one of the most distinguished veterans on the Cape list, the prodigious Joff Winterhart entered the first pages of Days of the Bagnold Summer for our annual Cape/ Observer/ Comica Graphic Short Story Prize and we commissioned him to turn it into a book.’

Congratulations to the Talbots, Joff Winterhart and publishers Jonathan Cape. If you want to know more about either book, you can read my review of Days of the Bagnold Summer here and Richard's review of Dotter of her Father's Eyes here.

Monday, 19 November 2012

ThoughtBubble 2012 report

Here we go then, some thoughts on ThoughtBubble, followed up by the all-important pictures of what I bought. I'm sure Richard will do a proper report with actual photographs of the con and people exhibiting, but in the meantime, here's my narcissistic little take. If you've never been to ThoughtBubble before, you really should consider attending next year. What makes it special (apart from it being homed in my fair city of Leeds) -and I think this would be unanimously agreed- is the atmosphere: it's friendly, inclusive, welcoming and everyone is full of good will, and I say that as someone who's not the most outgoing person in the world. It has a great mixture of independent/small press and more mainstream comic and creators, and it gets bigger every year, so if it can retain that atmosphere and blend of diverse comics, I don't see anyone else taking the best UK con crown.
I was a little bit nervous about attending this year- being conscious of going as 'press' and feeling a bit of a charlatan, considering I've written all of 60-odd pieces for the site since July and not really knowing how to introduce myself without seeming dick-ish 'Hey, I write for FPI!' 'And?' I overcame this by not introducing myself at all. No, I'm kidding. My primary objective was to enjoy the con, buy a lot of comics, and if conversations struck up naturally, great.
I met Dan Berry and Joe Decie who were sharing a table - finally picked up Joe's The Accidental Salad- and were just some of the nicest people ever, although, we established, rather rubbish at the hard sell, so its a good job their work is brilliant enough to sell itself. Dan had pages of the new comic he's working on about his recent trip to Algeria and that looks superb- more vibrant in use of colour, I thought. I was so caught up in the excitement, I totally forgot to ask him when The Suitcase will be coming out. Also met and chatted to Howard Hardiman, who has now wrapped up The Lengths: he talked about how good a feeling it was to have finished it and was surprised by it's success. I think he's taking a small break and doing some illustration things with exhibitions before he starts another comic. Over in the Armouries Hall, I came across a tired-looking but lovely Warwick Johnson Cadwell and bought Karagoz, a new 36 page black and white comic illustration zine that is just beautiful. We talked a bit about Nick Edwards and Thomas Wellman and I came home and Googled Mr Wellman and felt immediately depressed for not being able to read French.
Much to my friend Andy's amusement (who was there to meet the immensely talented Felt Mistress), whenever I bought a book and was asked if I would like it signed I would reply no. Apparently this is not a done thing. So if you asked me if I wanted your signature and I said no I apologise: I didn't mean any offence. I've always just thought signing is purely to add monetary value, or if it's a creator you have a particularly deep affinity for I can understand why you would perhaps want their signature, but as Richard patiently explained to me later, it can mark the remembrance of a particular time and event when you were at a certain place and met someone, so I guess I can see how that would mean something to people. Andrew Wildman wasn't haven't having any of that though- 'You've got to have it signed!' he insisted, so thanks Andrew :)
On the whole, ThoughtBubble is pretty perfectly organised; you don't have to wait long in queues, the aisles are nice and wide, the one and only problem is much of the big names such as Mark Waid, David Peterson etc are all put at one end of New Dock Hall and the queues for them block up the aisles so you can't get to the tables of other exhibitors, but to be honest, there isn't really much of a solution to that, as queues would congregate wherever people were situated. A couple of times I left tables because attendees were just taking too long talking to people; I know it's exciting to meet people you admire and nice to chat to them, but you're robbing them of potential sales when you're at a a table for too long. It's considerate of everyone if you're a little aware of your surroundings and how many people are around you and a table.
It was also lovely to finally meet Richard (and Louise and Molly), Martin and James and even Mr Matt Badham! I was fairly confident from my exchanges with the guys they would all be awesome and they were. James, spent much of the evening dispensing advice and teaching me how not to be self-depreciating (I thought it was part of my dubious charm)- Me: 'My writing is shit.' James: 'Nooooo!' with horrified look, whilst Richard looked bemusedly on. The thing is, I don't think my writing is rubbish, I think it's the best bloody writing in the world. However, I know this to be an outrageous claim, so I attempt to temper it with psychological wiles.
Unfortunately, I didn't make it to the British Comic Awards as I had a headache which turned into a full-blown fever and headcold on Sunday, which meant a lot of sleeping, drinking water and not much else. Luckily I had bought most of what I wanted on Saturday and walked home with two bags full of comics goodness on my achy little arms. Here's what I got:
Radiator Days by Lucy Knisley: Lucy only had a small amount of her stock with her and it all sold out on Saturday. She had four of her books with her and they all looked excellent but I had to make a choice, so did what I always do in such situations: went for the thickest book.

