Tag Archives: comics

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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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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From Hell

From Hell coverAlan Moore’s writing has always been something apart from what was around him. Certainly his 1980s work for American comics giant DC has, and can be, included with that decades re-evaluation of the form, but even next to his contemporaries from that era his work has always seemed to stand apart.

So, from the voice finding 1984-like super-anti-hero series V For Vendetta, through his epic retelling of 20th century history with ‘real world’ superheroes in Watchmen (and more in between) we get to From Hell, his take on the Jack The Ripper story.

Much like his previous work, Moore doesn’t take the usual route with his tale of murder on the foggy streets of Whitechapel. Rather than the police procedural a story like this would often be (and to an extent is in the lackluster film adaptation), From Hell focuses as much on ‘Jack’ and the lives of his victims as it does Inspector Abberline of the Yard.

From Hell 1But, what really sets this entirely apart from what it could have been, is its speculative fiction approach. This mixes elements of historical fact with reasonably well supported conspiracy and the odd moment of outright invention to create something genuinely compelling in its basic plot, with a couple of extra layers of social commentary laid over the top.

The basic plot deals with one of the stronger theories of who the Ripper might have been, looking particularly at Sir William Withey Gull and the idea of a Royal and Masonic conspiracy to cover up the birth of an illegitimate royal baby.

This explains, fairly satisfactorily, why the five specific women were killed and, by Moore’s own admission in the book’s footnotes, explores a fairly biased conspiracy against Freemasonry – though coming from where I do I have to admit to finding this hugely compelling as well.

from hell 2On top of this we get flashes of Gull’s supposed madness. While this isn’t entirely based on fact there is evidence he suffered a stroke, which may have led to seizures and arguably ‘visions’. Moore runs with this idea to turn Jack The Ripper into the progenitor of the serial killer as we see it portrayed in both the real world and fiction today and give a twisted motive to his crimes.

This portrayal of the serial killer idea is a fairly obvious, but very well executed, comment on how the media has dealt with the subject since and references the likes of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley and Ian Sutcliffe.

In the eyes of some this may be a controversial set of  direct references to make but, for me, it brings home the reality of the crimes portrayed in From Hell and acts as a reminder that, while this is a compelling mystery narrative set in the now-alien streets of Victorian London, these murders did rally take place and involved real people having a major effect not only on the life of those involved, but also the psyche of certainly the city and possibly the entire country.

From Hell 3While Moore’s writing is, rightly, the most focused on aspect of From Hell, that is to do artist Eddie Campbell something of a disservice. Without his scratchy black and white imagery the feel needed for this story would be lost.

The detailed line drawing style feels right for the setting of the story as it evokes a sense of mystery and gloom that working class areas of Victorian London had. Along side this, it gives a transcendental feel when the visions occur and, with more detailed backgrounds when we see into the lives of the upper class, helps show the social divide at work in the story. Chiefly striking in this is Queen Victoria who appears surrounded and shrouded in her mourning black throughout.

from hell 4If all you know of Alan Moore is his famous American work, or all you know of From Hell is the Hughes Brothers mildly diverting but flawed not-quite-whodunit movie, then I couldn’t recommend From Hell more as the vision of a singular artist, both in its writer and, as described here, in its main character.

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Preacher

Preacher - Gone To TexasWith all the recent talk around DC Comics characters slowly but, seemingly, surely making their way to the big and small screens, from John Constantine and Sandman to The Flash and Batman Vs Superman, I thought I’d take a look back at one of their Vertigo imprint titles that I had particularly enjoyed, Preacher.

Across nine ‘trade paperbacks’, some 75 issues including one-shot specials and spin-off mini series, Preacher tells the story of Jesse Custer, a Texan small town reverend and his adventures as he becomes possessed by an angel-demon hybrid and fights off Armageddon while hunting down an absent alpha-and-omega.

Along the way he encounters everyone from conspirators bent on ending the world through the second coming to hideously deformed rock stars to vampire wannabes, all while flanked, for better or worse, by his on/off girlfriend Tulip and an Irish vampire called Cassidy.

While a lot of this sounds not that out of the ordinary for a comic book series, particularly one put out by Vertigo, what does set it apart is the framework within which Ennis places his story, that of a western. In this western Custer is the Man With No Name like hero, riding into town to save the day while doing his utmost to battle his own, in this case literal, demons.

Jesse Custer and Tulip

Jesse Custer and Tulip

It’s this view of the western and the epic myth of America that really is the underlying theme of the whole series and it is something that, much like the spaghetti westerns of the 60s and 70s can really only come from outside the USA and Ennis, being Northern Irish, fits the bill to add to this thematic history.

So we get a lot of stereotypical touchstones, from New York City to The Alamo via Monument Valley, but, on top of this, rather than Clint Eastwood riding in, we get Ennis’ misfit band.

Mixed in with this is something of Kerouac’s mythic America, as seen in On The Road as well. The presence of Cassidy being something of an obvious reference and otherwise in the road trip sense that the whole series has as well.

What marks them out from much of what has gone before is a few things. First is the time period, this is very much a millennial tale set in the late 1990s, but general with a sense of the vague (again mythic) now.

Cassidy

Cassidy

Second is the humour which is the kind of thing you could see Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmonson come up with if teamed with the writers of Viz and let lose without any restrictions. And thirdly is the level of sheer ultra-violence that ties all this together with liberal doses of blood and a whole hell of a lot of killing.

Another thing that sets its apart is the characters as well as the excellent lead, Jesse Custer, and his aforementioned entourage, we get a supporting cast that really are both fascinating and, at times, truly demented.

