Thursday, 31 October 2013

Sebastian Stamm's 'Leschek's Flug'

One of the great things in comics at the moment is the diversity in artistic backgrounds and fields from which creators hail- fine art, illustration, gaming, animation, design. Even if they're not making comics full-time, the ones they do make bring a host of new ideas, influences and styles which contribute to the richness, growth and evolution of the medium. Here's another artist venturing into comics for the first time- German illustrator/game designer, Sebastian Stamm. Stamm studied Illustration and Animation at the school of art and design in Kassel, Germany and graduated with excellence in Visual Communication (Illustration and Comic), so his interest in comics is long-standing.

His book, 'Leshcek's Flug' (translating to Leschek's Flight) published by Rotopol Press earlier this month,  combines his self-cited passions for 'drawing, mechanics, robots and unique fictional characters,' telling the story of Leschek, a small red robot who suddenly finds himself the last functioning machine on his world, and needing to find way to escape. The book took 6 months to conceive and storyboard and another 6 to draw and finalise. Stamm credits his enthusiasm for mechanics to his grandfather, a precision mechanic, and the many hours he spent in his workshop as a child, 'I believe the amount of time I spent between gear wheels and old radio tubes I developed a weakness for mechanics and machine.' That 'weakness' meant he wanted much of the machines and world he created in 'Leshcek's Flug' to be realistic in old-school science-fiction terms; he was keen, for example that the spaceship featured in the book should look 'very old, chunky and unsexy.'

I'll add this to my list of 'comics somebody will hopefully translate' but couldn't resist writing about it because I find Stamm's style so appealing-  sort of a finer-lined Faith Erin Hicks infused with a European influence. I really, really love that spaceship, too. You can find a synopsis and preview pages from the book below, along with a link to Stamm's website.  


'Somewhere in space there’s Neulins, a miserable and dirty place, where the check clocks on the factory floors beat time. The population adapted to this industry-asteroid’s rough climate: Neulins is nearly solely inhabited by “maschinenmenschen”. And like all others Leschek as well should actually be a small productive cog in this wheel. But at his work station in the toyfactory the jovial robot spends more time on his daydreams than on the construction plans of the latest multi-functional-figurine. When his hard-working colleague Fattko falls victim to the final malfunction, Leschek suddenly sees himself as the sole heir of a heritage that could finally make his escape possible. But to leave Neulins for ever Leschek needs a human partner.'

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Some thoughts on the Observer/Cape/Comica prize

The winners of the Cape/Comica/Observer graphic short story were announced over the weekend: Emily Howarth-Booth triumphed with her entry, 'Colonic' and Michael Parkin was runner up with his comic 'Lines.' Sincere congratulations to both. However, the selections raised a couple of niggling thoughts which I will try to further elucidate below. 

Having served as a committee member for the British Comic Awards this year, I now harbour a greater appreciation of the intricacies involved when judging such things. However, looking at the winning and second place entries over the years, they share a very similar aesthetic- minimalist, fine-lined, pencilled, a scratchy, linear style, even in quite a few instances even a shared colour palette: blues, grey, reds.  Whilst I'm aware that the judges can only select from the entries they receive (around 180 this year), it's curious to me that work with a particular tone and aesthetic should keep winning -Howarth-Booth, for example, was a runner up for the prize in 2008- especially because it doesn't reflect the variation and diversity of work in the UK comics scene, which is a small panorama of voices and styles. Whether a number of British artists comics creators didn't enter due to time constraints and other work engagements which take priority, I don't know, but just think of some of these names to visualise the strength and variety UK comics currently boasts: Warwick Johnson Cadwell, Donya Todd, Joe Decie, Kristyna Baczynski, Will Kirkby, Josceline Fenton, Robert Ball, Karrie Fransman, John Allison- I'm not saying these creators should enter, but simply offering them as an example of the diversity in art and writing styles that exists. 

