Tag Archives: comic books

Zone 1: The Guernsey Comic Book Anthology

Zone 1 coverIn 2015 the Guernsey Literary Festival expanded its programme to incorporate ‘graphic novels’ for the first time with a focus on the islands links to a revelling of Victor Hugo’s The Man Who Laughs in that form.

As part of that a workshop was held with the writer and artist who adapted Hugo’s novel, David Hine and Mark Stafford, and they inspired a group of writers and artists to put together the first comic book anthology from the island, Zone 1, which was released through Black Moor Press in mid-2017.

Prey by Mikal Dyas

Prey by Mikal Dyas

Consisting of six short stories, they vary in tone and style about as broadly as is possible without heading directly into superhero territory and are by turns darkly disturbing, interestingly poignant or just downright baffling.

Prey by Theo Leworthy and Mikal Dyas

The first story has the feel of a bad dream as we join a father and son on a hunting trip that goes wrong.

While the story is fairly simple, the artwork amplifies it into truly horrific territory and, while it never quite comes entirely into focus as a whole, it finishes in a shockingly memorable moment that feels like it wants to say something but isn’t really sure what.

Heavenly Body by Hugh Rose

Heavenly Body by Hugh Rose

Heavenly Body by Hugh Rose

One of the nicest things about this collection is that it doesn’t lean heavily on being from Guernsey with this really being the only story with a suggestion of a local link, though not dealt with in the way it often is, as it is a tale of evacuated children during the Second World War.

The artwork is simple but evocative with an oddly playful sense despite the potentially serious nature of the story. The whole thing ends on a lighthearted note to defuse the situation that does a good job of bringing a child’s sense of wonder to a potentially rather different tale.

Meek The Mighty by Kit Gilson

Meek The Mighty by Kit Gilson

Mighty Are The Meek by Colin Ferbrache and Kit Gillson

While only brief, the highlight of Mighty Are The Meek are the cartoonish goblin designs of Kit Gillson. If you follow Kit on Instagram you might be familiar with his cartoon designs and they look great here.

Unfortunately beyond this the strip feels a little too much like an unfinished sketch but the ‘to be continued…’ at the end offers the suggestion that it could grow into quite a charming, comic strip style, piece.

Fimbulwinter by Llewellyn Van Eeden

While Llewelyn Van Eeden’s tale drops us into one of the most complete settings and slickest looking art of the anthology, as a whole it feels a little too clichéd as it tells what feels like the first part of a story focussing on a fairly stereotypical Norse blacksmith and his village.

Fimbulwinter by Llewellyn Van Eeden

Fimbulwinter by Llewellyn Van Eeden

While I could see it developing nicely with a few hints of mystery, based on this the characters feel a little too stock and the art while smooth and sleek, doesn’t stand out as well as the other pieces.

Urbane Paria by Adam Gillson

While this painted story starts out in mysterious fashion with what sounds like a gruesome death it soon becomes a little lost and confused.

This isn’t helped by the fact that the artwork, while interesting and expressive in one sense, does little to help provide character or a consistent setting and the whole thing veers a little too far from the standard comic book or murder mystery conventions to properly work.

The Race For The Black Gate by Russell Wicks

The Race For The Black Gate by Russell Wicks

The Race For The Black Gate by Jonathan Dawe and Russell Wicks

Probably the most conventional tale in the collection comes with the last, though even then it throws its own spin on things.

With something of a hard-boiled, murder mystery aspect combined with a paranormal element, the basic story and the shadowy cartoon artwork combine to create the collection’s most complete feeling piece.

With enough detail revealed to draw the reader in it leaves things on a mysterious cliffhanger that I hope means there’s Zone 2 on the way to continue the tale. 

Urbane Paria by Adam Gillson

Urbane Paria by Adam Gillson

While Zone 1 is, expectedly, a mixed bag, there’s a lot to enjoy from striking visuals to intriguing stories to various attempts to subvert comic convention and, while a few may miss the mark and come off as trying a little too hard to be clever for the sake of it, there’s certainly enough to recommend to fans of comics beyond the Marvel and DC mainstream and I hope it isn’t just a one-off.