High up among them is the Saint Of Killers. An ex-legendary gun fighter now taking on the role of the Angel of Death and seemingly one of the few beings even the almighty fears. In some hands The Saint, a seven-foot cowboy with ever loaded pistols that never jam and never miss, could be a dull super human presence but Ennis provides him with a back story that makes this being hell-bent on destroying all in his path genuinely sympathetic.

In the villain department Herr Starr of The Grail starts off as a something of a hyper-devout Christian zealot and grows into a genuine monster who, in the tradition of much action adventure fiction, becomes more physically deformed as he becomes more evil – much like the rest of the comic it may not be politically correct but it makes for a compelling story.

The Saint Of Killers

The Saint Of Killers

Then there is the ever-present side story of Arseface that frankly has to be seen to be believed.

It being a comic seeing, of course, is as much a part of things as the story and it is here that any disappointment really comes.

While Steve Dillon’s artwork gives a good sense of the characters and the places it is, at best, perfunctory with a style that is often very flat, though in this it does let the story and the words work their magic.

The cover art by Glenn Fabry, however, is a totally different story. With a depth that sometimes goes too far it is here that we find the striking images that would normally come as splash pages in the comics and, if these are kept in mind while reading, serve to expand what is actually show on the page.

How (and if) anyone ever manages to translate the sprawling story of Jesse Custer and co to the screen remains to be seen, but, before that happens I would urge anyone to check out the comics, but don’t go in unless your prepared for some at times harsh, brutal and funny in the most wrong of ways action all wrapped up in an epic Western context.

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The Walking Dead: Season 2 (Blu-ray)

Season two of the zombie survival TV show ups the stakes in every sense as it heads towards a spectacular and shocking finale.

As we head towards the premiere of season three of The Walking Dead I thought it appropriate to revisit the second season of the show.

While season one had been entertaining it did seem to drag in the middle part and at only six episodes long this had been a concern as season expanded to 13 episodes, however the writers seem to have over come this and given us a well balanced season that balances shocks and horror with the groups human drama while constantly building to the series inevitable dramatic conclusion.

Once again the thing that really stands out on season two of The Walking Dead is the production values, particularly in terms of the make up effects, as we get to see literally hordes of the undead all unique and all suitably gruesome.

Credit for this has to go to Greg Nicotero and his team who return from season one and, having made his name on Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and George A Romero’s Diary of the Dead, Nicotero seems to have the knack of creating zombies that manage to be at once terrifying while also showing that they were once a human being.

Not only is it the individual zombie design, but also the realization of some of the writers more gruesome ideas, that really stands out as in this season we see a zombie hanging from a tree with his lower legs eaten off and a geek forcing its way through a glass windscreen (amongst many other gruesome sights) which are spectacularly realised.

Away from the make up effects the cast, initially streamlined and then bolstered, seem to be much more relatable now that we know the characters and so we are deeply involved with them from the off as tragedy after tragedy strikes and they go from the remains of the CDC to find some level of respite on a rural farm.

Alongside this we also a further development of the characters reactions to the apocalypse and, while these sometimes head in clichéd or archetypal areas, they remain interesting and certainly in season two some characters gain an extra depth and identity which lifts them from their background roles in season one.

As the season continues new characters come and go and again the more permanent of the new characters seem better drawn than their season one counterparts making for a better connection to them and a bigger sense of threat when they fall into peril.

As the series ends we are given a few teasing glimpses at what is to come in season three, and while I don’t want to spoil them for you, all I can say it seems season three will once again up the stakes with some of the comic books most well-regarded characters being added into the fray.

Extra features

Considering this is a three-disc Blu-ray set, with one disc entirely set over to extra features, they feel somewhat sparse.

What we get are a bunch of deleted scenes ranging from a few seconds long to whole new locations, but all of them really are hugely unessential. The best of the bunch sees Dale stumble upon a radio station broadcasting a preacher type voice telling anyone who might be listening why it was the fault of society that the dead had risen as a punishment from God – while Dale’s reaction to this is interesting and adds an extra element to his character, it is far from being anything that adds to his character later in the series.

Alongside the deleted scenes are a series of featurettes, most of which add little to the background work on the show. A couple however are relatively interesting as we get to see how some of the sound effects are made by the show’s foley team, how the score is put together and how the writers adapt the comic for the screen and their reason for some of their choices (in general terms).

While this isn’t a stunning set of extra content, it does add a few things to the show and, along with season two’s generally more consistent offering that season one, I’m very much looking forward to see what happens to our ‘survivours’ as they head to their next challenges.

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So what is this all about?

Well like many other blogs on the big wide world of the internet it takes a look at film, music and, occasionally, books and gives you an opinion on them.

My aim with this blog is give my views on what I see, hear and read in the fair and balanced way I feel they deserve.

With that said a little bit on my philosophy of criticism (which sounds a lot fancier than it really is).

My aim is take anything from a fair perspective and give my honest opinions on them whether they are already perceived as classics, are new releases or are generally considered as utter rubbish — it has to be said I already don’t like quite a few so-called classic records and films and definitely have a soft spot for the rubbish but entertaining.

While I will not be focussing on any specific genres or styles my writing will follow my natural artistic inclinations so there is likely to be a random selection of movies and rock ‘n’ roll records, alongside blockbuster movies and whatever music may happen to take my fancy, which spans a lot of things and hopefully will continue to expand, and books wise is likely to be a lot of film and music related things, along with comics.

There may also be blogs on random other subjects as they come up, but we shall see what happens there!

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