I'm unsure as to the reasons for this, but one of the possibilities is an issue which I mull over every now and again: the overwhelmingly white, middle class make-up of the comics scene here in the UK. Coupled with the largely employed, liberal, middle-class  Observer/Guardian readership, the pool of people who are aware of the prize begins to look limited. It's troubling that comics seems to be headed the same way as the literary establishment with regards to BME authorship, and it's vital to address these issues while the scene here is still growing and moulding, while nothing is set, rather than after the fact. The OCC prize is an important fixture one of the few comics prizes in the UK which is well-recognised, open to anyone, offers a substantial financial incentive, the chance to see your work in print, as well as a potential platform from which to build opportunities. Reaching out to a few different avenues for more active, wider promotion would be very easy to do and a starting point for greater exclusivity.

Another factor is the judging panel. This year the judges were Joe Dunthorne (author of Submarine and Wild Abandon), Stephen Collins (previous winner and author of The Gigantic Beard that Was Evil), Rachel Cooke (The Observer), Dan Franklin (Publisher, Jonathan Cape), Paul Gravett (Director, Comica Festival) and Suzanne Dean (Random House Creative Director). As far as I can tell, Cooke, Dean, Franklin and Gravett preside every year, with the two free spots being rotated, which is indicative of the problem.

When you're shortlisting and judging, the choices you make are a combination of subjective and objective, and with the best of intentions, after a number of years a certain level of comfort sets in; the need for fresh eyes and minds is a positive and constructive change. Having the same representatives of Cape and Random House on the judging panel year after year isn't conducive either- at the moment, the winning work is very representative of Cape's UK author stable- Simone Lia, Joff Winterhart, Katie Green, Julian Hansahw, Isabel Greenberg, Stephen Collins. It's fine and understandable for publishers to look for certain elements, a shared principle or aesthetic in submissions, but it's not what you want when judging a prize that aims to 'discover and publish the writers and artists of the future' within the UK. That Cape has gone on to publish books by quite a few of the winners suggests not only their quality but the degree to which they align with their remit. Work should be judged on merit but that seems to be slipping (consciously or unconsciously) into a preference for a particular type of work.

My aim here isn't to accuse anyone of anything, I'm thrilled that Cape are focusing more on homegrown talent recently, and am a big fan of previous winners like Stephen Collins and Isabel Greenberg, so the judges are obviously doing something right, but my first response on reading the prize announcements shouldn't be 'oh, more of the same.' I regard the Observer/Cape/Comics prize highly- that the associated organisations are supporting comics in this manner is great- and it can serve as a genuine foothold for any comics artist, as a showcase of UK comics talent, but I do also think there is room for discussion and improvement here. If you have any thoughts, please do respond in the comments section.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Reminder: pick up the Thought Bubble 2013 anthology!

It's Wednesday tomorrow, aka, new comic book day. In between bagging hundreds of Sandman Overture issues, Saga etc, at the shop earlier, I also managed a look at the new Thought Bubble anthology and let me tell you, that thing had swag. Thought Bubble have been releasing their anthology in association with comics publishers Image, for the past 2 years -this is the third- and it's a fantastic keepsake and memory of the festival if you're attending (I know lots of people get theirs signed from creators and guests, too). 

If you're not, you get a Wednesday comics style format, newspaper comics anthology with contributions from Brandon Graham, Cameron Stewart, Ming Doyle, Fabio Moon, Gabriel Moon, Jeffrey Brown, Ramon Perez, amongst others, as well as the warm knowledge that all profits made go to children's charity, Barnados. So if you're at the comics store tomorrow, please grab a copy; it's the price of a regular comic -£2.99. You can see a trailer for it above, for a taste of what you're getting, and I've added a photo of the two previous ones below as visual incentive :) Buy!

Monday, 28 October 2013

Comics carousel: Parks, backyards, people, places; it goes ever on

Reviews! Or something approaching them... As ever, click on pictures to enbiggen, and click on bolded titles to lead you to places where you can buy said publications.

Backyard by Sam Alden, Sonatina Comics: I think my favourite thing about Alden's Backyard is the passive-aggressive, determinedly progressive, horizontal-leaning views of Molly's friends. A few of them share the rent on a house, and a while back Molly decided she no longer wanted to wear shoes, then stopped talking, then started moving around on all fours. Nobody intervened; people do odd things all the time, go through phases, the important thing was not to over react, to be chill and supportive of Molly's journey of self-discovery.