The Girl and the Gorilla by Madeline Flores

Ellerbisms by Marc Ellerby: Molly got this too, so obviously we share excellent taste. I really love the rounded corners on this book- great production values.

Science Tales by Daryll Cunningham

Funny Weather: everything you didn't want to know about climate change but probably should find out by Kate Evans

Undeleted Scenes by Jeffrey Brown from the Top Shelf stall

The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon

Deadbeats by Chris Lackey and Chad Fifer and illustrated by blog favourite Ian Culbard: Deadbeats was making it's debut at TB, I believe the guys only had 68 copies to sell and they went pretty quickly.

Porcelain: Joe recently did a post on Benjamin Read's and Chris Wildgoose's upcoming gothic fairytale graphic novel due for release next year. This preview reminds me a lot of The Whispers in the Walls.

Longboy by Philippa Rice: I could have easily bought everything from Philippa's table it was smush full of goodness, but no money!

Disrepute by Thomas Ferrier this is available as a paperback tome, but this hand stitched version which has a selection of the comics from the book was too good to miss.

Jumping the Shark by Sammy Borras and mini zines

Toast issues #1 and #2 and Ohh La issue #1, Mario, Pikachu and heart badges by Joolia Morning

That by John Allison and You'll never stop me singing print (behind the book) : ordered That a couple of weeks back and not yet received it so John gave me another copy, which I immediately felt bad about so had to buy a print to compensate. Luckily his prints are great so everything worked out nicely.

The Accidental Salad by Joe Decie

A long day of Mr James Teacher by James Harvey

Horizon by Andrew Wildman

The Complete Lengths by Howard Hardiman, which comes in handy glossy folder and a free poster.
Karagoz: bought this on the lovely Warwick Johnson Cadwell's table- he's contributed to it. It's simply amazing: you need a copy of this- keep a look out on WJC'S blog- he's promised to post the link when it's available to buy online.

And that's it. Had a brilliant time, really looking forward to next year. A mention for all the cos-players at the con before closing; I can't say that I've ever wanted to dress up as a character, but I think it takes guts and bravery to do so. All the cos-players at TB looked like they were having huge amounts of fun and there was no separation between them and whatever a 'comic-fan' may be. Comics are as much about passion and community as anything else, so let's include people instead of ostracising them.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Fantagraphics Castle Waiting volume 1 paperback release

Fantagraphics are publishing the first volume of Linda Medley's much lauded, yet cult comic, Castle Waiting, in paperback for the very first time this month. I'm very envious of people who haven't read this yet- I was one of you but a few weeks ago. You may feel innundated with 're-imaginings' and other fairytale related story-telling, but Medley's work is so far from that whilst being derivative of it, that you can't help but be drawn in; by bearded ladies and a group of people, seemingly fantastical, yet familiarly recognisable in their insecurities, longings and quirks, who have formed their own community built on acceptance of differences and inclusion. It's simultaneously warm and enconsing in its choice of genre, but made fresh and thoughtful by the shunning of convention

The only problem I'm facing at the moment is the cost of an out of print second volume. If you want a taster of the comic to see whether you'd like it, you can read the first 25 pages here. You can buy a copy here.


Take Five

Haven't posted in a while and that's due to MA, work, blah, blah, blah. I've been pretty much burning 3 wicks -I didn't even know I HAD 3 wicks- so I think a little light relief in the form of a comics art post is called for.