Note: apologies to the artists for the slightly ropey reproduction of the images but I couldn’t find any online

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Akira (Book One) by Katsuhiro Otomo

Akira book oneSince the western release of the anime film version of Katsuhiro Otomo’s early 1980s manga Akira it has entered the western pop culture lexicon like few other things from the Far East, arguably kick starting the ongoing fascination with Japanese culture in the western world that spans from the films of Studio Ghibli to the likes of Pokemon.

Despite having seen the film long ago and the many references to it in cinema since, I had yet to go back to the original manga until now. So, while I had some expectations, I didn’t have a total grasp of what it might be like.

This first book of the series kicks off by introducing us to a teenage bike gang (bōsōzoku) in Post-World War Three Neo-Tokyo, and we are dropped into a slightly familiar, exaggerated gang culture of Japanese youth (if this exists in real life or just in manga and anime I’m not able to say, but it certainly has a ring of truth) in a vaguely totalitarian society where we soon discover something is amiss with superpowered mutant humans being hidden, somewhat unsuccessfully, by mysterious government agencies.

Akira - Kaneda and Tetsuo

Kaneda and Tetsuo

The story itself is one that has become somewhat cliché, but this feels like where it started, so we follow gang member Kaneda as he becomes embroiled in this mystery following the apparent death and resurrection of fellow young biker Tetsuo.

While the story is undeniably engrossing what sets Akira apart, and at the time of its original publication must have been fairly astonishing, is the pace of the storytelling and action. While American comics traditionally were fairly verbose works, with long passages of expository dialogue, in Akira much of this is removed and Otomo allows the images to do the heavy lifting.

So we race through the society and city which is never explained explicitly but we explore it much as we might in a film, through the detailed visuals. Similarly the characters are revealed to us as much through action as anything else and, while they are mostly fairly typical, it isn’t long before we get behind Kaneda and get a genuine sense of mystery over the fate of Tetsuo that builds to this part’s climax.

Katsuhiro Otomo

Katsuhiro Otomo

While American comics have since caught up with this style it’s hard not to recognise the pioneering nature of Akira as it races along like its characters. While this first volume is clearly just getting the story up and running, it is as engaging and engrossing as any comics I’ve read and, as well as being a notable historical artefact of the medium, remains a compelling read with some excellent artwork.

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The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys – Gerard Way, Shaun Simon and Becky Cloonan

The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys coverReleased as six-part run by Dark Horse Comics, The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys is a spin-off to the final album by My Chemical Romance. While I am a fan of the album, the idea of taking its fairly more thematic than narrative concept and turning it into a comic book led me to approaching it with a certain sense of apprehension.

Prior to this I had read Gerard Way (MCR frontman) and Gabriel Ba’s The Umbrella Academy series and very much enjoyed it. It’s off kilter sense of b-movie pastiche, superteam and obscure pop culture references perfectly balance a sense of humour with some surprisingly dark themes. This though, just from the cover artwork, seemed to be something else.

With writing duties divided between Way and Shaun Simon there are moments where what Way showed in The Umbrella Academy poke through but, for the most part, the story mixes generic, post-apocalyptic, locations and characters with a generally paper-thin and at times downright confusing plot.

Rather than telling the story of the album it seems to be more bothered by getting in as many track names as possible while also labouring some very obvious moral moments.

The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys artworkThe story is divided into two. One side focuses on a group of outlaws in the desert, the titular Killjoys, along with a potentially messianic young girl and a pair of pirate radio DJs.

The other deals with the inhabitants of Battery City (a 1984-lite development) and specifically a pair of ‘porno droids’ who have fallen in love but one of who’s batteries is failing and Korse a chief Scarecrow of the ruling powers but who is discovered to be in love as well and therefore becomes something of an outlaw himself.

This setting is, it would seem, several years after the events of the album’s loose story and so the original Killjoys, the characters portrayed by the band in the record’s promo material, aren’t really involved and are instead transformed into heroic legends, though we never really find out what made them so heroic.