And then Molly began to get a bit messy, so they moved her out of the house into the garden, because 'She just wasn't happy living inside. We're all really happy for her. She's just figuring out some stuff about herself.' Molly's left to her own devices, not hugely in anyone's thoughts or responsibilities. In an icily good scene, the housemates sit around on sofas arguing over money and who should pay for what, while Molly barks at them from the window outside.

Backyard is a scathing, cool treatise on inaction as a form of action, of narcissism, of social duty, of desensitisation and conditioning; even as Molly degresses, her 'friends' are still the scariest things here. Like the best literature, it lights a stack of questions: are Molly's friends self absorbed, or are they right in letting her be? Should Molly be allowed the freedom to do whatever she wishes? And to what point? Should they do something? At what stage should they step in and do something? Who decides how far is too far? When does alternative and slightly odd, or doing your own thing veer into worrying and requires attention?

Alden's pages are alternatively heavily shaded and clean-lined, often stark and sparse when presenting Molly, who in her changed state is the most understandable thing here. Comics is so fucking lucky to have Sam Alden; he is a monster talent, producing work which is fearless, smart, good-looking, experimental and diverse in subject and genre. Why somebody isn't throwing him money to create them full-time is a sad mystery.

Do Not Disturb My Waking Dream by Laura Park, Uncivilised Books: I go through ebbs and flows with regards to autobiographical comics, but a thing I have found is that those written by female creators are invariably more interesting; nuanced, humorous, varied in subject and tone, and while honest, not deeply self-pitying (Noah van Sciver I exclude from this, he can do whatever he wants).

The autobio comics I've read that have been by men are more inclined towards navel-gazing and an inherent self-involvement which the reader is expected to attach themselves to, where the ones authored by female creators look beyond themselves to others, and demonstrate a greater ability to laugh at themselves. Reader's don't know authors, their interest and engagement is gleaned from associating with a character, their personality, asking people to trade on shared experiences and emotions- and keeping them so insular and singular is alienating. It's narcissistic in the first to expect people to buy a book about you, These are generalisations, of course, but endemic in a strain of comics culture that I would love to see change things up.

Anyhow, Laura Parks' 'Do Not Disturb My Waking Dream' is fantastic. The material is wide-ranging in scope, :from observational comedy, procrastination, nightmares, illness, booty calls, all of which are imbued with intelligence and feeling. One of the things that's pleasing to see is the diversity in strip layout and presentation. For example, a single page carries 3 comics- a six panel horizontal strip, a 2-panel vertical strip and the last one made up of  a 5 small panels, one larger and a smaller 3-panel strip. There's splash pages, a fab 24 panel page which shows the passing of time in a single day, border-less images. She doesn't feel the need to fill a page unnecessarily either, locating a comic at the bottom and leaving the rest of it blank, the variation works to retain an active engagement (look up, look down), whilst the space ensures it's not busy or overwhelming.The variation is refreshing to see, especially in a mini-comic, where too often people tend to stick to more traditional methods, feeling limited by the format, but you know, panels, boxes, space , lines- those things are part of what make comics and they should be played around with. The best thing here though, is Park's drawing style: it's so attractive; her cartooning is charming and expressive, inhabiting this median of being sophisticated, detailed, more illustrative, and characterful. It's a beautiful comic.

Blacklight by Julia Gfrorer: This collects four short stories, River of Tears, All is Lost, Unclean and Phosphorous. Between them, they explore narratives of a man attempting to deal with the continued attentions of an unstable ex, Gfrorer's take on dark folk/fairy loric tales, a vampire story the way vampire stories are supposed to be: erotic and unsettling, and parental and abusive relationships. It's a lineup that showcases Gfrorer's considerable talents in elucidating certain themes in her work very effectively- the messier aspects of people, the un-named experiences which are beyond body and explanation, the real, the unreal, and unearthing the commonalities in less seemly aspects of human nature.