Josh Simmons is really hit and miss for me: yes- his horrible, terrible stuff works in that it makes people uncomfortable and forces them to think why, but I really love when he's more subtle too, like in House, which was just a great study in silent, atmospheric, tension building. This recent Superman/Batman piece, however, I do love.

This pretty sums me up- from Lauren Z

How superb is this? The panelling, the concept, the slow, creeping ratcheting of time.
Clocks by Howard Chaykin from Blackhawk #3

Endless rope: or why I'm hesitant to get involved in arguments like these. The line between importance and juvenile just seems too close. By Meg at sailorswayze

:) Two-Face by Evan Dorkin and Evan Brunetti

Kickstart it: Deep in the Woods by Noah van Sciver and Nic Breutzman

Honestly, it's been a while since any comic project on Kickstarter has caught my attention enough for me to pre-order a copy: the last one was Mike Raicht and Zack Howard's Wild Blue Yonder back in early August. But Noah van Sciver and Nic Breutzman's weird and creepy looking Deep in the Woods has changed that- not only interesting enough for me to dish over the monies, but to make me want to share it with a wider audience so you can get a copy of your own. I'm a bit of a sucker for comics printed on newsprint- (check out Brendan Leach's Pterodactyl Hunters in the Gilded City from Top Shelf) so this grabbed my attention from the off. And that image of the headless cow/bull helped decide the rest. What can I say? I'm a strange folk. 

The comic will be produced in a larger format- 17 1/2" by 11"- which is roughly the size of a broadsheet, but a little narrower and longer, I think and the stories are descirbed as 'urban myth/fairytale-ish'. An advance copy will cost you only $8, incluse of shipping in the US (and that's a pretty sweet deal) and $18 for international orders. The guys have a $1000 goal, of which they have currently received $929 and have 16 days to go, so you're pretty sure of seeing a copy.

If it sounds like your thing, give it a look here.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Flocks #1 A Paradox of Faith

A Paradox of Faith is the first issue in L Nichols’ autobiographical comic charting her struggle to reconcile her faith and sexuality as she grows up. Religion and sexuality can be volatile, delicate themes to address, but Nichols’ avoids being overtly critical, mainly because her experience at this stage is internally contained, as no one else is yet aware she is gay. In a interview with Sean T Collins for The Comics Journal last month Nichols talked about how identifying oneself as religious has become almost akin to ‘coming out’ as gay. It’s an interesting point: broadly speaking, religion is being scrutinised and dissected like never before, while the issue of gay rights is very slowly being pulled to the forefront towards mainstream acceptance.
Flocks’ primary quality is its penetrating honesty: the simple depiction of Nichols’ fight with herself, the sincerity of her beliefs at odds with what she knows to be the truth of her sexuality, the two knotting together into a torturous, conflicted turmoil, which is almost tangible in presence: her distress reeks off the page. Raised as a Christian but aware of her feelings towards women at a young age, she spends her time trying to cleanse herself of her sexual identity and hiding it from those around her. It’s horrendous and wrenching to follow and watch as she ups her religious efforts to drown out her feelings and quite literally’straighten’ herself out; attending Bible classes once a week, then twice a week, going to Christian camp, being baptised again. Her kiss with a girl leaves her ashamed and horrified.
The potency of the teenage years is something that has been explored thoroughly in culture: a pivotal age when you first really become conscious of a sense of self, begin forming and developing as a person and an identity, a transition often made more difficult by the need to fit in. Having identified herself through her faith for all her life, her beliefs the filter through which she understands the world, Nichols’ sexual awakening throws her whole identity into question. She is a Christian, but she is gay and Christianity says homosexuality is wrong, therefore this means there is something wrong with her. On some level, she is aware that her sexuality is true and real: she never attempts to get a boyfriend and makes the occasional overture towards other girls, but in possession of a set of beliefs and values that she has grown up with, and which denigrate her sexual identity, she excruciatingly continues to try and quash, deny and hide who she is.
Nichols depicts herself as a soft, articulated doll, stuffed with sawdust and with cross stitched buttons for eyes, mirroring her feelings of insubstantiality: filled yet empty. The buttoned eyes give a curious sense of blankness and confusion, the crossed x’s cancelling her out and reinforcing that wrongness. Religion traditionally encourages a strong sense of community, borne from the persecuted minorities flocking together. The analogy of shepherds as guiders and protectors of their flock is not the focus here, but rather the group mentality of sheep blindly following one another. Nichols’ choice of avatar further disconnects her from those around her, who are oblivious of this strange stuffed doll in their midst. She is both fearful of discovery and incredulous at their failure to recognise her difference, but of course this is only the way she sees herself. Indeed, there’s something creepy and off about the townspeople, in their silence and complete non-involvement, emphasising the distance -whether real or perceived- between her and them.
Despite the topical nature of her subjects, Nichols retains an even handed, non-judgmental tone, perhaps because the focus is largely on her individual struggle here. Discussions and stories about religion and homosexuality are still rare, so it makes me proud to see it being done in comics and done in such a beautiful, resonant and evocative manner. Most of this first issue is available online at Nichols site, and I would encourage anyone looking for an intelligent, insightful and moving read to head over there. Nichols recently set up a subscription service for the future issues of Flocks and it’s one I’m happily subscribing to, because honestly, comics like this are few and far between.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Observer Cape graphic short story prize