My Chemical Romance

My Chemical Romance – The original Killjoys

This is problematic as the main target audience for the book, and certainly myself, would surely rather prefer the story of their heroes rather than some dubious extrapolated other.

Other than this though the main problems with the book are that the tone is hugely imbalanced. It is at once hugely simplistic, particularly in its moralising, but deals with some rather dark issues with Room 101-like torture implied and generally vein of nastiness that, while never as graphic as the likes of Preacher, doesn’t sit with the younger aimed core.

The other problem is in the artwork from Becky Cloonan. While the colour scheme is entirely in keeping with its source with bright and vibrant colours on the Mad Max-esque desert folk and monochrome tones in the city, the actual drawing style is very flat and lacks detail.

DraculoidsBecause of this the whole thing seem rushed and generic and doesn’t add adding anything of its own to an already well established genre.

If I weren’t a fan of My Chemical Romance I really can’t see there being much to appeal in The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, and, while it isn’t really bad, it’s not really very good either and just felt somewhat empty and pointless, particularly when compared to The Umbrella Academy. I can’t help but think if Way had had the time to develop it like he did that other series, it could have been a far better piece of work.

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Watchmen: Director’s Cut

Watchmen PosterHaving seen the theatrical cut of Zack Snyder’s Watchmen several times I thought it time I investigate the Director’s Cut version of the movie – not the Ultimate Cut which adds another 26 minutes on top of the 186 minute version I’m discussing here.

As the film that must have been a major contributory factor in Snyder landing the job of directing Man of Steel it is odd quite how different the two films are, for films based on comic book origins.

While Man of Steel predominantly tries to place its super-characters in a ‘real’ world, from the start Watchmen, taking its cue from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons tour-de-force comic, is very much set in a stylised world of mid-80s America where Nixon is still president and super heroes are real, and it is here that the film finds one of its major triumphs.

watchmen on setIn both the plot of the film and the visual style we are one step away from reality and it is this that makes the film work quite so well so that, as well as being a great action movie, it is also able to do the thing that sci-fi does best of reflecting our reality back at us and commenting on it. Ok, so the comic was better placed and poised to include social and political commentary, but, considering when the film was originally released, in 2009 as tensions surrounding Afghanistan, Iraq and terrorism were still major issues, it still has something to say on this, albeit through a slight extra prism, but I am glad they didn’t try and bring the film up to modern-day and stuck with the mid-80s.

Watchmen - ComedianVisually the film does a lot to mirror the comics and, while in some movies this seems to lumber them with static moments, Snyder seems to have the feel for this just right so we get the feel of the same New York created by Moore and Gibbons, but with a few updates in terms of costume and such that make it a modern motion picture.

The action too reflects this and gives some great, if occasionally extreme, fight scenes and larger set pieces that really satisfy like very few in modern cinema, particularly in the comic book movie genre which has become somewhat stale over the past year or so.

Watchmen - Night Owl and Silk SpectreIn terms of the director’s cut element here what we get is largely extended scenes and extra character moments that just fill in a few blanks from the original that you wouldn’t notice unless you saw this version, so in that regard it is unessential.

However, we also get a few extra moments of world building and mystery building (particularly regarding one of the ‘heroes’) that do add a little extra, particularly for fans of the comic. The Ultimate Edition combines the Tales of the Black Freighter animation with the film (like the comic book comes into the original source) but I find it hard to see how it would work in such an effective way in the film as it does in the comic so, in a way, I am glad that wasn’t included here.

The WatchmenWhile Watchmen seems to have been somewhat lost in the shuffle of Batmen, Avengers and Supermen, on reflection, it stands above all of them as a film that really does get what it’s doing and combines the aesthetic of its source material with being a movie and while Snyder’s Superman may have missed the mark, here he more than shows that he gets this genre, possibly more than the producers behind the scenes.