I've written about Gfrorer a few times and I don't want to regurgitate my thoughts, but I will say she is currently one of the most consistently excellent comic makers around. I talked earlier about points of accessibility for readers, and while her 'areas' of sexual, spiritual, supernatural, mythic erotica might seem leave it or take it, they are universal in their scrutinisation of people and their ways.  Visceral is one those words that tends to be bandied about and mis-used a little, but it's perfectly applicable to Gfrorer's work: I'm yet to come across literature that is so basely evocative in garnering response,as images and narratives they grab you in the gut and twist, almost a physical touch. Confrontational is another. I'd argue it's not confrontational in as much as it presents things -usually things considered taboo- unvarnished and plainly. Ideally, such discussion would be the norm, but it isn't, which is why it can appear confrontational, and why we should be thankful Gfrorer does what she does (and so excellently, too).

Where writers tend to focus on a character and their emotional responses, import weighted upon the person, with emphasis often placed upon overcoming and controlling impulse and feeling and not giving in to it (there are negative connotations to letting go and giving in, the preference is to rise above undesirable, instinctive, impulses), in Gfrorer's narratives, characters are vessels for their emotions, seething and bubbling, over-spilling, momentarily or completely. I guess that giving over to darker or baser aspects is also why Gfrorer's work can be termed as horror. There are monsters and supernatural beings in these stories, but there are humans too and they would be unintelligible in difference were they not visualised. We read stories to connect with them, and recognising these aspects, in some form- comfortably or uncomfortably, within yourself gives the experience an added edge.

Winter's Knight by Robert Ball, Great Beast: There's something about very stylised, design-focused, wholly digital illustration that's a bit clinical and removed- for a one-off image it's fine it can be  very effective but I don't think it's very conducive to longer narratives, it's less easier to imprint and associate with hard edges and geometric shapes. So I was pretty impressed with Robert Ball's Winter's Knight which managed to retain my interest over the course of a  56 page narrative. It's a silent comic, so the visuals are working that bit harder, and are under that bit more pressure to perform, but they are more than up to the task.The story of a knight battling demonic, possibly hellish, forces isn't always clear, but honestly I don't think it matters- the gist of it transmutes and the open interpretativeness of it sits fine with the concept and style of illustration.

The colours and shapes, the quest, the spiritual and demonic elements, the slightly religious undertones give it a stained glass church feel (this is now officially a thing); it's very reminiscent of Hellboy and Mignola in it's themes and iconography. It's most effective, however, in its spectacular use of colour; the colours do a lot of leg-work, implying psychology, character, time, place, events. They inject warmth and emotion, too; Ball using a spectrum of hues to drive the narrative onwards and the reader making jumps and filling in the gaps themselves.

It's amazing how the brain translates the visuals into words in your head. Nobody, I think, looks at a picture of a cloaked man trudging in the snow and absorbs it solely as an image, there's a running commentary in your head. You see a cloaked man walking in a white space and internally you get something like 'a man has journeyed a long way through cold, snow and mountains. He is tired and exhausted, but determined to carry on because his task is of great importance.' On the page that's a pretty simple 5 panel sequence, but the bend of the man's head, his posture, the colours and landscape, and your recognition of similar texts allows you to embellish your reading of the story, and Ball facilitates that particularly well.

I really enjoyed the more filmic practice of having a few, brief scenes/shots/panels of narrative before cutting to a title sequence. Ball executes it here magnificently: a framed, full double page spread of a vast mountain in long-shot, 2 pages establishing a lone character traversing a harsh climate, hinting at the breadth of his journey and then pulling away to a double page spread of the sun rising atop a hilled graveyard, the stones spelling out the title of the comic, with an inkly black raven punctuating the last grave.  You can almost hear the ominous caw. Ball tightens the image vertically, filling the pages with black so your gaze isn't drawn down or elsewhere but just on that one image; that's how to do cinematic in comics, if you were wondering. This really altered my perception of design focused art, and I look forward to the next installment.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Preview: Baltic Comics anthology s! 15 Cats

cover by Edgar Folks

The folks behind the excellent kus komiks and s! anthology are evidently some of the most hardworking in the business, releasing four anthologies and a host of mini-comics each year. They've just released pre-order details for volume 15 of the Baltic Comics Anthology (more commonly known as s!) which will feature comics on and around the subject of one of the greatest icons of the Internet: cats. I'm mesmerised by the texture and colour of that cover (above) by Edgar Folks; it underlines the curious, totemic associations of cats really well. 