Corban Wilkin's 'But I Can't' was announced as the winner of the 2013 Observer/Cape graphic short story prize. You can view other entries, including Steve Tillitson's runner up, over at the Guardian website in the culture section, but I think it's pretty clear to see why this won: it's a concise, entertaining and emotive bit of comicery. You can see more of Wilkin's work at his website. I do like his art style: it's very Guardian-esqe: sort of cartoony with a dash of quasi-realism.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Some thoughts on writing about comics

Earlier in the year, I was asked if I wanted to write for the Forbidden Planet International blog, which I was absolutely thrilled about as writing about comics is something I want to do full-time and as a paid job. So far it's been a fantastic experience, largely thanks to Richard and Joe, who are just incredibly helpful, supportive and great to boot. Unfortunately, the combination of working 26 hours a week, plus studying for my MA full time has meant I've not been able to contribute to the blog as fully as I'd like. As we hit November and the year careens rather terrifyingly towards an end, I thought I'd write a post about some blogging/writing/reviewing related thoughts that have been swimming around in my head. Please note: these are purely personal musings and not related to anyone else.
  • Being negative/positive: When I started writing for FPI, the guys told me they never write out and out negative reviews/pieces. Critique away, they said and if something doesn't work for you, say what you feel, but no slamming anyones work. I'll be honest- I was initially a bit sceptical and frustrated by this, a) because let's face it, it can fun to read and write about some of the rubbish that's out there, particularly if it's well done, and b) because I thought it was preventing me from being honest in my writing. I have, however, come to advocate the no-out-and-out-negative policy. I think it challenges you both as a reader and a writer, forcing you to look at things deeper and differently- it certainly made me change my approach from responding to something instantly upon first reading with gut reaction, to taking time to come to a book again, to analyse and re-assess any initial opinions made. If a book inspires an abject loathing in you, there's nothing to force you to review it. Yes, we want comics that are thoughtful and intelligent and push the medium to be better, be the best it can, to go beyond, but in all types of art there is a place for genre fulfilment and solid entertaining stories well told. Of course, creators should expect criticism as they are bound to receive it at some point, but I do think if you can avoid unnecessary hostility of something that a person has put time and effort into, regardless of whether you think its synonymous of a deeper affliction, more power to you .
  • Objectivity/personal taste & reading outside your comfort zone: I still struggle with this one. I'm going to put these two concepts together as I think while there are naturally some genres, art styles, types of stories that you gravitate towards, it's important to read outside of what you know and like. It's informative and it broadens your understanding of the medium. Often you read things and whilst you don't like them per se, you can appreciate what the writer is trying to do and say whether he's doing it well, how and why. I read Josh Simmons' The Furry Trap earlier this year and didn't really like it, but I hope I kind of got what he was trying to convey and why he chose to present things the way he did. Similarly, I'm currently reading then omnibus collection of Posy Simmonds' Mrs Weber strips and can't really find any entry points into it all, not being white and middle class and around in the 70's/80's (and these points are the politically driven focus of the strips), but I'm planning on taking those things and using them to write about how it comes across as strangely insular. On the flip side, there have been so many things I've tried and subsequently loved that I've lost count.
  • Review copies: Firstly, getting free comics is great- there's nothing to complain about there. It is however, a quid pro quo system. People send you books in the hope you'll write about them, thus giving them some publicity/advertising and you get to read a comic for free. Generally when you're dealing with an individual who sends you their own work to review, things are usually fine- you either like it and review it, or don't like it and send them a cordial message explaining it didn't really work for you, so you won't be covering it. Thankfully, I've not had a bad experience yet. When it comes to publishers, things are a little trickier: a couple have insinuated that they'll only send books as long as they get covered, which can be a bit funny as it's generally difficult to know beforehand whether something is going to work or not. I'm not sure, in my limited experience, whether this is pretty common practice, but it makes me uncomfortable, as it makes me feel like I'm being bought. I can appreciate it's expensive to send out books, and while I am genuinely grateful to receive them, the mild blackmailing makes me feel an unrealistic pressure to like every book they send, which is impossible.