And simply beacuse I love them and love this song, here’s My Chemical Romance’s version of Desolation Row from the movie’s soundtrack:

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Man Of Steel

Man Of Steel posterHaving heard some opinions and read some of the reviews of Zack Snyder’s new take on DC Comics’ Superman, it is clearly something of a ‘Marmite’ movie with some really liking it and some, well… not so much.

I think I fall more into the liking it camp, than not, but that’s not to say it isn’t flawed in some fairly major ways.

Retelling the origin of “The Last Son of Krypton”, this movie’s promotion seemed to suggest that this would be to Superman what Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy was to Batman – Nolan’s name being attached as producer and being credited for the story only served to back this up. However, I think this is hugely misleading as this feels somehow like a very different version of the DC Universe.

The story though, in general terms, was certainly one of the movies high points as it tells of both the end of Krypton and the development of ‘Superman’ from misfit Kansas youngster to the titular Man Of Steel through trials and tribulations both earthbound and beyond.

Battle of Krypton

It’s the “beyond” element that particularly impressed me with Man of Steel as, other than possibly Green Lantern and Thor (one more successfully than the other), this is the first comic book movie of the current generation that is really more sci-fi space opera than any other and gave the movie, on one level, a very different feel than any other.

Unfortunately, while Man Of Steel is packed with good story ideas and some interesting notions of taking this sort of movie into a more sci-fi universe, it is hampered by the most crucial element of movie making, its script.

Henry Cavill as Kal-ElWhile I will say it does have something of the cheesy, stereotypical comic book dialogue that still appears on the printed page from time to time, which is in a way fitting, when that appears in a film context, it feels even more out-of-place and seriously hampers any aspects of character development or buying into the world of the movie. This meant that when it came to any scenes where we were meant to feel anything for any of the characters, or any of the sense of jeopardy, this was often quickly lost by an ill-fitting piece of dialogue.

Laurence Fishburne and Amy AdamsIt wasn’t only the script that caused issues but also the fact that Snyder and co seemed to be trying to cram too much of the Superman universe, in terms of characters and references, into the 2 hour 25 minute run time which left many characters and angles underdeveloped – so while it was clear Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Kal-El were meant to have a romantic relationship building, to me it never felt more than a friendship and when we saw more minor characters in peril, I honestly cared no more for them than any of the other anonymous faces who appeared in the Metropolis scenes (and were most likely caught in the crossfire).

Michael Shannon as General ZodThis also made it very hard to tell how good the performances of the actors really were as many were simply not given enough screen time to make a mark.

Henry Cavill as Kal-El/Superman/Clark Kent did what needed to be done and made a convincing Superman and Kal, though Clark really didn’t get much time and, provided there is a sequel, it will be interesting to see if he can pull of the alter-ego as well as he fits into the blue tights.

russell crowe as Jor-ElRussell Crowe puts in a great showing as Jor-El and, despite being dead for much of the film, seems to steal a lot of screen time helping give the story what heart it has, alongside ‘Clark’s dad’, Jonathan Kent, played by Kevin Costner who provides the opposite side of the same coin.

The movie’s other main character is its antagonist, General Zod, as played by Michael Shannon. With a reputation for intense performances, Shannon hits all the necessary marks in his portrayal of the leader of Krypton’s fighting forces but, for me, never really hit the level of being the classic villain Zod has been known for in the past.

Henry Cavill Man of SteelWhile feeling very different from the world of Nolan’s Dark Knight, Snyder and co firmly place this film in a DC universe with references to both other Superman characters such as Lex Luthor, but also hints at the wider world with Wayne Enterprises popping up as well. Whether this implies DC are planning on doing a Marvel and developing their movie universe still remains to be seen, but it appears the seeds are being planted.

So, in the end, Man of Steel is a flawed movie with some interesting things crammed into an over busy film with, what I can only describe as, a very ropey script and an overlong series of action sequences that don’t always hold together in terms of the universe’s internal logic, but, for fans of comic book movies (and I’d say other movies in general) it is worth a watch as, despite all of the above, I still enjoyed it and it looks great.