Kus! are, quite simply, one of the best publishers around at the moment, curating interesting and innovative comic makers from around the world, with the s! anthology superior in quality to most comics anthologies around, particularly in terms of introducing readers to a smorgasbord of art and narrative styles, design and experimentation. If ever you're wondering what more comics can offer, an example of their diversity, or looking to revitalise your enthusiasm about the medium, I'd recommend picking up one of these pocket sized tomes- you can find previous issues for sale here. They're currently running an offer in which you can buy an s! anthology and get a mini kus comic for free, which is definitely worth taking up.

If you need further reasons to buy s! 15 here's two: 1) it's all about cats 2) Michael DeForge. It's also in full colour and in English and will release on the 12th of November. You can pre-order a copy here (worldwide shipping costs are included in the price).

Roll call of all 23 artists contributing to s! 15: Dace Sietiņa (Latvia / Netherlands), Dāvis Ozols (Latvia), Edie Fake (USA), Edgars Folks (Latvia), Emmi Valve (Finland), Ernests Kļaviņš (Latvia), John Broadley (England), König Lü.Q. (Switzerland), Lars Sjunnesson (Sweden), Léo Quievreux & Fredox (France), L.L. de Mars (France), Margrieta Dreiblate (Latvia), María Inés Gul (Poland), Mārtiņš Zutis (Latvia), Michael DeForge (Canada), Paul Paetzel (Germany), Pedro Franz (Brazil), Reinis Pētersons (Latvia), Roméo Julien (France), Rūta Briede (Latvia), Warren Craghead (USA), Weng Pixin (Singapore). 

John Broadley

Paul Paetzel

Edie Fake

Emmi Valve

Dace Sietina

Maria Ines Gul

Friday, 25 October 2013

News, Views and Oddities #21

News, Views and Oddities, where we link to various bits and bobs which have grabbed our attention, encompassing comics, books, illustration, design and film. Clicking fingers at the ready.

Free comics on the interwebs you should read:

Stan Lee's designed a new superhero for Indian TV audiences. The character, pictured below, is called Chakra (civilian name Raju Rai) and gains his powers from a special suit that channel the chakras (seven spiritual centres) of his body for use in battle. Lee was aided in the creation and development of the whole series, as well as in designing the boy hero and other characters by cartoonist Jeevan J Chang. The show makes its debut on November 30th and will also be available online at the ToonsTV platform. India has a huge TV audience, so it will be interesting to see how this is received. 

Comics Reporter collates a list of under-radar comics of 2014 thus far, for your consideration when drawing up end of year best of posts and articles. 

Simon Gurr has been drawing dinosaur pictures on his son's paper-bagged packed lunches every day, and they're pretty great. Be very, very jealous that you're not Simon Gurr's son.

Sam Hiti has a new website, and the art section is predictably gorgeous. I can't think of another illustrator/comics creator who draws as sumptuously and distinctive as Hiti currently. 

Congratulations to Jamie Smart, whose DFC book, Fish Head Steve, is the first comic to be short-listed for the Roald Dahl  Funny Prize.

James Harvey is currently taking commissions for £20 a pop, which is really, truly very cheap. You can see some of the ones he's done so far here.

The new Beasts of Burden series is due in March 2014 and this Jill Thompson illustrated signing card they were giving out at NYCC is lovely.

As well as his comic with Uncivilised Books, Sam Alden will also be releasing The Alpine Biologist with Floating World next year, too.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Feathers: a stonking dinosaur exhibition

Now this is something I'd attend in a heartbeat if it was UK based: Amsterdam based Gallery 33 are having the coolest exhibition I've seen for a while opening tomorrow, with 24 artists from around the world, including Jon Burgerman, Jake Parker, Guillaume Singelin, Andrew Lyons, Hannah K, Olle Forsslöf, Laszlito Kovacs, Saša Ostoja, Patrick Crotty, Elliot Alfredius and others invited to illustrate the same subject: dinosaurs. The show, titled Feathers (in reference to the theory that birds are the last remnants of dinosaurs), features work created using a variety of materials and techniques- watercolours, pure digital illustration, risograph prints, to wood carved dinosaur sculptures.