  • Digital: There's no denying the impact and influence of digital and the opportunities it's providing creators and even comic journalism (which is almost solely a digital job), but I'm having difficulty getting to grips with digital- whether it's review pdfs or stuff I've had to occasionally buy- I just don't like reading a comic book on my computer. Books are something I sit down with and experience- a time out, a comfort, a pleasure and sitting down with a laptop or e-reader and scrolling through pages just doesn't do it for me. The screen is a barrier, placing me at a remove,  and whilst I'm ok with reading novels on an e-reader, I feel art needs to be tangible. This is mainly an issue with reading long-form works- web-comics that are ingested in small doses don't inspire the same boredom as endlessly clicking through 100+ pages does- it makes it feel more like work.
  • Press releases/teaser images: I'm really excited to be involved in comics, but also often very puzzled by certain practices. One of these is the things you get sent on mailing lists; teaser images, announcements, random bits and bobs. FPI was my template for comics blogging long before I began writing for them, and they have, I think, a unique identity and integrity- Richard is king of reviewing and covering the British comics scene, and then there's a hefty dose of sci-fi and a lot of other interesting stuff. So perhaps my view is coloured by that way of collating stuff together, but when I first saw the bits of fluff mailing lists send out being turned into 'news' on major comic sites, I was a little gobsmacked. Frankly, a lot of it isn't worth covering- and that's not me being snobbish, but I suppose if you are a big mainstream site putting up x number of posts each day, you've got to have something to put up. And I guess it fits into the you scratch my back I'll scratch yours category mentioned earlier, which is beneficial to everyone involved. In a weird way because I currently write for free, it kind of liberates me to choose not to slap together random images which are emailed to me with no text and make a post about them- at this point it's not part of my comics writing. If there's a press release on a new series or something in which I'm actually interested in though, I'll make an effort to find out more (if I can) and put some kind of spin on it before publishing.
  • Learning & canon: This is more of a personal objective. There are so many people who write about comics and do it well, with eloquence and insight, and the way to get better is to continue to learn and improve. I love comics but I'm aware I came to the field quite late compared to people who have been reading them since childhood, and that I don't know a great deal about them, so I'm reading books and writings on process, technique, history. Another thing I've been musing over is the concept of a comics canon. In terms of importance there are certain creators' names who come up again and again as seminal: the Hernandez brothers, Robert Crumb, Chris Ware etc. A lot of their work I've tried and just don't 'get'. But I keep coming back and dipping into it, because too many people (far knowledgeable than I) whose opinion I value have stated its importance for me to ignore. The idea isn't to develop a personal liking of their work (although I'm not averse to that),  but to recognise and understand why their work is regarded in such esteem.
  • Write every day: Pretty much everyone who writes professionally reiterates this in some form, but it's just that crucial. Quite simply, the more you do something, the better you get at it. Even if ti's for an hour a day- write. Write on the days you feel really sick of writing and feel everything you put down is colossal rubbish of the first order. Do it anyway. If I take a day's break from writing, the next day I find it's that bit harder and I want to do it that bit less. Between uni and work, I'm managing this in some form but there are days when I slack off due to laziness and that's got to stop.
  • British/US: Based purely on my interactions with people (via email mostly), I've found that American creators and people working in comics are much friendlier and open than the British people I've had contact with. No theories as to why this is, just an observation.
  • Time/motivation: Which is what it all essentially comes down to. The time to read, the time to write something halfway decent, the time to browse around and see what people are making, what the pertinent discussions are. This is my main area to work on at the moment- it takes me 2 hours to travel to uni, 2 hours to get back and whilst I usually do have a little time to spare after studying, I'm so knackered it's hard to motivate myself to start writing. Towards this end I've set up a (really boring) schedule which basically goes something like work, work, work, study, study, study, write. The worst thing is trying to get reviews done in the fortnightly pre/post release window that may be helpful to someone in terms of visibility and profile- that makes me feel guilty.  Nothing comes easily, I guess, so if you want something, you've got to work for it, but it can be very frustrating trying to fit so much into little slivers of time. Hopefully, next year as things ease up, there will be more time to devote to comics writing and events.
And that's it. It's been pretty slap-dashed together I'm afraid, but I hope it wasn't too boring to read, and it's been helpful to get it out of my head and down onto paper. Kind of.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Star Trek/ Doctor Who Assimilation 2 Issue 6