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American Adventure – Part Two: San Francisco – Day One

The Ferry Building from Pier 14

The Ferry Building from Pier 14

So this has taken me a little bit longer to get to than I had planned but here we go, “the city by the bay”.

Having visited San Francisco in the past I took the first part of my first day in the city to have a scout around and see much I remember of the place and what new things I could find amongst what I remembered.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that what I found was a city that was at once familiar yet new and that I could, as I remembered, explore a fair chunk of it on foot, something that I found to be the best way to get acquainted with a place during my various trips to London over the years.

Fishermen on Pier 14

Fishermen on Pier 14

My morning took me to the Embarcadero in the shadow of the bay bridge where I got a taste of some of the real life elements of the city as fisherman, mostly it seems from Chinatown, lined the head of the Pier 14 while seagulls watched on, no doubt in hope of some of the left overs or spoils of the fishermen.

Further along the Embarcadero I found Cupid’s Span, an unmistakable piece of public art in the shape of a giant bow and arrow emerging from the ground and got a further taste of city life as hip, young professionals shared the space on the benches with members of the cities large, but seemingly generally harmless, homeless population.

Cupid's Span

Cupid’s Span

This, all in the shadow of the cities financial district, highlighted by the Transamerica Pyramid, provides a perfect microcosm of the city as a whole where big business mixes with the ‘hip’ the homeless and the traditional to form a melting pot of culture like few others in the world, marking what has made the city so famous for the past century or so.

My continued initial explorations led me to discover the South of Market Street (or SOMA) district of the city that seems to have undergone something of a relatively recent revitalisation with a large conference centre, Museum of Modern Art, IMAX Multiplex and many small art galleries and facilities.

Yerba Buena Gardens

Yerba Buena Gardens

As well as these I found the fabulous Yerba Buena Gardens which nestle in the shadow of many high-rise buildings as well as a 19th century church building to create one of the many small park like havens for the urban landscape which mark the city out as something unique. As I found it the fountain monument to the civil rights movement was undergoing maintenance but this hadn’t stopped many of the cities seemingly young and hip, (many I assume attending one of the nearby buildings associated with artistic education) from relaxing on the grass on the warm and sunny afternoon.

If you ever chose to head to the city I would strongly recommend taking some time to explore this area and relax in the park.

Sam Keith sketches

Sam Keith sketches

Continuing up Mission Street (which here runs parallel to the cities main thoroughfare of Market Street) I spotted what seemed to be a small but interesting comic shop, so headed in to find what it actually was (as well as a shop) was the Cartoon Art Museum where, for only $7, I was able to explore four exhibitions of cartoon and comic book art.

As well as what seemed to be the museum’s standard exhibition exploring the history of cartoons from Hogarth to the recent reinvention of the DC Comics universe (via early newspaper comic strips and single panel cartoons to Stan Lee’s creations and the 1980’s reinvigoration of the comic) the other exhibitions explored graphic storytelling, Superman and the work of Sam Keith.

For anyone with an interest in cartoon art or comics the Cartoon Art Museum is an absolute must and a true hidden gem in SOMA.

North of Market Street is something of a different story and comprised the next part of my days explorations (now accompanied by a something of a ‘local guide’ in Ashley Seymour).

Chinatown from the Stockton tunnel

Chinatown from the Stockton tunnel

Once you are past the high-end shopping district centred on Union Square you hit Chinatown and the atmosphere changes entirely and, while still friendly, this is clearly a neighbourhood that is very much what the name suggests and most of the voices you hear change from speaking English to Chinese and the areas small park area is filled with Chinese families playing in the sun.

Along both the more tourist inclined Grant Avenue and its parallel, more truly Chinese street, of Stockton the shops are filled with exotic foods and souvenirs and even the smell changes as spices fill the air, while I found nothing particularly engaging in terms of attractions in Chinatown it is certainly an area worth taking a walk through and seems to be home to several restaurants (both Chinese and otherwise) worth investigating and continues the feel of San Francisco’s compact but cosmopolitan nature.

Read Part One of my trip here.

Read Day Two of my time in San Francisco here.

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