Artists were given a brief that asked them to revisit their childhood, on the basis that 'Pretty much every kid in the world goes through a "dinosaur phase" ' and create a new work accordingly. Anybody who reads this blog or my twitter regularly knows I love, and am fascinated by, dinosaurs, as are most people (or should be!), and I think this is a fab, fun idea for an exhibition with wide audience appeal.

The exhibition will run from October 25th, 2013 till January 6th.You can find more details and a full list of participating artists on the Gallery 33 website.

Jon Burgerman

Scott Listfield

Hannah K

Guillaume Singelin

Derek Kirk Kim's Same Difference chosen for World Book Night

Great news for comics fans in the US: Derek Kirk Kim's Same Difference has been selected as book choice for World Book Night. It's the first time World Book Night US are offering the option to give out a graphic novel, and it's really heartening to see comics included in the line-up; too often they're left out of these kind of reading initiatives. Of course, it would be remiss of me not to point out that World Book Night UK has already been there and done that with Judge Dredd: The Dark Judges last year :)

World Book Night, for the uninitiated, is a yearly event that takes place on April 23rd, where the UNESCO-funded organisation selects a list of books to be handed out for free at various locations. The titles are printed in special editions, with publishers and authors waiving royalties and rights. People (i.e. members of the public) can then choose a book from the list that they would like to give out by completing a brief form online, stating why they they would like to take part, who they aim to give the books to, and where they will be located. If selected they are  provided with 20 copies of the book of their choice to give away. It's a fantastic initative that gets books out to a wide range of places and people.

What I find particularly pleasing about Same Difference's selection is it's caliber; Kirk Kim's book is a great example of the medium for those coming across it for the first time: the story both accessible and layered, meaningful to younger and older readers in different ways. The man himself was pretty pleased about it too: 'It's amazing to be the author of the first graphic novel included in this celebration of books and reading. I never expected the places my book would take me; it’s wonderful that now, over a decade since it was first published, my story is still reaching new readers.'

If you fancy giving out Same Difference, or any other title on the list, applications to become a 'giver' opened today and close on January 5th. You can visit the World Book Night US website here, and the UK one here.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Battling Boy: an uneven set-up

I read Battling Boy about 2 months ago, and have been watching the positive reviews and responses to it roll in with interest, largely because I thought there were a few fundamental flaws with the book which just didn't allow it to work. The plot, roughly, follows a 13 year old god-child being dispatched to the Earthly (or Earth-like) city of Acropolis to complete a coming-of-age ritual called the 'rambling'. Acropolis is a city plagued by monsters of all kinds- huge, munchy, toothy ones, sinister, kidnapping humanoid ones; no-one knows where these monsters came from, simply that they began appearing one day, and have grown steadily ever prevalent. It's Battling Boy's task to rid Acropolis of it's unwanted citizens and return home to his planet a triumphant and more experienced man.

Here's the thing: the book opens with a 20-odd page prologue of sorts which is far and away the best part of the whole comic.  Publishers First Second released this as a preface issue, titled 'The Invincible Haggard West', a scientist hero who dies fighting against the sinister, cloaked, child-snatching creatures led by the mysterious villain Sadisto, and orphaning his daughter, Aurora.  It's a really strong opening, where everything is considered, tightly written and well-realised; Haggard West's brief, shining rally roots him as heroic: caught forever in that moment of fighting the good fight. Aurora is similarly solidly characterised, intelligent and smart, her grief acutely observed over a taut segment of pages - angry and reactionary in the first instance, but level-headed enough to acknowledge the wisdom in patience, preparation and the right time, as she is left considering her father's armory and his many secrets. Similarly, the lithe, curiously bandaged child-nappers are effectively designed and genuinely creepy.  

The problem is that when Battling Boy is introduced, his narrative just doesn't match up in levels of interest or engagement. As a reader I became quickly invested in Aurora and her story, and the change to BB's character is flat and without impact. And it isn't because he's a child whose personality is still in flux, forming, nor is it because he's a God-being and therefore separate and different, at a remove. Those elements could be made to be compelling, but they're not. He's not a deity, he's not human, he's not very much of anything- he needed more personality, some weight or oomph behind him, something. You could argue that he's a kid thrown into a strange situation, but kids react, one way or another. Pope tries to infuse a little humour into proceedings when the bureaucracy of Acropolis latch onto BB as their new hero, giving him a saleable moniker, throwing him a parade to boost public relations, talking about rights, and while knowing, like too much here, it fails to hit the mark  and feels stilted and forced. 