My reviews of this comic have been slightly schizophrenic and that's partly because I'm unused to issue reading and analysing stories in bits- and it is a different kind of beast, I think. It's also partly due to the fact, that this series has been incredibly, frustratingly uneven in tone. I'm curious as to how it reads in a collected format, simply to see how it fares in comparison. Art issues aside, this again, was a stronger issue. By stronger, I mean better (than previous issues) in terms of pacing, a rise in quality and a potentially interesting direction being taken (although one can't help but think too little, too late).
Having been persuaded by the Doctor to help the Borg overcome the Cybermen, Picard, Amy, Rory, the Doctor and several others teleport onto a neutral planet to meet with a small Borg convoy to assess their options. The Borg reveal to them that it was the detection of the Tardis and the Doctor's presence that threw the Cybermen for six, leading them to revert to their true natures and assimilate the very race they had allied with. It's begrudgingly decided that to ensure the survival of all parties involved, the Enterprise will come to the Borg's aid, allowing a single Borg representative on board the ship to supply any necessary information and assist in devising ways to stop the Cybermen's onslaught.

Once on board, the Borg representative informs the crew that the Cybermen have stolen, manipulated and then erased the collective core memory mainframe from which all the Borg operate, stripping them of their ability to function and rendering them inert. The Cybermen have corrupted the mainframe, programming it to control some of the Borg to do their bidding. The recovery of this core memory database is essential if the Borg are to regain their former power and mount a challenge against the Cybermen. As no copy of this original mainframe exists in the present, a trip in a certain wooden blue box beckons. First though, the Doctor and Picard return to the mining planet in Issue #2 to obtain another ingredient vital to their plans in overcoming the Cybermen: gold.
A return to the planet in issue 2, that of shaky alliance and an unstable mining structure, which has a nice moment where Picard tries and fails to convince Seelos, the Dai-Ai fish-people leader to help them curate the precious metal. Instead, the Doctor takes over the persuasion, with his fast, lengthy, words-tripping-over-one-another delivery, leaving Picard looking dryly on and Seelos bamboozled. It's moments like this, when more focus is given to characterisation and interaction that the book shines, despite these being characters that we're familiar with. Meanwhile, the Doctor and the Ponds travel back in time to the last time the Enterprise had exact coordinates of a Borg vessel, from which they can then access and copy the Borg mainframe library- to the Battle of Wolf ('Bad Wolf,' mutters the Doctor), where a Borg mind-controlled Picard is leading the killing of hundreds of innocents against his own friends and people. Luckily, they are protected by a form of invisible shield, which means they can move about freely and unseen by all. All, but one. . .
Overall, an easy issue to read- enjoyable with lots going on and things moving quickly. The Doctor having to travel back to the time when Picard is in the Borg's thrall adds a little spice to the mix, and hopefully this won't be simply be to 'fix' the things Picard did while mind-controlled, but something of further interest. With only two issues to go though, that seems unlikely.