The addition of little incongruous things like the gods speaking in formal, ye olde English style, which is fine, but inconsistently rendered, and splattered with colloquial and modern slang. And if Battling Boy is raised in this environment he would speak as his parents do, right? But he speaks like a 'normal' boy. Intentional? Played for laughs? Parody of Thor (with that helmet)? Indicative of a further plot point? It may seem pedantic, but it's a factor that would perhaps be overlooked if the plot was holding your attention, but is instead grating and irritating, affecting the smoothness of reading.

It would be a sorry soul who questioned Pope's ability as an artist and Battling Boy certainly isn't about to change any perceptions in that regard. It's as dynamic and detailed as ever. The thing I've always liked about Pope's art is its very presence, the meaty, sinewy nature it gets across, somehow blended with an aesthetic beauty. Hilary Sycamore's goregous colouring elevates it to another level here; look at the luminous blue/pink/yellow combination in the wonderful page above- it evokes a starry transcendent magic, doesn't it? You can absolutely understand how and why they're floating in that final panel. The monsters are superb too: take a look at Humdada down there in all his eye-balling, nostrilly glory; magnificent- that's what I mean with regards to presence, he hogs and commands the page.

Ostensibly Battling Boy functions as a set up volume, but it's too lengthy with passages that are, frankly, boring, and is unaided by patchy structure and writing. The art is great, but the first book in a series of titles has one very important job, all else aside: it should make you want to read the next one. This doesn't

On an aside, interestingly, First Second have decided to release a prequel book focusing on Aurora West and her story, which I would say justifies the response to a character who appears in a quarter of a book named after someone else. The 'prequel,' due next July, will be titled 'The Rise of Aurora West,'  and is to be co-written by Pope with JT Petty and drawn by David Rubin.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Jillian and Mariko Tamaki talk This One Summer

Cousins and artists Jillian and Maiko Tamaki have been discussing their upcoming graphic novel, This One Summer, with Hero Complex, the LA Times popular culture blog. Having previously collaborated on the 2008 Ignatz award-winning, Eisner nominated Skim, in which a Japanese-Canadian teenager attempts to navigate her feelings of depression after the suicide of a classmate, as well as trying to come to terms with her sexuality, the Tamaki cousins are now back- and with a new book. 'This One Summer' again has two female, teenage protagonists at its center- Rose and Windy, and focuses on one significant summer in which everything changes for the girls. 

It's interesting how the colour scheme for the cover of this book is similar to 'Celebrated Summer', Charles Forsman's next, which follows two teenage boys on their summer holiday (I have to say I like this one much, much better, even though the... haphazard nature of that one may reflect a drug induced state).

Jillian Tamaki is perhaps better known to comics reading audiences thanks to her superb online web-comic, Supermutant Magic Academy, which earlier this year Drawn and Quarterly announced they would be publishing a print version of. The release date given at the time was 2014, but it looks like that's been pushed forward a year as Tamaki mentions getting the book ready for publication in 2015. Mariko, on the other hand, last penned prose novel (You) Set me on Fire in 2012. Very much looking forward to this- Skim was so deftly and beautifully done, discussing 'issues' in a natural and organic way, and I'm sure the same intelligence and care will be evident here.

'This One Summer' is due for release in May 2014 from First Second. You can read the interview with the Tamakis here, where they discuss the plot, collaborative process and other matters in greater detail.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Hellboy: The Midnight Circus preview

Here's what you need to know: there's a new Hellboy graphic novel releasing this Wednesday, written by Mike Mignola (who also drew the cover), illustrated by Duncan Fegredo, and coloured by Dave Stewart. It's titled Hellboy: The Midnight Circus, and follows a wee, little Hellboy as he runs away from the BPRD only to stumble upon an even weirder motley crew in a circus. Most probably you should buy it. I know I'll be picking up my copy. If you need further convincing, here's an 8 page preview.